Volume 2, Issue 3
3rd Quarter, 2007

Why Transbemans in Biostasis are Alive

Dr. Martine Rothblatt

This article was adapted from a lecture given by Martine Rothblatt, J.D., Ph.D., during the 2nd Annual Colloquium on the Law of Transbeman Persons, December 10, 2006, at the Space Coast Office of Terasem Movement, Inc., Melbourne Beach, FL.

Dr. Rothblatt combines her legal and biotechnical expertise to explore a definition of legally being alive as it pertains to the present definition of death and how both relate to those cryogenically preserved or in biostasis.   


I will start with a definition of terms. A "transbeman" is a being desirous of human rights but not conventionally considered so eligible as well as other beings who self-identify with such beings. I would consider an individual in cryonic biostasis to be a transbeman.

I would define "biostasis" as a virtually complete and intentionally reversible arrest of biological processes. Because of a very broad definition that I would apply to biological processes, including psychological processes, I think an individual is in biostasis if they are in cryonic biostasis or if their mind has been uploaded. I would consider that another form of biostasis if the individual's fleshy brain met demise.  

Finally, I would define "alive" as capable, under appropriate conditions, of autonomous activities.

Image 1: Legal Definitions of Death

I will start by echoing the legal definition of death from the National Conference of Commissioners. [1] I am going to zoom in on a couple of key phrases that are relevant for my presentation, namely that the first part of the common definition, harkened back to the common law, the "irreversible cessation of circulatory and respiratory functions." Then, post transplantation technology of the 1960s and early '70s, the Conference of Commissioners added the second portion which says, "or irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain including the brain stem." 

That is what we are working with now in terms of a legal definition of death. It is not just why Transbemans in biostasis are legally alive; I'm going to discuss both being legally alive or legally not dead, and also being what I would call really alive or really not dead.

There are some questions raised by 21st Century technology that I think undermine the continuing robustness of the current National Commission definition of death. These questions have been raised most clearly by the exciting work going on at Alcor. One question is if cryonic [2] biostasis is reversible, then aren't cryonicists alive?

Another question is if brain functions are transplanted to a computer before brain death, then aren't the transplantees still alive, because, remember, the definition of death requires the cessation of all brain functions.  

The response to these two questions from the current Juridico-Medical [3] establishment would be that the definition of death is also subject to accepted medical standards. What the current Juridico-Medical [4] establishment would probably say is that biostasis revival is not accepted by the medical community, and therefore, it is considered irreversible by virtue of the medical community.

Even if you look at Alcor's website, they clearly do not want to incur any legal problems, so they present their experiment as being just an experiment; they present cryonics as being an experiment. Indeed, they receive your bodies pursuant to the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, for which, once again, we have to thank Peter Langrock, Esq. [5] and his colleagues.  

Another argument from the current Juridico-Medical establishment (they're great at saying no), would be that the Act also says it must be construed to effect its general purpose.  They would probably say that the purpose of that Act was to make sure people were dead so that you could take their organs, not to make sure that they were alive. 

Those are two likely responses from the current Juridico-Medical establishment. What I would like to have everybody keep in mind is that it took only 50 years to go from this:

This also occurred when there were no air conditioners, skyscrapers, and I think this one is really mind blowing, or galaxies.

It took only 50 years to go to this:

A B-52 bomber with air-to-air refueling can go throughout the world carrying fifty tons of lethal cargo.

Then only another 30 years to go to this:

That gives me shivers up my spine every time I see it. That is how fast things are going to change.

Rapid advance does not occur just in aeronautics. It took twenty-five years to go from Pac-Man to a very convincing virtual reality.

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1. National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL) –now 115 years old, provides states with non-partisan, well-conceived and well-drafted legislation that brings clarity and stability to critical areas of the law. NCCUSL’s work supports the federal system and facilitates the movement of individuals and the business of organizations with rules that are consistent from state to state.
http://www.nccusl.org/Update/ April 11, 2007 4:08PM EST

2. Alcor - The Alcor Life Extension Foundation is the world leader in cryonics, cryonics research, and cryonics technology. Cryonics is the science of using ultra-cold temperature to preserve human life with the intent of restoring good health when technology becomes available to do so. Alcor is a non-profit organization located in Scottsdale, Arizona, founded in 1972.
http://www.alcor.org/  August 8, 2007 3:46PM EST

3. Cryonics - the low temperature preservation of humans and other animals that can no longer be sustained by contemporary medicine until resuscitation may be possible in the future.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cryonics  August 8, 2007 3:50PM EST

4. Juridico-Medical - an overlapping legal and healthcare domain, such as standards of medicine that have legal significance.

5. Peter Langrock, Esq. – Chairman, Division E, Ex Officio, NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF COMMISSIONERS ON UNIFORM STATE LAWS, 1967 – 1981
www.law.upenn.edu August 9, 2007 12:38PM EST


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