Incentives and Cryonics

The recent legal exchange over the cryopreservation of Mary Robbins appears to have ended with a mixed result; the women will be suspended, albeit with the additional cellular damage caused by the delays imposed by her relatives, and the relatives will get the money that would have paid for the suspension. I agree with some of the posters in the Immortality Institute discussion thread on the topic that this appears at the surface to set a bad precedent. However, with more details in hand, going after the money might well have been impossible and certainly not good for public relations, given the way the funding was set up and the events of Robbin's last days. But put in this position as an ethical group of people, pledged to preserve the chance at longer life in the future, what are you going to do? It's easy for we onlookers throw peanuts from the gallery and call for a better end result, but it is what it is.

Colorado counsel for Alcor, Eric Bentley, said, "Even though Ms. Robbins long intended that the annuity go to Alcor in connection with her cryonics arrangements, Alcor decided to release any claims on the funds in the interests of seeing her wishes completed without further delay. Alcor is hopeful this compromise helps the Robbins family find peace and closure."

Mr. Bentley went on to say, "This case was never about money. Alcor simply wanted to carry out the written desires of Ms. Robbins. Alcor is pleased the matter could be resolved quickly and in the best interests of everyone involved."

Which I think well claims the moral high ground, and rightly so. Were I involved with Alcor in any administrative role, I would certainly be thinking about what more could be done to help members avoid this sort of situation - potentially a good investment in time and effort, all things considered. The last thing you want is for every greedy fool who believes cryonics is a waste to think they can pressure or commit fraud upon their dying relative in order to get at funds earmarked for cryopreservation. But this is a situation that you can avoid with a little forethought: set up the financial arrangements such that your relatives have neither incentive nor ability to get at the money. In a post at Depressed Metabolism entitled Ten Ways to Avoid Being the Next Cryonics Legal Case, Rudi Hoffman lays out the steps with characteristic bluntness. Such as:

Fund…and overfund…your suspension with life insurance. This assumes you are insurable. Life insurance proceeds go DIRECTLY to your named beneficiary, without taxes, or reductions or delays of probate. More importantly, the funds are created in addition to your estate and do not reduce your estate otherwise going to your heirs. It is no longer perceived as a "zero sum" game where your heirs are in direct competition for funds vs. the cryonics organization. I am not aware of a single suspension that was delayed for funding considerations when there was adequate life insurance in place in a verifiable manner. Not one, in the history of cryonics, which is now extending some 40 years.

...

Make a video of your strong preference for cryonics. Include verbiage that states your decision is unequivocal and firm, and made when you were of sound mind. Also specify your wishes that any revocation made later should be ignored if it is made while under pain medication, or while physically or emotionally ill, or under undue influence by outside parties including family and friends. Have multiple copies made, upload it to the net, provide abundant and clear instructions so that even jackass attorneys and judges can’t fail to get the message.

The bottom line is that human nature is human nature. If you think that your closest relatives will respect your beliefs and the scientific evidence for cryonics when they could stand to gain $50-100,000 by consigning to you to rot in the grave, then you are probably too trusting. Armor these financial affairs, as they are too important to leave any clear opening for other people to interfere.

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