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Life Insurance Is Frozen

Dec 25, 2007
Life insurance, despite the many clauses it contains, is basically simple. The customer pays their premiums, discloses all relevant medical information and sits back secure in the knowledge that in the event of critical illness his mortgage will be paid and on the event of death his family will not suffer financial hardship.

However, with ever - increasing advances in medicine there is the potential for boundaries to become blurred.

Take, for example, the business of cryonics, sometimes mistakenly called cryogenics.

Cryonics is the practice of freezing a human body to -196 degrees using liquid nitrogen or liquid helium. This is done when conventional medicine can no longer maintain the body. It is not legal to carry out the process unless the person has been legally declared dead.

But this is where problems are occurring. The point of legal death is changing with advances in medicine. Whereas before, a cardiac arrest was considered instant death, it is now often reversible.

Scientists are constantly working on brain matter to also find ways of reversing the death of a brain. It has long been accepted that 4 - 6 minutes is the maximum time after the heart stops that a brain can recover if the heart is resuscitated. Recent studies show that this limit is no longer acceptable and that brain cell activity can be detected after much longer periods.

Contrary to popular belief, legal death does not necessarily mean the death of all the cells of the body. If an organ donor is facing impending death, a team of surgeons can be put on standby. Once the patient has been declared dead, they can then artificially restore blood flow and breathing. This keeps tissues alive until organ transplantation is possible.

For a patient signed up to an organisation for the purpose of cryopreservation, they give permission for their 'dead' body to be filled with cryoprotectants to minimise cell damage and then be cryogenically frozen in the hope that at some point in the future, medical advances will mean they can be 'defrosted', repaired and revived.

This is a very controversial issue for scientists and ethical bodies around the world. Scientists believe that although reversal of death is not possible, it will be in the future. Indeed, this is not a new concept. Benjamin Franklin famously suggested in a letter dated 1773 that the preservation of life in a suspended state for centuries would one day be possible.

The ethical issues surrounding cryonics ask if this process is interment or medicine. If it is interment, then resuscitation is not possible because the soul is gone. If cryonics is medicine with legal death as a mere formality, then cryonics is a long term coma with an uncertain prognosis.

Scientists do not like to call the process interment as this suggests that cryonics cannot work. It cannot work at the moment but that is not necessarily a permanent obstacle.

So, if it falls into the bracket of long term coma is it possible that life insurance policies may not pay out in the future? You have to be legally dead for your family to be in receipt of your life insurance and legally dead to receive cryonics. But, at some point in the future, if it should occur that death reversal is possible, will life insurance companies be asking for their money back?

The most radical idea for the future of cryonics is mind transfer. Technology is being worked on to scan the memory contents of a preserved brain. It can only be assumed that these will then need another body to be transferred into. If the character and memory is in a brain would you want to wake up in somebody else's body?

Would you want to look in the mirror with your brain telling you the way you look but your eyes seeing something different? Would you want to be in control of another person's body, be scratching their arm, sleeping in their body?

And if the person is in the brain to the point where that person is cryogenically revived, what happens to that person's life insurance, or the life insurance of the body that now has new life, albeit with a different mind?
About the Author
Medical expert Shaun Parker looks into whether medical advances will change the shape of life insurance in the future. To find out more please visit http://www.theidol.com/
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