Cryogenic freezing is not the answer to the meaning of life

I was moved to read about the recent case of the 14-year-old girl dying of cancer who was allowed to have her body cryogenically frozen after her death. She had written, “I think being cryo-preserved gives me a chance to be cured and woken up, even if in hundreds of years’ time.”

Many people will have had misgivings about this story: the girl’s youth and vulnerability; the dodgy science, even admitted by the experts; the cost of the cryogenic process; and the pathos of the remark by the girl’s father that he had reluctantly agreed to his daughter’s dying wish because “This is the last and only thing she has asked of me”.

For a Christian two thoughts also immediately come to mind: we must all die; but this life is a preparation for the world to come when our souls, which survive our bodily death, will be reunited with our bodies. This is the cornerstone of our faith.

Atheists, who reject the concept of the “soul”, believe that death ends everything. Now science dangles before our eyes the possibility of delaying death by cryogenic preservation, giving us a strange form of earthly immortality. It is understandable that a post-Christian society, driven by science and technological progress, would come up with such an idea. But is it not better to live the life we have as well as we can and then allow our mortal remains to be disposed of reverently?

A related question concerns increased longevity. I have been reading The 100-Year Life by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott. As they point out, in our children and grandchildren’s generation it will be normal to live to 100 and beyond. We should plan for this they write, so that it becomes a “gift” rather than a “curse.” Their book is full of advice about flexible relationships, learning new skills and financial preparation. A long life, they assure us, can be “energising, creative and fun.”

Apart from tending to ignore all those people for whom a long life won’t be “fun” – those living alone, without friends or relations to support them, those too poor to make adequate pension provisions and those who have chronic health problems – the book doesn’t mention religious faith.

We Christians believe it is faith in God that gives life its meaning and purpose, whatever its length. Rather than thinking of endless days on the golf course or the brave new world of cryonic preservation, we just need to answer two questions: who am I? Why was I born? The answers, as my former parish priest used to tell us, are on page 1 of the old Penny Catechism.