Live and let die

Head to head Who wants to live for ever? I do, says John Besancon of The Immortalist magazine. Get a life, says Nicholas Albery of the Natural Death Centre

The immortalist

"I don't know if there's life after death. But I know I just want to keep on living. I first got into the idea of extending life back in 1964 when I read this book called Prospects of Immortality by Robert Ettenger. I was only 24 then. Then my heart problems started in my fifties and that really made me think. I saw this article in the magazine Omni [now deceased - Ed] called 'Why I want to be frozen'. And I looked in the phone book and found the Cryonics Institute. The price of being frozen and stored is $28,000. If you think about it that's only the price of a good car; it's just 4 per cent of my wealth and I don't have any children to leave it to.

There's nothing unnatural about using science to extend life. It's not going to cause major strains on future society because there's only around 2,000 of us signed up so far. It's possible it might go wrong when they unfreeze me, and I could be staggering around like Frankenstein's monster with bits falling off. But I figure that 500 or 1,000 years into the future, if they're advanced enough to revive me then they'll be advanced enough to do it right. Anyway, I'm going to leave special instructions telling them not to wake me up until they've tried it on at least 100 other people first.

And after 1,000 years they might have discovered the elixir of life - who knows? People probably won't work for a living then because they won't need to, and I'll go and stay on a holiday resort on Titan, which is one of Saturn's moons, and watch the rings of Jupiter come up. And I won't have to worry about the pills and the pacemaker any more."

'The Immortalist Magazine' is the journal of the Cryonics Institute, Missouri (http://www.cryonics.org/)

The anti-immortalist

"We should learn to die gracefully - and with minimum medical intervention. Death provides a service by making way for a new generation. Imagine if suddenly all of us could live for ever. Every year in the UK 660,000 people die. Over a 100-year period that would mean an extra 66 million people. Undertakers would go out of business, which would be a good thing, but do we really want 66 million more cars on the road? And if you think queues are bad in Accident and Emergency now, just imagine what they'd become like - and the hospital staff wouldn't even have to hurry, because none of the cases would be life-threatening.

If scientists have to interfere with us genetically, they could try miniaturising us, so we are all dwarves, consuming half the resources we do now. Anyway, who wants their life to drag on indefinitely while they become sicker and weaker? I'm not against research that makes us healthier and happier in old age. But when dying comes, it should be as short as possible.

Things like freezing people after death will be socially divisive because there are not enough resources to do this for everyone. I think you should just accept death and when it happens our bodies should be given back to nature by burying them in a cardboard coffin to provide nourishment for a tree planted over the grave. That's why the Natural Death Centre was set up, to help people with green DIY funerals. When I die I want to be buried under an apple tree. I think of death as like a leaf falling off a tree."

Nicholas Albery is editor of the 'New Natural Death Handbook' (pounds 11.65 including p&p), available from the Natural Death Centre, 20 Heber Road, London NW2 6AA

Interviews by Michael Day

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