That is a question which is usually posed by those who long to know whether Christians are right in believing that eternal life will follow the end of life in this world. But, as the desperately sad case of JS, the fourteen year old girl who has died of cancer and been cryonically preserved, shows, there are many people for whom the question means something entirely different.
I make no criticism of poor JS. She was only fourteen. I can see that some teenagers might well be taken with the idea of being frozen after death and then brought back to life in two or three hundred years when cures for their terminal diseases have been found and a way of re-animating frozen dead bodies has been invented. But the idea strikes me as being the stuff of nightmares. Let us suppose, a very generous supposition, that the thawing, re-animating and curing all work perfectly in 2216 or thereabouts. JS wakes up in a world which will be quite unrecognisable to her. All her family and friends will have died over a hundred years earlier. Is she really going to enjoy this new life?
The reality, of course, is that, if the resurrecting of cryonically preserved bodies is in fact ever attempted, it will go disastrously wrong. If some form of life is achieved, it will almost certainly be far from perfect. The science is highly speculative. No one can really say whether vital organs, particularly the brain, can survive death and long-term freezing. The probability must be that they cannot. All attempts to freeze organs for transplant have failed: is it really possible that freezing whole bodies will work? We can only guess at the extent of disability which these resurrected bodies will suffer, but the likelihood must be that it will be great.
But, as I say, I can just about understand why a teenager might be tempted by cryonic preservation. What completely baffles me is why men and women who have already passed their three score years and ten should see any attraction in it at all. And yet the articles which have appeared on the subject since JS hit the headlines reveal that a great many of those who have signed up to cryonic preservation when they die are already in their seventies and eighties.
I suppose some of these elderly fans of cryonic preservation may have early dementia. That could explain their eagerness to be frozen and brought back to life in a few hundred years’ time. But many of them, in other respects, give every appearance of sanity. What is it that they want? Do they really want to come back to life as elderly men and women in a world which will be wholly different from the one in which they died? Are they expecting that old age will have been abolished, that they, and everyone else in this new world, will live for ever? Has it not occurred to them that a world in which everyone lives for ever may be insufferable, that it will be grossly overpopulated, that the only solution to the population crisis will be laws banning child birth leaving no one, eventually, under the age of about 150? No, they can’t really be sane.
Maybe you think that all this can be dismissed as the ravings of a foolish Christian who has been brainwashed into thinking Christ’s promise of eternal life in another place will be a reality. Yes, I do believe that, but I am not immune from doubt. And in those moments of doubt I have never once thought that, if there is no life after death, I would like to live for ever in this world. Neither can I understand why any sane person could have such a wish.
Still, there’s nowt so queer as folk and, if others would prefer to devote their life’s savings to freezing their dead bodies rather than helping their surviving dependants, it is no business of mine.