THE BLOG
07/28/2014 04:12 pm ET | Updated Sep 27, 2014

Civil Rights Clash: Transhumanists Prepare to Challenge an Anti-Cryonics Law in Canada

British Columbia, the westernmost province of Canada that is home to over 4 million people, has a law on the books that prohibits the marketing or sale of services for cryonics. You can still deep-freeze people after they die in the province, but as you might guess, without advertising, it makes it nearly impossible to find willing funeral directors, doctors and technicians to pull it off -- all which are required by law when dealing with a dead person. The surging global popularity of the transhumanism movement -- which cryonics is an integral part of -- is bringing pro-science activists out of the Canadian woodwork. The stage is being set for a civil rights clash in British Columbia. Cryonicists say they will challenge the law in court, citing it as a human rights violation that threatens their ultimate transhuman goal of trying to live indefinitely.

How this strange anti-science law of cryonics -- part of the broader, well-researched field of cryogenics -- ever got passed is murky. In 1990, a small group of bureaucrats quietly passed the law, the first of its kind in the world. Transhumanists complain there wasn't a single cryonicist on the board of regulators who championed the new law. Politicians and regulators say the law was passed to protect people from falling for vague, unprovable ideas that promise a reanimated life after death, whereas no such science exists yet to do that. But Ben Best, former President of the Cryonics Society of Canada (CSC), once made dozens of phone calls in the 1990s and publicized his conversations in a document that suggests another important theme was religious opposition to cryonics.

Indeed, the very nature of cryonics -- where human bodies are preserved using ultra-cold temperatures so they can be brought back to life at a later point -- flies in the face of every major Abrahamic religion, including Christianity. Many of the funeral directors in the British Columbia Funeral Association are religiously oriented or provide religious services. Clearly, this suggests a conflict of interests, especially since many cryonicists hold atheist or agnostic perspectives.

Cryobiology ambitions in humans began in North America in the Unites States in the early 1960s with the publication of academic Robert Ettinger's book The Prospect of Immortality. The field of cryonics has come a long way since the first person was preserved in 1967. Various organizations and companies around the world, like Alcor, Cryonics Institute, and Suspended Animation, Inc., have since frozen ("suspended" in cryo-talk) a few hundred people. The costs vary widely, but it's between $12,500 and $200,000 to freeze either a head or a whole body.

Because science advances each year, and the chances for reanimation of cryonic patients is always improving, it seems odd that British Columbia would uphold an obvious anti-science law. However, years of lobbying and letter writing from cryonicists have done little to change the minds of politicians. Ultimately, with more and more people supporting cryonics and transhumanism, a showdown is inevitable.

Members of the Cryonics Society of Canada and other supporters, in collaboration with a civil rights attorney, are preparing to challenge the law. It's the lawyer's opinion that the best way to challenge it is to start a cryonics company that markets its services in direct violation of the law, forcing the issue into court. Canadian cryonicists have received some funding for this already from Florida-based Life Extension Foundation, but more financial support will be needed in the future. The name of the proposed company is Biostasis Canada. Its purpose will be to provide services to help cryonics patients get the critical field stabilization procedures that are vital to good quality cryopreservation before they are transported to a cryonics facility in the US.

Christine Gaspar, a longtime cryonics supporter and an emergency nurse who spent four years in the Canadian Armed Forces, has been asked to be CEO. Over email, she told me:

We are creating Biostasis Canada. Its intent is to open shop in British Columbia and offer field perfusion service. It will likely spend the first year or two of its life in court challenging the law. Once that is accomplished, we'll aim to expand to provide service nationally. This will raise the bar for quality cryopreservation for Canadians.

If Biostasis Canada fails in its goals, more is at stake then just a small startup. Transhumanists are worried that if they can't defeat this law, it could set a precedent for other territories to create their own regulation. Already, the province of Alberta has considered a similar law, and, as of 2002, France has prohibited cryonics nationwide. The near future of transhumanism, with people born today expecting to live to age 150, artificial general intelligence on the horizon, and robots taking jobs away is a political minefield. Indubitably, the next few decades will be dominated by how science and technology are changing our species, and how far society will let that process occur.

Despite sounding far-fetched, many transhumanists do not intend to remain human at all. For them, the future of becoming cyborgs or totally merging with machines is what matters. They want to leave behind their flesh, which many transhumanists consider fragile and imperfect. In the meantime, preserving that flesh is the only way to make it to the future, which is why cryonics is such an important piece of the transhuman puzzle that must be defended at all costs.

For transhumanists all around the world, cryonics is a matter of the highest importance -- of life and death, of existence and nonexistence. It's possible, given how fast science is improving, that reanimation of patients could begin occurring in as little as 20 to 30 years. Technologies via bioengineering, nanomedicine, and mind uploading will likely lead the way. Hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on developing the technologies that will also create breakthroughs for cryonics. Word is getting out about that too. A recent study found that over half of Germans know what cryonics is, and one in five of them would consider using cryonics. That's no small number for a leading nation of science with 82 million people.

In a world where over 90 percent of the people hold religious views of the afterlife, cryonics could become a noteworthy global civil rights issue. Regardless what happens in the future, transhumanists consider anti-cryonics laws a serious violation of people's freedoms. Plenty of pro-science people around the world feel the same way too. They say they feel this way because they know the standard definition of human death is rapidly changing in the 21st Century. For example, suspended animation is now occurring in a university hospital in Pittsburgh, where a saline-cooling solution has recently been approved by the FDA to preserve the clinically dead for hours before resuscitating them. This is not science fiction. This is happening today. In a decade's time, that saline-cooling procedure may be used to keep the clinically dead deceased for a week or even for a month before they are brought back to life.

Eventually, modern science will likely conquer human mortality. After all, aging and biological death are just more puzzles for scientists and technologists to overcome. In the meantime, cryonics remains the best hope for transhumanists who desire to live indefinitely. Ensuring its complete legality is a top priority for them.

"Repeal the anti-cryonics law, already," says Ms. Gaspar. "We will not back down and we will challenge the legitimacy of this law."