Nothing more sad than death of an illusion

LP Columnist Barry Freeman
LP Columnist Barry Freeman
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Impossible not to be moved by the story of the terminally ill British youngster last week granted posthumous permission by the courts to have her body cryogenically preserved, against the wishes of her father.

Moved but for myself, also, enraged. Cryonics, this technological straw at which desperate people are encouraged to clutch, surely stands among the most cynical industries of our times.

I mean, organised religion might trade on the apparently desirable notion of life eternal, but at least full benefits are available for only the price of prayer and basic observance of stated terms and conditions.

Just the entry level model of this oversold secular escape from mortal constraints, by contrast, weighs in at £37k, and only the truest believer can realistically expect the contents not to differ wildly to those depicted on the box.

This is the amount the girl’s family – who, the court heard, are by no means well-off – got skinned to have their daughter frozen across the Atlantic in perpetuity. And, I fear, in futility.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying the technology will never exist to freeze then revive and treat an incurably ill human body years, maybe centuries in the future.

Only a fool or one oblivious to the rapid pace of technological advance this past 40 years could say that. Who knows, it might even one day be possible to revive those frozen by 20th and 21st century methods which will, undoubtedly, be regarded as hilariously primitive within a few short years.

My problem, however, is this idea that the person who went into the liquid nitrogen will in any sense be the same as the one which comes out. Call it the soul, the personality, the conscious self, the whatever, but the fundamentals of what makes you ‘you’ is not in any sense freezable. This ‘essence’ is not a glorified piece of machinery, an arrangement of organic valves, piping, circuitry, etc, like a foot or a spleen.

It is an evolved consequence of our happening physical selves, not a component. A ghost in the machine lacking any substance to freeze. Hopefully this tragic lass at least drew some comfort from the belief this route might afford her a chance to avert cruel fate.

But cold comfort indeed to those now mourning her eternal loss and a five-figure bill.