Some people want to be buried when they go. Others prefer cremation. Still others choose to be frozen, in the hope that medical science will one day be able to revive them and repair their bodies.
Unlike the more conventional alternatives, that choice receives only limited protection under the law. Last fall, proponents of the right to be frozen, or “cryonically suspended,” suffered a setback and then won a victory in California’s courts.
In September, Superior Court Judge Ronald C. Stevens refused to enjoin state Attorney General John Van de Kamp and Santa Barbara County District Attorney Thomas Sneddon from prosecuting members of the Riverside-based Alcor Life Extension Foundation for suspending a Sunnyvale mathematician with a terminal brain tumor. Thomas Donaldson wants, to have his head removed and preserved with liquid nitrogen before cancer destroys his brain.
Both California’s courts and the U.S. Supreme Court, most recently in Cruzan v. Missouri, have recognized the right of a terminally ill patient to have his or her feeding tube disconnected. Donaldson’s attorneys argued that there is no logical distinction between such suicide by starvation and the assisted death of a person who undergoes cryonic suspension while still alive.
“There is ample authority for the right of a person who is terminally ill to put an end to his suffering and have the assistance of others in doing so,” attorney David Epstein wrote. “The only material distinction between lawful assistance and murder is plaintiff’s consent.”
But Stevens declined to draw this conclusion, which he said involved “a giant step” from existing case law. He said the cryonics movement would have to seek a legislative exemption rather than judicial protection. Donaldson plans to appeal.
Although the courts have not recognized a constitutional right to be suspended while alive which members of the movement believe increases the chances for revival-a decision in October reinforced the right to have one’s body frozen after death. Superior Court Judge Arelio Munoz ruled that the state Department of Health Services may not withhold death certificates and body-disposition permits from organizations such as Alcor. Munoz said people have a right to dispose of their remains however they choose. So the courts (in California, at least) are sending a simple message to people who seek the right to do what they want with their own bodies: Drop dead.
Is urban congestion completely out of control? Will our highways soon face 24-hour gridlock? A two-day September conference on urban growth issues, sponsored by the Reason Foundation addressed these questions and more. The participants challenged a number of myths about traffic congestion and the role of government planning in alleviating the mess.
Peter Gordon, a professor of planning and economics at the University of Southern California, noted that the national median travel distance from home to office is six miles-a figure that has not changed since the 1960s. And from 1980 to 1985, in the top 20 U.S. metropolitan areas, average drive time remained constant or dropped. Gordon concluded that the marketplace has responded to commuters: Industry has followed the labor force into the suburbs.
Even as commute times remain constant, congestion has spread over larger areas. A major reason: Trips not involving home-to-office commutes increasingly clog traffic arteries at peak times. Reason Foundation President Robert W. Poole, Jr., cited studies showing that nonwork trips constitute half the driving during the morning rush hour and two-thirds of the trips during the afternoon rush. Poole made the case for congestion pricing—charging motorists for highway use during peak times. Rush-hour fees would encourage motorists to carpool or to take discretionary trips at less-congested times. Demonstration projects in Dallas and Singapore show that peak-hour pricing indeed reduces traffic congestion, Poole noted. Two scheduled private toll road projects in Orange County, California, will base rates on congestion-pricing standards.
While conference attendees representing government agencies and environmental groups wouldn’t uniformly endorse free-market policies, all agreed that incentives could replace more coercive measures and positively influence the behavior of motorists.