Robert Ettinger, the father of cryonics, died a few weeks ago at the age of 92. He believed that an individual can achieve immortality by freezing one’s body upon death, until scientific advances allow them to be resurrected.
Having already frozen his mother and his 1st and 2nd wives, Mr. Ettinger became his Cryonics Institute’s 106th human patient. Last year, he described these patients to a New Yorker reporter as “not truly dead in any fundamental sense.”
So far, over 900 individuals have registered and paid a minimum of $28,000 to be frozen by the Institute upon their deaths. If you think that sounds steep, you’ll be surprised to learn that a competing organization charges multiples times more.
(You may recall the most famous cryonics customer, former major league ball player Ted Williams, and the legal dispute over his actual wishes for the disposition of his remains back in 2002.)
Of course, in addition to the enormous scientific obstacles to cryonics as yet unsolved, there are also interesting legal questions. For example, Ettinger himself would face a tricky situation of the family law variety, were cryonics ever to be successful. As he was a widow before marrying his 2nd wife, what would happen if both Mr. Ettinger’s wives were brought back to life? “That would be a high class problem,” he observed.
Are you likely to encounter a cryonics client? Probably not. But cryonics is just one example of how advances in science and medicine often come before the usefulness of these technologies has been determined. And how these developments may be challenging our familiar definitions of life, death, and the execution of our end-of-life wishes.
If you’ve encountered an unusual situation around clients’ estate planning or healthcare wishes, please let me know (no client names, of course) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Randi J. Siegel, MBA, is the President of DocuBank (docubank.com), the largest advance directive registry in the U.S., which ensures that the healthcare directives of its 190,000 enrollees are immediately available 24/7/365. Working with estate planning professionals since 1997, Randi frequently speaks at national estate planning conferences and has appeared on radio and television as an authority on registries. She is active in health policy pertaining to advance directives and serves as a Senior Fellow at the Jefferson School of Population Health in Philadelphia. Randi is an ongoing contributor to the Academy blog.
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