Organ donation vs Cryonics

post by handoflixue · 2011-06-27T20:45:49.389Z · score: 6 (9 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 29 comments

(I wrote this as a comment, but it struck me as something that was potentially worth sharing with a wider audience. It seems overly specific for a main post, however :))

1) I think I can save more lives by being an organ donor [ed: rather than doing cryonics]

There were about 6 thousand people last year in Canada who needed an organ transplant [1] and around 247 thousand deaths [2]. Of those deaths, about 1/3rd were prevented by existing donors. We'd be preventing less than 2% of all deaths in Canada if everyone got the donations they needed.

Donation is only viable in cases of brain death (~49% odds) [1], and I couldn't find any statistics on how often a donor body is actually usable (but I'd assume vastly less than 100% of those cases, since you have to die of brain death in a hospital and still have cardiac activity) All in all, there's a deficit of donors, so it's probably still helpful (unless you're a male who has had sex with another male, in which case you might not even be legally eligible; it's banned in Canada).

I think you're probably saving less than 1 life on average by being a donor. You'd probably do better to convince some friends and co-workers to sign up with, since organ donation is "low hanging fruit" (free, socially acceptable), and sign yourself up for cryonics (you can claim you've gone with the more complex "donate body to medical science" if you need a social excuse for why you're not an organ donor yourself)

If you're not doing cryonics, there's no excuse for not being an organ donor, of course, so don't use this as an excuse to wiggle out of doing one or the other! :)




Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Raemon · 2011-06-27T22:08:47.983Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you're probably saving less than 1 life on average by being a donor.

Random guess: you're saving about .5 lives by donating, vs saving .05 of your own life by cryonauting.

Then there's not just the organ donation - there's the money you put towards cryonics that could have been donated towards charity (whether life-extension research, existential risk, or whatever).

If your goal was to maximize your own life no matter what, go for cryonics. Personally, I'm not emotionally entangled with a future life yet. For the time being, (in the event that I die, say, tomorrow) I'd rather donate my organs and life-insurance policy towards something that will do immediate good.

comment by handoflixue · 2011-06-27T22:11:39.851Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Conversely, that's 0.5 lives which are extended by a few decades, versus 0.05 lives that might live for centuries. Other than that, I agree with you, but I don't think organ donation should be a major obstacle if one is genuinely interested in cryonics.

comment by thakil · 2011-06-28T11:44:30.506Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is the most important question. I would argue that the probability of succesful reincarnation is much lower than 0.05, and thus I go with organ donation. One's probability calculations are going to change how one answers this question.

Its also worth noting that if one donates oneself to organ donation+scientific research (assuming we go the whole hog, which we might as well if we believe we will not be reaminated), the odds of me helping is definitely much higher than cyronics, and being risk averse is not necessarily a bad thing on a one time bet.

comment by Raemon · 2011-06-27T22:40:27.853Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think (and so far haven't read an argument claiming) that you personally signing up for cryonics impacts the actual number of lives that get to live forever. It just helps ensure that you get to be one of those lives.

If you're taking the super-long view, and AREN'T making decisions for (understandably) selfish reasons, then the money you put towards cryonics will do more good if donated towards life extension research, or invested in space travel, or promoting a socioeconomic framework which can better handle the increasingly long lived population.

The extra half-life you also get to save via organ donation doesn't end up mattering much in the long term, but unless I'm personally emotionally entangled with them, I value currently-alive people dramatically more that not-alive-yet people.

comment by Nick_Roy · 2011-06-28T01:49:32.957Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why value currently alive people dramatically more than not-alive-yet people?

comment by Raemon · 2011-06-28T13:45:47.591Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Actually, that statement was probably incorrect. This is an area where my moral framework isn't well prepared to handle, and my attempts to fix it have all resulted in hypothetical outcomes I'm not happy with. (I'd elaborate, but it's not really possible to do so without going through the entire function, which I should probably attempt to do soon but won't right now)

comment by DanielLC · 2011-06-29T04:15:34.834Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I suspect that saving someone's life would increase the total population by at least that much for the singularity, so you're causing even more lives to live for centuries.

Why centuries? I'd expect if they can wake people up from cryonics, they could make them last more than a couple centuries.

comment by Pavitra · 2011-06-29T02:56:08.469Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you want to weight lives on the long view, shouldn't you focus on the people who will most effectively shape the future into accordance with your values?

comment by Raemon · 2011-06-29T05:32:58.376Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

More or less, yes. Whether you're donating money/time to individual people or causes/organizations isn't necessarily relevant. Cryonics helps you to personally reap the benefits of a future where we already "won," but I don't think it actually helps achieve that future. (It helps shift cultural norms towards acceptance of cryonics and longevity if you are vocal about it, but I'm not convinced that this is more beneficial to the world than actually donating to life extension research).

It's still a perfectly legitimate selfish choice (though I'm pledging to donate a percentage of my income to charity, I certainly still spend money on selfish things).

By "immediate good" I didn't mean "save X lives today", I meant more along the lines of "immediately help fund research which will enable us to develop the ability to save X*N lives tomorrow." (Right now I'm thinking I might want to donate to a group that develops experimental education programs, with rigorous attempts to figure out what works and what doesn't and how it can be replicated in different communities. Improving education seems like the ultimate "high level multiplicative action," if it's done effectively. I'm not sure such an organization exists.)

On the subject of organs, if you have a particular person who you think will do a lot of good who can live if and only if they receive an organ donation, I suppose that's better than donating to some random person, but I don't think that's an event you can easily plan for.

comment by Nick_Tarleton · 2011-06-28T02:46:55.388Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I couldn't find any statistics on how often a donor body is actually usable (but I'd assume vastly less than 100% of those cases, since you have to die of brain death in a hospital and still have cardiac activity)

This sounds like a really important unknown. Anyone else happen to have information?

comment by handoflixue · 2011-06-28T22:52:19.973Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p) suggests 11% of donors actually end up donating, and that this is rising rather fast (was 1% as of 1995, up to 11% in 2008)

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2011-06-28T09:02:53.740Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The money you might put into cryopreservation can save a lot more lives than your organs can. The same of course goes for anything else you spend that money on, like restaurants or movies.

comment by Rain · 2011-06-29T14:31:05.381Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Calculations of life-saving medical procedures should use QALY (quality adjusted life years) rather than "lives saved" as the proper measure. A 90-year old receiving your heart will not produce very many QALY compared with successful cryopreservation and revival.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-06-28T03:01:39.973Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I suspect that you are overestimating how many people are going to be saved by organ donations from a given individual. A single person is only compatible with certain people. A fair number of the people who die waiting for organ donation are not getting donations in part because of a lack of a compatible donor. You may not be adding substantial compatible donors, especially if you are of a common genetic compliment. Moreover, many (although certainly not all) people who are getting organ donations have other problems, so one needs to ask how much lifespan one is actually extending them by.

comment by handoflixue · 2011-06-28T22:52:10.405Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p) suggests 11% of donors actually end up donating, and that this is rising rather fast (was 1% as of 1995, up to 11% in 2008)

comment by James_Miller · 2011-06-27T21:54:30.110Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There must exist some X such that (signing up for cryonics plus giving $X to the best charity you can identify) equals the social benefit of becoming an organ donor. If you're worried about the social cost of not being an organ donor you could pay $X and consider this part of the cost of cryonics. I suspect that X is negative due in part to the fact that the stigma of cryonics is likely decreasing in the number of people who signed up for cryonics and millions of expected lives would be saved if cryonics had no social stigma stuck to it.

comment by handoflixue · 2011-06-27T22:18:10.988Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

At 50% effectiveness, and 8 lives on average (which is about the most generous assumption possible), you're saving 4 lives. GiveWell lists the cost of a life at around a thousand dollars, so organ donation is probably no better than a $5,000 donation to them. The main advantage of organ donation is that, if you're not doing cryonics, it's an effectively free donation :)

Conversely, the $25K cost of cryonics saves at least a couple dozen lives, and that's for the cheap-end CI preservation without standby. So cryonics will always be a tradeoff between "some change of giving myself extra years" vs "saving numerous other lives, but they'll die off after a few decades"

comment by Fergus_Mackinnon · 2011-06-29T21:02:07.544Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Wait, hold the press! There's no reason for the two options to be exclusive. Your brain information could still be preserved while donating your organs after death, if you were in circumstances in which the organs could be harvested while still useful. If you're younger than, say, fifty, this shouldn't ever become an issue, anyway.

comment by Fergus_Mackinnon · 2011-06-29T20:37:33.790Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You'd be better off spending your life as it stands on something important, or prominent, (academia or business for example) and becoming an advert for Cryonics. If you gain status, then make cryonics, and rationality, less 'weird'.

That way you get to contribute, and stay alive!

comment by TrE · 2011-06-27T21:53:40.735Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If those organs can be transplanted from one body to another, it seems very well possible, even quite probable, that organs can be re-grown in the future, especially when grown out of your own stem cells (or induced stem cells), as is already being developed. So for me, at a first glance, I don't see any reasons why one couldn't cryo-preservate a body including the brain after other organs (kidneys, heart, whatever) have been transplanted.

comment by handoflixue · 2011-06-27T22:20:18.595Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Short Answer: They're not compatible. Slightly longer answer:

comment by TrE · 2011-06-28T06:19:15.720Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you. Great letter. Shows that a first glance is not enough to come to the correct conclusion.

comment by Alexei · 2011-06-27T21:40:13.962Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am curious if you could donate your organs while cryo-preserving your brain. I'll send an email to Alcor and ask them.

comment by handoflixue · 2011-06-27T22:20:15.811Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Short Answer: They're not compatible. Slightly longer answer:

comment by Alexei · 2011-06-27T23:26:44.435Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yup. Here is the reply I got from Alcor:

If you are an organ donor, Alcor cannot get your body until your other organs have been harvested. They will not put your body or head on ice which is very bad for you and your cryopreservation arrangements. Alcor highly recommends to the members not to be an organ donor due to this conflict.

comment by handoflixue · 2011-06-27T23:33:58.774Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Glad to have it confirmed from them as well. Thank you :)

comment by SilasBarta · 2011-06-28T15:05:05.689Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Interesting. What about donating non-vital or machine-replaceable organs while near death, and then cryo-preserving whatever's left? That is, donate a kidney or something, at least. As technology improves, maybe one day you could live without even a heart, and have a machine pump the blood.

comment by Normal_Anomaly · 2011-06-28T15:26:48.832Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

IAWYC, and donating a kidney is definitely a good idea. Though it might be best to do it before you get old so that both you and the kidney can handle it better. One thing to point out:

As technology improves, maybe one day you could live without even a heart, and have a machine pump the blood.

At that point, donor hearts wouldn't be that useful.

comment by AlexMennen · 2011-06-28T02:24:24.972Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's unfortunate. It's a terrible waste of organs.