Charitable Cryonics

post by RobertLumley · 2011-08-04T00:42:15.595Z · score: 8 (15 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 20 comments

Tl;dr: Cryonics companies have a pre-written bottom line. If people believe cryonics has a reasonable chance of success, they are significantly morally obligated to form a charity that would give cryonics away, as such a charity would be far more effective in convincing, and by extension saving people, since it would have no incentive to pre-write a bottom line. Over time, such a charity would increase general demand for cryonics, bringing it into the mainstream and making traditional cryonics companies more successful.


Let us assume for the purposes of this post, as I'm sure many of you believe, cryonics stands a reasonable chance (Let's pick p = 0.05) of being successful. It seems pretty clear that you have a pretty strong moral obligation to attempt to get people signed up for cryonics. There is a lot of talk about things like Cryonics versus charity. Robin Hanson even has a post "Cryonics as Charity", although he means an entirely different thing than I do. But in searching, I was surprised not to find a post that asked this question: why isn't there a charity that provides cryonics to, for example, people that can't afford it? Or one offering it to the greatest minds of our time, in the hopes that they'll be around for all of our futures?

There's been a lot of speculation as to why cryonics isn't more popular. The answer, at least for me, is obvious. There's a tremendous dearth of reliable information on the subject. The fundamental problem with medicine is the information gap between consumer and provider - consumers don't have the scientific knowledge to make an informed purchase. But in conventional medicine, you can easily get a second opinion, whereas in cryonics, few people, from the media to medical professionals, take it seriously enough to offer a well thought out second opinion, even if that opinion is against it. And what information I have seen linked to on the subject is generally published by CI or Alcor. Ironically, when I asked for "unbiased" information on the matter, I got exactly what I wasn't looking for - information from a company that wants me to pay them, at minimum, $200,000. The result? An informational balance where one side presents no argument, and the other side presents an argument with a pre-written bottom line.

This is where the idea of a charity comes in. A charity would have no financial incentive to pre-write the bottom line, and is generally seen as a more reputable source of information, as it should be. Furthermore, it would help destigmatize cryonics, as part of the stigma (as I see it, I can't really tell you what gives me this impression) is that you've been "hoodwinked" by the companies. Obviously, it's not tenable for everyone to freeload their way to cryonics. But a charity would serve to bring cryonics into the mainstream and increase demand, providing a (more) neutral source of information. Which would, in time, make organizations like CI and Alcor far more popular.

20 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by gwern · 2011-08-04T01:37:19.971Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Alcor is already a charity, funded by people who wish to see cryonics spread - Alcor runs at an annual loss of hundreds of thousands, made up by donations and other such charitable generosity. As it happens, they also choose to spend their extremely limited cryonics slots on their most generous donors; what's the problem?

comment by Hyena · 2011-08-04T02:46:13.680Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So Alcor runs at a loss and doesn't actually freeze that many people because it can't afford to?

Maybe the reason there's not much freezing going on is that the major players in it aren't very aggressive.

comment by ScottMessick · 2011-08-17T19:25:28.541Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So Alcor runs at a loss and doesn't actually freeze that many people because it can't afford to?

This seems extremely misleading. Unless I'm very much mistaken, Alcor cryopreserves every one of its members upon their legal death to the absolute best of its ability, as indeed they are contractually obligated to do. They even now have an arrangement with Suspended Animation so that an SA team can provide SST (standby, stabilization, and transport) in cases where Alcor cannot easily get there in time. (SA is a for-profit company founded to provide exactly this type of service; they also have a working relationship with Cryonics Institute of a different sort.)

To my understanding, Alcor runs at a "loss" (in quotes because donations are just as much a source of revenue as membership and cryopreservation fees) for similar reasons that any small-but-growing business would: because growth is the best way to ensure long-term stability, and keeping the price of cryopreservation as low as possible given the other constraints promotes growth.

Finally, I think it's worth mentioning Alcor created the Patient Care Trust fund and gave it legal independence specifically to prevent funds from being usurped that are intended to go toward the care and eventual resuscitation of Alcor's patients, regardless of Alcor's future financial situation. Even if Alcor collapses financially, these funds are contractually mandated to be used toward protecting Alcor's patients, and maximizing their continued chances of being successfully revived (for example, by transferring them to another cryonics organization).

comment by RobertLumley · 2011-08-04T01:46:52.859Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

They're non-profits, I wouldn't necessarily call them charities, as I meant it. But that's a semantic point. I think people are disinclined to trust them, because they're still asking for people's money. If you could build a system where cryonics would be funded by someone (or someones) else and then donated to another recipient, I think that would make people give it far more serious consideration.

Also, I don't necessarily think Alcor and CI are perceived (which is what matters) as non-profits. I thought they were for profit companies until I started researching this post and read otherwise.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2011-08-04T06:03:20.407Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Specifically:

Alcor Life Extension Foundation and the American Cryonics Society (ACS) are organized as 501(c)3 charitable organizations, whereas the Cryonics Institute (CI) is simply a non-profit corporation. Although Suspended Animation, Inc. (SA) is ostensibly a for-profit company, it is mainly engaged in research and development of cryonics capabilities financed by the principals of the Life Extension Foundation.

http://www.cryonics.org/comparisons.html

comment by MichaelAnissimov · 2013-01-27T02:16:01.646Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Gwern -- Alcor is not "run at an annual loss of hundreds of thousands". I can't imagine where you heard this.

comment by gwern · 2013-01-27T02:31:18.687Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I heard it from their filings: http://lesswrong.com/lw/1mc/normal_cryonics/1hmp As of 2008, they had an annual shortfall of ~0.6m, and did not go bankrupt thanks to contributions, gifts, and grants which filled the gap. Which is what I said above.

(I don't believe this included the actuarial shortfalls but IIRC they plan to push that onto members, so it's probably not an issue for ALCOR itself.)

comment by MichaelAnissimov · 2013-01-27T19:46:37.346Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Since they are getting contributions, gifts, and grants, I don't see that as a shortfall. That's like saying the SI has a huge shortfall because they get all their support through contributions. Many supporters of cryonics are ultra-wealthy. The second the material existence of Alcor is threatened, they'll contribute. I understand that you are following Alcor's public materials, but try attending a cryonics conference.

comment by gwern · 2013-01-27T23:22:24.666Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Since they are getting contributions, gifts, and grants, I don't see that as a shortfall...That's like saying the SI has a huge shortfall because they get all their support through contributions.

Yes. It's pretty much exactly like saying that. If you had read the OP then maybe you would understand why I made the point I did, or indeed why Merkle made the comment he did....

Many supporters of cryonics are ultra-wealthy. The second the material existence of Alcor is threatened, they'll contribute.

One would hope so, as opposed to switch to CI or wait just a little too long in the game of chicken or anything else.

comment by Tenoke · 2013-01-28T22:31:54.092Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Since they are getting contributions, gifts, and grants, I don't see that as a shortfall

I'm sorry but how does this not agree fully with the claim that:

Alcor runs at an annual loss of hundreds of thousands, made up by donations and other such charitable generosity

Are you not agreeing that except for the 'contributions, gifts, and grants' which is mostly synonymous with 'donations and other such charitable generosity' Alcor is operated at an annual loss?

comment by MichaelAnissimov · 2013-01-29T08:26:17.410Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am agreeing with that claim. Maybe what I'm really disagreeing with is the implication that the shortfall is some kind of issue?

comment by Tenoke · 2013-01-29T10:33:25.376Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am agreeing with that claim.

Certainly didn't seem that way when you said:

Gwern -- Alcor is not "run at an annual loss of hundreds of thousands". I can't imagine where you heard this.

It seems to me like you were clearly implying that at least part of his claim was not true when the claim was stated quite clearly.

Otherwise your judgement whether the shortfall is an issue was conveyed clearly and I haven't said anything about that. I don't disagree with you on that and to be fair I haven't really noticed why you think that gwern is implying that it is an issue. Seems to me like he is explaining to someone who thinks that cryonics should be 'charitable' that Alcor is in fact a charity.

comment by Merkle · 2011-08-14T06:26:01.605Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Alcor is indeed a charity, both formally in the legal sense and in the sense that everyone in the Alcor community donates their time, money, resources, their names, and anything else that will help Alcor grow and prosper. The Board all donate their time, and often much more. The staff put in long hours for modest wages. And we have countless volunteers and part-time contributors and contractors who make an immense contribution. We also have contractual relationships with other companies, who are also dedicated to the same cause.

This is because we believe in what we're doing.

Our thanks to the Less Wrong community. The monthly Board meetings review new applicants and the reasons they give for joining Alcor. Less Wrong is mentioned more and more often these days, keep up the good work!

Ralph C. Merkle, Alcor Board member

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2011-08-04T02:49:29.344Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

An informational balance where one side presents no argument, and the other side presents an argument with a pre-written bottom line.

Suppose that the former "side" also presents its "bottom line". Now you have two contradictory "bottom lines", by assumption statements disconnected from the fact they purport to elicit. What next? They are, by assumption, equally useless. If every question of truth has two "sides" that represent perfect rationalizations for the two alternative answers, how can anything be known?

comment by lsparrish · 2013-01-27T22:25:25.256Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The $200,000 price tag is only for whole body cases. The actual minimum is $80,000 for head-only. Neuro is actually better from an information-theoretic standpoint because the cooling rate is faster, which reduces warm ischemic time. It also makes the patient easier to move in an emergency, incurs lower long term storage/cooling costs, and uses less cryoprotectant solution.

comment by lsparrish · 2011-08-05T00:02:57.363Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I like the idea of a charity that a) strongly signals that it is charitable and b) has the effect of signing lots of people up who wouldn't otherwise become involved. Charitable fundraising for cases which could not get life insurance (e.g. James Swayze or Bill O'Rights) has precedence, but I'm not aware of an organization that actively fundraises for "merit scholarships" like this. I do know of an organization that provides some third party information, the Institute for Evidence Based Cryonics.

comment by handoflixue · 2011-08-04T23:15:45.263Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm really not sure why you feel the need to have a charity to research this - a simple non-profit research organisation could probably rather trivially fund a review of cryonics literature. Alcor and CI both do a great job of citing their sources, and LessWrong has done a review of the anti-cryonics literature (short version: there isn't any that has an actual basis in science)

Really what it comes down to is, cryonics says "given the current proven technologies, these few assumptions, and an assumed high-likelihood that we'll therefore also develop X and Y at some point, we can do this." There isn't any way to research or test that short of actually developing a de-vitrification process and proving it works. If you're curious to know whether cryonics really works, you'd have to fund the organisations doing that research.

comment by RobertLumley · 2011-08-04T23:17:49.543Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You don't need a charity to research it. It seems you missed my point.

You need a charity to offer it to people for free so that it doesn't seem like a scam to them. That way they'll take it seriously.

comment by handoflixue · 2011-08-05T18:54:03.127Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You need a charity to offer it to people for free so that it doesn't seem like a scam to them.

I suppose I really don't follow that reasoning. All Board members are required by Alcor Bylaws to be Alcor members, so you already have some degree of "clearly these people believe in it and are committed to it." I'm not sure how a charity that was founded exclusively for this reason would come off as the slightest bit more trustworthy. An established third party evaluation, certainly. A number of noteworthy celebrities, perhaps, but they're known to advocate all sorts of crazy stuff - we don't want to tip our image even more-so in to "weird crazy cult".

I suppose mostly, I can't think of any legitimate group that feels the need to do a "first one is free" policy - it makes me think drug dealers and cults, not medicine and science.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2011-08-04T02:31:53.310Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

(Let's pick p = 0.05)

Let's not.