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Advance Directives and Transhumanism
Ben Scarlato   May 27, 2011   Ethical Technology  

Advance directives are documents which give guidance on what should be done when your health deteriorates to the point where you can no longer make decisions for yourself. Sadly, these documents are often neglected by the general public until it is too late, but it’s even more crucial for transhumanists to think about and complete these documents.

In the United States, there are two types of Advance directives. Living wills record specific wishes, such as what should be done if you enter a persistent vegetative state (PVS), whether you want to be resuscitated should your heart stop (a process much more painful and risky than Hollywood would make it seem), and whether you would want a feeding tube or would be willing to make organ donations. Healthcare Power of Attorney documents specify someone to make healthcare decisions for you, should you be unable to do so.

Many people procrastinate the completion of these documents because they do not want to think about death. Transhumanists are more willing to think about death insofar as they try to overcome it through technology and creativity. But when our individual plans fall through, it’s important to handle disaster gracefully.

Filling out advance directives with my LifeBook tablet.

However, it’s not clear what a transhumanist’s advance directive should say. Transhumanists are inclined to define death as the destruction of the information encoding your personality, rather than the state of the body. That could mean you want to specify in your living will that costly healthcare should not be wasted in a scenario such as a PVS.

Alternatively, you may want to cling to any sliver of hope. Perhaps if you outlive the doctor’s expectations, and your brain hasn’t undergone irreversible information loss, the technology to cure you will be developed in a few years. Or more likely, perhaps you were misdiagnosed in the first place. For PVS in particular, studies suggest a misdiagnosis rate as high as 43%.

Of course, ideally in near-death scenarios you’d have the option of either vitrification
and cryonic preservation or brain plastination. Unfortunately, you can’t yet use advance directives to specify that you’d like to undergo such procedures while still alive, when they would be most effective. But you can use advance directives in an attempt to minimize the likelihood of end of life care interfering with a successful cryopreservation. For example, you could specify that if your condition is deemed irrecoverable and keeping you alive could incur further neuronal damage, your body should be allowed to de-animate.

Granting someone healthcare power of attorney is also important here. If you can find someone who is sympathetic to your ambition to be revived in a better future and designate them as your agent, you can significantly reduce the chance of healthcare providers or caretakers making decisions which would interfere with your wishes.

We need to work towards a time when individuals do have the legal option of brain plastination or cryopreservation while still alive. But until such a time, the more people who make informed decisions about their end of life care, the better.

Regardless of whether you’re a transhumanist or signed up for cryonics, having these documents prepared makes a lot of sense. You’ll be joining the ranks of many other forward thinking individuals, and you never know when you’ll need your advance directives.

Completing an advance directive is not complicated. Although you need witnesses, the paperwork itself is not time-consuming.

If you’re in the U.S, you can find an advance directive for your state as a PDF at Caring Connections. The site also has links explaining how to securely store your advance directive with Google Health.

Ben Scarlato, a former IEET intern, studied Computer Science at Rochester Institute of Technology and works as a software engineer focused on security.

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