A B.C. man who is challenging provincial laws surrounding the preservation of the body after death has signed a groundbreaking cryonic contract.
The four-page deal between Keegan Macintosh and the Lifespan Society of B.C. is believed to be the first time a Canadian has signed with a local provider to keep their body in a state of permanent suspension.
The contract is the latest twist in an unusual B.C. Supreme Court showdown over the province's Cremation, Interment and Funeral Services Act.
Macintosh's claim says the province is the only place in the world to outlaw cryonics.
In its legal response, the province has said the only cryonics vendors barred by the legislation are those who imply that customers may "expect" to be brought back to life in the future.
But until the signing of an actual contract last month, the issue has been largely theoretical.
Macintosh's lawyer says the rules are too unclear for customers who want their bodies preserved in the hopes future technology might be able to overcome the conditions that killed them — including age.
"Why doesn't the government just say, 'Cryonics is permitted but fraudulent exaggeration of the prospect of resuscitation is not permitted?'" Jason Gratl said in an emailed statement.
"Or better yet, amend the legislation to eliminate the ambiguity."
'Chance to be cured and even woken up'
The issue of cryonics gained worldwide attention this month when a British judge granted the final wishes of a 14-year-old who wrote a letter before dying of cancer begging the court to let her mother cryogenically preserve her body.
The ruling cleared the way for the girl's remains to be taken to a facility in the U.S. to start the preservation process at a cost of more than $62,000.
In her letter to the court, the girl wrote that "being cryopreserved gives me a chance to be cured and even woken up — even in hundreds of years' time."
Macintosh and Lifespan — a non-profit society dedicated to the advancement of cryonics — are co-plaintiffs in a case that ultimately seeks to give British Columbians the right to buy and sell similar services in Canada.
In court documents, the province claims it has no issue with either plaintiff.
"Only the vendor, and not the purchaser, of cryonics services is potentially caught by the prohibition," the province's response says.
"Furthermore, the prohibition only catches sales or offers to sell 'on the expectation of resuscitation of human remains at a later time'. The word 'expectation,' in denoting the prescribed conduct, is used in its normal sense to mean 'strong belief that something will occur.'"
'Case has bizarre aspects'
But in a field based largely on the unknown future possibilities of science, Macintosh has sought clarity from the court on the meaning of the word "expectation" when it comes to cryonics.
Does the legislation ban only a cryonic arrangement, which "includes a 100 per cent guarantee of resuscitation or exaggeration of the prospects of resuscitation?"
What about the promise from a provider of a "small probability … of resuscitation of human remains at a future time?"
And what if the purchasers themselves believe there's a chance of anywhere up to 50 per cent that science might ultimately be able to bring a preserved body back to life?
In a ruling issued last spring, Justice Stephen Kelleher refused to even consider those questions, in part because no contract had actually been signed.
"This case has bizarre aspects," Kelleher wrote. "These questions are academic. The court is being asked to act like a law firm to provide advice about possible future business activities."
That's because Macintosh's original statement of claim said the laws prevented him from signing a contract, and Lifespan claimed the rules prevented the society from offering him services.
Contracts with U.S. providers
That is what led to last month's contract, which kicks in "at the earliest possible moment after cardio-pulmonary function has ceased."
A number of Canadians have signed cryonic preservation deals with U.S. providers, but Lifespan president Carrie Wong says the contract with Macintosh is believed to be the first of its kind in Canada.
Macintosh has amended his original statement of claim to reflect the signing of a contract. Wong said the society is now waiting to see how the Crown responds.
"If they're really not interested, then anyone in B.C. can go into a cryonics arrangement," Wong said.
"We are not promising anything. If they had the law down as we cannot guarantee resuscitation, then it would be extremely clear to us, but 'expectation' was sort of a vague word in terms of what clientele would be thinking."
$30 a year for standby services
Lifespan has agreed to provide so-called "standby" services previously unavailable in this country.
A standby team would wait by Macintosh's body at the moment of his death to replace his blood with a type of antifreeze to prevent ice crystals forming when the body is cooled.
The society also agrees to suspend Macintosh's remains at "ultra-low temperatures."
Once the body is frozen, Wong said Lifespan would transport Macintosh's body to the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Arizona.
In return for the standby services, Macintosh would pay Lifespan $30 a year. A separate agreement would govern his preservation in the U.S.
The contract provides a series of qualifications around resuscitation, starting with the completion date.
"Due to the uncertain nature of cryonics research and the distinct possibility that resuscitation might never become possible, Lifespan cannot guarantee that (Macintosh) will be preserved indefinitely or even resuscitated," the contract reads.
Both parties acknowledge that "current medical and scientific knowledge does not indicate a certain time when resuscitation may become medically possible."
But Lifespan also agrees that when "in Lifespan's best judgment, it is determined that attempting resuscitation is in the best interests of the cryopreserved member, Lifespan shall attempt to resuscitate (Macintosh)."