The Ethics of Using Plastination to Save Lives

Plastination is a potential alternative to cryonics for the long-term preservation of the brain following death, a way to maintain the fine neural structure that encodes the data of the mind. Given the pace of technological progress, preserved individuals can expect some unknown chance at restoration to active life in the future. The types of technology required for that feat are well understood, and include a near complete control over cellular biochemistry, along with a molecular nanotechnology industry capable of reconstruction of cells and sequestration of preservation chemicals. Whatever the odds for survival turn out to be, they are considerably better than the other option, which is the grave and oblivion. There is no better path to longevity for the billions who will age to death prior to the widespread availability of rejuvenation therapies, and it is perhaps the greatest shame of our age that cryonics and plastination remain niche concerns.

Plastination has been shown to be feasible as the basis for a preservation technology to much the same degree as cryonics, but unlike cryonics it has not yet developed into a practicing industry. While this lengthy article focuses on plastination, the points are also applicable to cryopreservation:

For the most part bioethics is understandably a conservative business. In the past there has been little tolerance for taking life extension seriously. If the possibility was not scorned as wishful thinking it was dismissed as being selfish and a grave danger to society, usually without any real argument. Yet a new generation of scientists and bioethicists are no longer willing to dismiss radical life extension and have begun to seriously examine these issues. The techno-progressive community as well as the general public are also much more informed about the every increasing pace of technology and are less willing to dismiss potential life extension technologies.

Once the information-theoretic definition of death and the fact that a person is their connectome are accepted, any technique that can preserve the information in the brain has the potential for life extension. In chemical brain preservation, rather than using low temperatures to lock the brain in place as is done in cryonics, the brain is placed in stasis by chemical bonding, a procedure also known as plastination. However, the difference between cryonics and chemical brain preservation is no absolute. Newer forms of cryonics use a process called vitrification. Vitrification uses low temperatures and cryoprotectants to turn tissue into a glass like state where decay is extremely slow. Therefore it may be possible to develop hybrid procedures involving elements of both cryonics and chemical brain preservation.

It may seem obvious to some, but we need ask the question of why would anyone pursue brain preservation? Assuming it works, the obvious answer it that the person wishes to continue living. Many bioethicists argue it is wrong to "unnaturally" extend life and that we need to accept death. This may be good advice if there is nothing we can do about death, but it rings hollow when something can be done. After all, no one argued about refusing public health measures beginning in the late nineteenth century which was arguably the first case of significant life extension.

If the world continues its accelerated pace there is every reason to expect that in a few hundred years we will have a complete science of how the brain gives rise to mind, and the technological prowess to routinely upload memories and minds. Citizens of that future world will have conquered disease and death and overcome countless other biological limitations. And they will viscerally understand what today's neuroscience textbooks try to convey: The mind is computational, and a person's unique memories and personality are encoded in the pattern of physical connections between neurons. From that vantage point, future generations will ask: "Why didn't humanity preserve its most priceless possession -the human brain?"



"it has not yet developed"
This is a thing. This hypotetical technology might be further away than indefinite life extension.

Posted by: Martin S. at September 8th, 2015 6:27 AM

I'm not excited at all by mind uploading research. It seems to me as a cloning technology instead of a life extension technology. I largely prefer cryonics or plastination than mind uploading. Even if it were available today, I probably will not try it.

Posted by: Antonio at September 8th, 2015 7:08 AM

The part about bioethicists argue we should accept death and not unnaturally extend life irritates me. Why does someone in a useless field get to dictate what I do with my life or have ANY say over how long I live? Not to mention cryonics or this doesn't really appeal to me, but hear bioethicists have no business deciding things for people.

Posted by: Ham at September 8th, 2015 7:13 AM

I bet most those bioethicists who say it's selfish to want to live longer still look both ways when crossing the road.

Posted by: Arcanyn at September 8th, 2015 1:43 PM

Here's a comment I read today that struck me as odd about living longer:

It sounds enticing to live forever, but it seems to me that the increased life expectancy has caused more harm than good. We're living longer, but we're also dying to diseases at a much higher rate, seemingly, but really it's because we're living longer than our bodies are used to. The healthcare needed to keep people alive past 60 gets pretty expensive, and from what I've read there's much more suffering than there is joy after 65 or so. This extended life, and care leads to a greater consumption of resources by people who 'dont make the best use of them,' and it allows some people to remain powerful for far too long. Longer life currently delays change too, which doesn't make sense because technology is changing at a faster and faster rate - we have all these old boys wanting to keep control of the system and make sure it stays the way they want it, but they need to listen to the newer generations, and sooner.

My best guess is that people who want to live forever don't have a lot of humility, and believe they can control the universe.

Granted, he's clearly not taking rejuvenation into account, but still... This isn't an uncommon mindset. I hope there aren't a ton of people in power like this around the time any treatments are due to roll around. Also, I like the looking both ways comment. It's true.

Posted by: Ham at September 8th, 2015 2:01 PM

"We're living longer, but we're also dying to diseases at a much higher rate"

WTF? This guy don't even know arithmetics.

Posted by: Antonio at September 8th, 2015 3:38 PM

Or does he mean that today there are less wars and homicides? Does he advocate for a more violent world?

Posted by: Antonio at September 8th, 2015 3:43 PM

I don't think he meant anything with war or homicides. The whole comment irritated me though. Longevity holds back change, let's let everyone get sick and die. I'd like to see someone refuse treatments on that basis.

Posted by: Ham at September 8th, 2015 5:03 PM

The whole point of change is that it makes the world better. Choosing to have a worse world in order for there to be more change defeats the point. Not that I buy that there would be less change from people living longer, on the contrary we'd end up with a species with a greater tendency to plan ahead, as everyone would know they'd be alive to deal with the consequences of things like global warming centuries down the track.

Posted by: Arcanyn at September 9th, 2015 1:44 AM

Yeah I agree. Planning for things like warming are one of the points I like to bring up. I just take issue with people who personally don't want longevity insisting no one else should, or that people who want it are arrogant, vain, etc.

Posted by: Ham at September 9th, 2015 4:33 AM

I was arguing about longevity with someone on reddit and his argument was that longevity is 100% about making people live forever, because if you cure all the diseases (you know, the ones we've been spending billions upon billions of dollars on already), then what do they die from? It was his opinion that this would make the world a worse place, and would lead to institutionalized homicide in order to maintain a balance with the ecosystem in an already overpopulated world. And that society needs to accept death as a good thing. People will still die despite longevity or not. Sigh, sometimes people just make you want to give up talking about this.

Posted by: Ham at September 10th, 2015 9:12 AM
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