Relief Against British Columbia Anti-Cryonics Law

By Keegan Macintosh and Carrie Wong


In 1990, British Columbia quietly passed a law appearing to prohibit cryonics activities in the Canadian province.

In 2018, the Lifespan Society of British Columbia — with the substantial financial assistance of the Life Extension Foundation, and Alcor member Geoff Shmigelsky — reached a settlement with the province wherein the government clarified its position as not intending to investigate and prosecute responsible cryonics practices in the province.

Twenty-eight years. Twenty-eight years of uncertainty, frustration, and hard work to achieve a compromise that allows British Columbians to exercise their right to life, liberty, and security of the person, defining for themselves what constitutes a meaningful chance at surviving an otherwise permanent death.

To fully narrate the twenty-eight years would make for a very long article. For anyone interested in the earlier years, we highly recommend Ben Best’s detailed description of the cryonics community’s reaction to B.C.'s anti-cryonics law for the period of 1990-2006 (available at Were it not for Ben's efforts both at gaining clarity as to why the law was passed and advocating for its removal, but also his documentation of that process, the Lifespan Society might not exist, and the present resolution for B.C. cryonics might not have been reached. I (Keegan) say this because it was Ben's chronicle that laid out the scene for me shortly after I first learned about cryonics during the summer of 2010 — between my first and second years of law school — and that ruffled my justice-minded feathers enough to try to do something about it.

In a fairly short span of time after learning about cryonics and the broader field of life extension (and devouring just about everything I could find online to read about it), I started reaching out to various people and groups I could find associated with cryonics, especially in Canada and British Columbia. The Cryonics Society of Canada, founded by Ben Best and others, was one such group. Charles Grodzicki, who had made some local media buzz by speaking out against the anti-cryonics law in 2006 was another. We connected with a small group of cryonicists in Vancouver and began meeting regularly, trying to set goals and take action, but also creating a community around life extension in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland that would hopefully take root and grow in what is usually viewed as a pretty forward-thinking place.

By 2012, we really seemed to have something going. I had been able to get some legal research done with the help of Pro Bono Students Canada, which suggested there were indeed numerous arguments that could be made against the law's constitutionality. I had attended the "Teens & Twenties" cryonics convention funded by the Life Extension Foundation in 2011, but couldn’t attend in 2012 — instead, another of Lifespan's founding members, Luke Cockerham went and spoke with Bill Faloon about the work we were doing in B.C. Getting the call from Bill that the Life Extension Foundation wanted to help us in our challenge is a moment I won’t soon forget. The groundwork was set; the Lifespan Society of British Columbia was formally constituted in June of 2012, its mission to advocate for life extension practices underway.

Mounting a constitutional challenge is never easy. Mounting a challenge about an issue as fraught with bias and misunderstanding as cryonics is harder still. Finding a legal team with the right mix of experience, interest, and nerve took some time (…and one false start!). In 2013, Lifespan found a match in Jason Gratl, a constitutional lawyer who had represented one of the intervenors in the (ultimately successful) challenge to Canada's prohibition of physician-assisted suicide. However, as preparations continued into 2014, I came to realize that I was no longer interested in pursuing law professionally myself, and so it was time for me to move on from being Lifespan's full-time executive director in order to develop professionally in other areas (namely, education). Carrie Wong — who got involved in our community after a presentation I gave at the local university some three years prior — came on as Lifespan's executive director in spring 2014.

The Challenge Begins in Earnest

On July 14th, 2015, the Lifespan Society commenced its lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of section 14 of the Cremation, Interment and Funeral Services Act (CIFSA). To our knowledge, British Columbia is the only jurisdiction in the world that has enacted a specific prohibition of cryonics services.

Section 14's specific wording is as follows:

14. A person must not offer for sale, or sell, an arrangement for the preservation or storage of human remains that is based on:

a. cryonics

b. irradiation, or

c. any other means of preservation of storage, by whatever name called, and that is offered, or sold, on the expectation of the resuscitation of human remains at a future time.
Contravention of s.14 by an individual carries a maximum sentence of $10,000, a term of imprisonment of 12 months, or both. The maximum fine for a corporation is $100,000.

The basis of our claim was that Lifespan and myself wished to make an arrangement for local standby response (as a backup to Alcor’s comprehensive member standby) but were prevented from doing so by s.14, which we argued was a violation of my rights to life, liberty, and security of the person protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The lawsuit drew a flood of media attention. Major news outlets across the country covered our challenge, including CBC, National Post, Globe and Mail, CTV, radio stations and others. Carrie and I conducted interviews and did our best to frame cryonics in a positive light. We were generally pleasantly surprised at the quality and tone of the coverage.

In its formal response to our claim later that year, the government took the position that s.14 only prohibited cryonics arrangements if the vendor stated or implied that resuscitation was "likely", or otherwise instilled in the buyer a high expectation of resuscitation in the future. While on its face, that position does not appear unreasonable, the problem was that it came with no assurance that the government couldn't simply change its interpretation of the law in the future, as no explicit definition of “expectation” is contained within the statute. Moreover, because at this time Lifespan Society and I were only "contemplating" entering into a cryonics arrangement, the government refused to give an opinion as to whether Lifespan's proposed activities would or would not transgress the theoretical boundary it was asserting existed. Left with this uncertainty, we felt compelled to get clarification by putting the case before a judge — so, Lifespan and I persevered to get our day in court.

Because the government was alleging there was no real ‘issue’ between the parties (i.e. Lifespan wasn’t breaking a law, so there was nothing to argue about), we applied for an administrative hearing on the application of s.14 to Lifespan’s proposed activities.

A hearing for this pre-trial motion was set for early 2016. Lifespan was in the strange position of arguing that its proposed activities would be in violation of s.14, in order that the real issue of whether or not the law was unconstitutional would ever even be heard by a judge. In some ways, this made it feel like the parties were on the wrong sides of the courtroom. However, it did mean there was a second potential "win" scenario for us. If the court held that the Crown was correct that s.14 only prohibited cryonics arrangements with explicit or implied representations about the likelihood of resuscitation, then even though our constitutional challenge would have been dismissed, as long as Lifespan made no such representations about its services, it and any other cryonics service providers in the province would be able to rely on the court decision as protection against potential regulatory overreach in the future.

On March 9, 2016, Carrie, myself, and Andrew McKnight (a Lifespan board member) spent the day watching our lawyer, Mr. Gratl argue our case at the Supreme Court of British Columbia. As it had done in writing, the Crown argued we had no legal conflict with the government because our situation was hypothetical — that is, we were not presently under prosecution for alleged violations of the law. The Crown’s lawyer further argued that it was neither the role of the attorney general nor the court to give "legal advice" to individuals on hypothetical scenarios in order for them to gain clarity on the meaning of the law in question.

Unfortunately, despite well-articulated arguments by Mr. Gratl that the case could and should be heard without us having to expose ourselves to potential criminal liability, the judge sided with the Crown, agreeing that there was no "live" conflict between us and the government. The judge held that the issue was essentially academic, and there was no factual context upon which he could make an administrative ruling clarifying the meaning of section 14. It was clear now the case was not going to be quickly resolved. Temporary defeat was frustrating, but we had the means to continue to our next course of action. The silver-lining in this preliminary scuffle was observing how neither the Crown nor the judge seemed inclined to characterize our proposed cryonics activities as illegal (quite the opposite, in fact) — they were merely not prepared to give us a go-ahead we could rely on.

A Second Attempt

Reacting to the judge's findings that our case was "academic", Lifespan took steps to build up its cryonics response capacity in order to infringe s.14 by explicitly offering a cryonics arrangement in violation of the law. We had not initially wanted to approach the challenge this way, as it exposed us to the possibility of being charged under the offence, but we were left with little choice.

At this time, Lifespan was operating on an (unpaid) volunteer basis with a limited budget, and it needed to raise money to get cryonics equipment. The board voted to invest some of the money left from the Life Extension Foundation grant into the cryptocurrency bitcoin. Over the year that followed, the price of bitcoin doubled, so under Carrie's leadership, Lifespan sold its holdings and purchased an intermediate cryonics response kit from Cryonics Institute. This was a significant purchase and enabled Lifespan to offer basic standby response to its local members.

Our legal team (which now included Mr. Gratl's associate, Toby Rauch-Davis) then amended our original claim to include an executed agreement for cryonics services between myself and Lifespan. We filed our updated Notice of Civil Claim and awaited our day in court. Unfortunately, we were not able to get a court date until February 2018, and then when February came around, the courts were overbooked, and we were pushed back again. By this point, Carrie was eight months pregnant and simply hoping to have the matter resolved before giving birth — but the next available dates would not be until June.

However, the week before the trial was to be heard in June, the government approached our lawyers with a peace offering: a letter from Consumer Protection B.C., the regulatory body tasked with overseeing the funeral industry, and thus enforcement of s.14. The letter laid out the regulator's position that it did not view Lifespan's contract with me as being within its public interest mandate to investigate and prosecute. The letter is careful to note that a major part of the regulator’s opinion in this case was based on the apparent level of knowledge and understanding that I possess about the science behind cryonics, and its prospects for success.

Interestingly, just days before our originally scheduled February hearing, I had drafted a lengthy affidavit explaining the scientific research which grounds my belief that cryonics offers a possibility of future resuscitation. In the affidavit, I explicitly referenced several ‘milestone’ articles on whole-organ and brain vitrification published over the last fifteen years by Greg Fahy, Brian Wowk, Yuri Pichugin, and Robert McIntyre. I also pointed to the Scientist's Open Letter on Cryonics, hosted by the Institute for Evidence Based Cryonics. I think it is likely that the affidavit is what tipped the balance, prompting the government to reconsider whether it could make a principled exception, and give us something of an "advance ruling" on what we were proposing to do.

One other important part of the regulator's position on the matter was that, for the moment, only a very small market in B.C. is interested in cryonics, and there is no evidence that it is being targeted at vulnerable persons. While that does leave the door open for the regulator to reconsider the field in the future if the cryonics market expands considerably, for the time being, it grants us some peace of mind, and a sphere within which we can establish a precedent of responsible, ethical cryonics practices.

Following both our own feelings on the matter and the recommendation of our lawyers, we decided to accept this new "comfort letter" and not pursue further legal action, since the government clearly has no interest in prosecuting Lifespan's current activities. Provided that future contracts between Lifespan and its members are under similar circumstances — that is, ensuring that they are fully apprised of and clearly understand the science informing the practice — we do not foresee regulator interference in local cryonics cases.

We are pleased with this outcome, and are happy that the province eventually took the reasonable approach of providing guidance on whether s.14 would be applied to responsible cryonics practices like those Lifespan aims to provide. We maintain that the practice of cryonics is a protected exercise of our Charter rights to life, liberty, and security of the person, but we also agree that it is a practice that can be reasonably regulated—as are both the funeral and health services industries—to ensure that is not being practiced in a way that is harmful or misleading to consumers. This is a big step forward in the ability for British Columbians to confidently enter into cryonics arrangements with both local and out-of-province cryonics service providers.

Final Thoughts, and Thanks

It was a long time getting here, and many, many people were involved in this successful outcome — far too many to be named here. But we want very much for them all to know how much we appreciate their work and support (both moral and financial). My own special thanks go to all Lifespan's board members, past and present, and Carrie Wong, without whom the endeavour could well have collapsed under its own weight years ago. We hope this turns a new chapter for cryonics in British Columbia, and that the Lifespan Society will be able to grow into its role as an extension of existing cryonics services providers such as Alcor and the Cryonics Institute, helping ensure that British Columbians receive the immediate, highquality standby and stabilization response all of us hope to receive if and when the day comes.

SOURCE: CRYONICS magazine, November/December 2018, pages 8-10