Cryonics may sound like a futuristic fad, but it is gaining popularity in a niche market. The process involves low-temperature post-mortem preservation of people who cannot be sustained by contemporary medicine or services, with the hope that reanimation and restoration to full health may be possible in the future.
In simple terms, cryonics is the preservation of the human body at cryogenic temperatures (−196°C) in anticipation of future medical technology being able to repair the accumulated damage of aging and disease at the molecular level and restore the patient to health.
Entire body cryonics is expected to be available around the world within the next 20 to 30 years, including Australia, where at least one site in New South Wales has reportedly been approved for the construction of a cryonics facility.
With cryonics to be more widely available, it is important that the estate planning implications for those who wish to access this emerging procedure are considered carefully, according to national boutique law firm Parke Lawyers.
Parke Lawyers Managing Director Jim Parke and the firm Parke Lawyers, are a Leading listing in Doyles Guide Leading Wills, Estates & Succession Planning Lawyers Victoria 2017 for the categories of Wills & Estates and also Estates Litigation.
Mr Parke says there are two main estate planning issues relating to being cryonically suspended: burial and preservation of assets.
He says an executor is responsible for arranging a burial. “As burial wishes are not binding on the executor, it is important for a testator to ensure they have trust in that person so that they comply with their wish for cyronic suspension.
An executor should be aware of the testator’s wish to be cryonically suspended so that they can act quickly because cryogenics providers say there is a small window of opportunity to have someone cryogenically suspended following their death.
In regard to the preservation of assets, Mr Parke says a will can only leave assets to beneficiaries who are not the testator (will-maker), as Australian law treats a person’s death as irreversible.
“Someone who wishes to keep their assets until their reanimation would likely need an inter vivos trust that lasts indefinitely. This would ensure that assets are preserved for this purpose until technology has advanced sufficiently to reanimate a suspended person.” Challenges include dealing with the indefinite timeframes for which assets will need to be preserved and choosing suitable trustees.
He says the will-maker should also consider having powers of attorney prepared.
This should involve an attorney for financial and personal decisions. It should also include a person to act as their medical treatment decision-maker who can make decisions for the person who wishes to be cryonically suspended while they are alive. This is particularly important if they are in a coma or lose capacity to make decisions in the lead-up to their death.
This person can then assist with implementing plans for the person’s imminent cryonic suspension. Another important step to consider is making an advance care directive.
This can set out both values and directions, that is, whether they wish to be resuscitated and what kind of treatments they agree to being performed on them. With limited acceptance of cryogenics in mainstream medicine and science, such a directive could help overcome administrative hurdles at the palliative care stage, as the patient’s wishes will have been documented in advance.
Continuing progress in medical technology gives hope that treatments will be found for most currently fatal conditions and as a result our expected healthy, active lifespans will get very much longer within the next few decades. Some believe that scientific advances will allow their reanimation in the future. The law has an important part to play in assisting those who wish to access these possibilities to do so and to take steps to protect their assets in the meantime.