A few weeks ago, a 23-year-old girl named Kim Suozzi took to Reddit with a tragic backstory: during her senior year of college, she was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of brain cancer that–after many treatment options had been explored–was deemed untreatable. Ms. Suozzi wrote that she has a 6 to 10 month median survival rate. “I have to prepare to die,” she wrote painfully matter-of-factly. “In a way, I am fortunate because the lesion is primarily in my brain stem (controls things like breathing), so I will likely die before the tumor spreads to the areas central to who I am.”
Ms. Suozzi was writing to Reddit to ask for donations so that she could afford her dying wish. Fund-raisers for cancer patients on the social news site are nothing new, particularly because potent group pathos is a familiar chord plucked in the community, one that has proven to be a compelling driving force. What makes Ms. Suozzi’s case especially interesting is what exactly her dying wish is: the 23-year-old St. Louis resident wants to have her body cryogenically frozen:
I’m back on Reddit again, mostly to ask for help because I want to be cryogenically preserved upon my death. I’ve been interested in cryonics since long before I was even diagnosed, but I never thought that I would have to secure the finances so fast, and without a career or savings to stand on. As weird as it feels to ask for help here, I feel I should just give it a shot and sees what happens … I know this is a big thing to ask for, and I’m sure many people are doubtful that preservation is plausible with cryonics. I’m far from convinced, but I would rather take the chance with preservation than rot in the ground or get cremated.
Reddit reacted with its typical mix of skepticism and support, but the majority of users argued with Ms. Suozzi’s decision, claiming that believing in cryogenics is a blind leap of faith just as ridiculous as believing in religion (it didn’t help that Ms. Suozzi posted her request in the Athiesm subreddit).
The top comment, penned by a user who claimed to also have been diagnosed with cancer and grappled with the specter of death, wrote a bleak comment arguing against Ms. Suozzi’s wishes to be preserved:
We’ll all be forgotten, and even the ground we walk on will one day be gone as well.
In two generations time, no one will know us or our lives. There is no worth in staying longer … Defy you biological imperatives to desire to survive longer, and instead live and die knowing yourself better that most could ever dream of. Recognize that those biological drives that wish to survive forever have truly already betrayed you, in their own way, through bringing about your end … Really, cryogenics is just a modern day take on the age old story of religion: “come with me and live forever.” Forget that lie, and live for today, more fully than most will live any day their entire lives.
Less Wrong, an online community for futurists, singularitarians and human rationalists, immediately picked up on Ms. Suozzi’s Reddit post, and lamented the community’s reaction to her desire to be preserved. “Looking at some of the negative comments and worst of all bad arguments people are using as reasons not to donate made me more upset,” wrote a user named Konkvistador. “I hope some here might join me in dismantling them.”
Perhaps because they are rationalists to their core, or because of Reddit’s historical failure to debunk fraudulent fund-raisers–and to ruin the lives of people who aren’t faking at all–the Less Wrongers were wary of donating to Ms. Suozzi’s case until it was proven true. But a few days ago, the Society for Venturism, a nonprofit located in Arizona, decided to spearhead the fund-raising efforts for Ms. Suozzi. It was a natural partnership, considering the Society’s mission: “To advocate and promote the worldwide conquest of death and the continuation and enhancement of life through technological means, including cryonic suspension.”
Many of the suspicions about scams were put to rest when the Society for Venturism vouched for Ms. Suozzi’s claims, writing that it had investigated her background and medical paperwork before setting up its own charitable arm to help Ms. Suozzi reach her goal. The news was promptly picked up by KurzweilAI and other Singularity blogs. The Society for Venturism has already funded two successful “Cryonics Charity Cases.”
Ms. Suozzi’s dying wish invokes complex questions surrounding the nature of life, death and the afterlife, and what science can do–and not do–to comfort us in our final days. Many Redditors seemed to think that Ms. Suozzi was grasping at straws, desperately hoping to prolong her short life because she couldn’t accept the fact that she was dying after so little time to live.
“Unfortunately the most interesting thing [I’ve done] is get a terminal disease at a young age,” she wrote in her Reddit post.
Now the futurists, who primarily live on the fringes of science, are hoping they can change that.