A few years ago I was following a Facebook page of a young family that lived in the same city as me. Their only 5-year-old daughter had been diagnosed with DIPG, a lethal childhood brain cancer.
These parents didn't give up hope till the last second trying every possible clinical trial and treatment they knew of. When they learned the end was inevitable their last hope was to preserve their daughter’s body in hopes that one day she could be brought to life with advancements in technology.
In the end, they decided against it and the parents buried their young child in a pink casket.
Cryopreservation was not a completely alien concept to me. My 3 kids were frozen embryos or ‘frobabies’ as we called them. Their lives were frozen on day 5–6 of fertilization and the pause button was pressed. They were shipped off to a storage facility where they stayed until it was their turn to have a go at the game of Life.
The part I found most amazing was when they were thawed.
I marvelled at how my microscopic frobabies got the message that the long Winter was over and Spring had come.
They woke up, had a big stretch and continued on with cell division.
Amazing, isn’t it? It reminded me of animals that came out a long winter hibernation.
But the Facebook post was the first time that I ever heard of Cryopreservation of deceased people.
It sounded like an unproven science experiment in process.
I was skeptical and had more questions than answers when I read about it.
Here are some questions that I could find answers for.
First of all, what is Cryopreservation?
Cryopreservation is the use of very low temperatures to preserve structurally intact living cells and tissues.
Who started Cryopreservation?
Robert Ettinger is considered the father of Cryonics. He believed that dying was a reversible process.
He founded the Cryonics Institute in 1976 where his body and those of his mother and his first and second wives now reside in metal flasks called dewars kept at −196 °C.
He was basically selling ‘Immortality’ to his clients.
He marketed his theory that people could LIVE AGAIN by quick-freezing their bodies at death and then bringing them back to life in the future when there would be medical advancements to enable that.
How is Cryopreservation done?
The process starts minutes after death. The person has to be legally pronounced dead.
The body is obtained as soon as possible after death, packed in ice and transported to the facility. The blood is drained from the body and replaced by an organ preservation solution, followed by a cryoprotectant solution.
This transforms the corpse into a glassy vitrified state, ready to be lowered into liquid nitrogen, at a temperature of -196C.- Guardian
The first preservation took place in the 1960s and since then around 350 people’s bodies have been frozen. 1,500 more have signed up to be preserved worldwide. You won’t believe this- 120 pets have been frozen too.
Where do you go to get your body cryopreserved?
These are the 3 main organizations that provide cryopreservation services.
- Michigan-based Cryonics Institute. They charge $28,000 but this doesn't include the cost of transporting the body to their facility.
- Arizona’s Alcor Life Extension Foundation. They charge $200,000 for full body cryopreservation. They charge $ 80,000 for just the head.
- KrioRus, located just outside of Moscow. They offer full-body cryopreservation for $36,000. For $18,000 users can store just their head.
Now coming to the interesting part. I’m going to play Devil’s advocate and try to make some sense of this.
First of all, I am just a layperson and so my opinions are all based on the limited amount of knowledge I have on the subject. But someone has to ask these questions, so why not me?
Many treatments that they were not possible 50 years ago are now commonplace today like heart transplants. So who’s not to say in the future they will have the whole process all figured out.
But my question is that by that time, won’t the facility staff also be dead and hanging upside down in a flask?
Who is going to attend to the backlog of all the dead people ??
Till now a small animal or organ hasn’t been frozen and been brought back to life. Alcor and the other companies haven’t yet figured out exactly how to turn a cryogenically frozen brain back into a living person.
So, aren’t they just selling a probability to people that this is something which will most likely happen in the future?
It’s kind of like buying a lottery ticket, selling you a 1% propability that you will win the lottery.
The propability is even lower here.
The other big difference here is that this ticket doesn’t cost $2, more like $200,000.
That sticker price is enough to give you brain freeze! ( no pun intended)
Being realistic, it’s going to be a long time before the inside of those flasks are going to feel any warmth. According to Kenneth Hayworth, President and Co-Founder of the Brain Preservation Foundation-
“It’s unlikely that someone preserved today will be revived before around 2100. The technology for uploading a person is really, really hard.”
Even in Alcor’s Cryopreservation Agreement, it states -
“It is understood, acknowledged, and accepted by the Member that it is not known if even those Members cryopreserved under the best of conditions, using the technology available at the time the Member enters cryopreservation, will ever be able to be revived.”
So is it ETHICAL to sell a future treatment that is not proven yet and doesn’t even exist? Are they just preying on people’s grief and giving them false promises of a Lazarus like resurrection?
If something goes wrong, who is going to take them to court?
No one, because those people are upside down in a flask!
The LENGTH of the contract according to Alcor is until they unfreeze you. I guess that means they don’t pay for any cost after you are thawed.
Alcor states in its Cryopreservation Agreement-
“ If revival technology — the cost of which cannot be borne for the Members in cryopreservation by the Patient Care Trust — becomes available, then those Members in cryopreservation with outside funding may be revived before other Members in cryopreservation.”
Outside Funding ???
You need to pay bail to get out of this icy cell!
I don’t think anyone’s great grand child will be interested in forking out $1.5 million to resurrect their ancestor unless they are some billionaire .
Remember you were dead all the while, so you don’t have an income.
Being homeless after spending 100 years in the deep freeze doesnt sound so appealing!
Critics say that when the Cryonics company freezes the human brain they are destroying the very thing they are trying to save. The ice crystals formed during this process destroy the body’s cells. Most experts feel it will be impossible to reverse such damage.
So what happens when they try to revive you and parts of your tissue or brain have suffered irreversible damage?
Who makes all the important decision about your health care at that time? Do you sign an Advance Directive before you are frozen? Even your family will not be alive at that time to advocate for you.
Instead of flying in cool spaceships in 2200, will you be spending your future life as a vegetable?
Will the Earth run out of place with all the dead people coming back?
Then even the living will have to start living in flask-sized homes.
Some people designate the cryonics company as the beneficiary of their life insurance policy to pay for it. That means their surviving family doesn’t get a cent. So it’s primarily the rich who are able to afford such procedures.
That means in the future, there will be a surplus of rich Frankensteins walking around.
Will it change the fabric of society? Couples will no longer emotionally look into each other’s eyes and say ‘Till Death Do Us Part’.
Death will cease to exist so there will no more funerals just freezing away parties.
Will heaven and hell become empty?
Plus, aren’t there some people who we would rather not prefer Round 2 of? Seriously one time of them was more than enough!
Now, this is an important question-
Is it right to play God? Shouldn’t nature just be left to follow its natural course?
In the end, there is an assumption that life will be easier in the future with the latest technological advancements and other conveniences. Cryonics organizations sell that utopian dream.
But LIFE will always be LIFE.
It will always be a thing of beauty and thing of chaos, no matter if you live in the 19th Century or the 22nd Century.
I personally wouldn’t want to live forever. When it’s my time, I have to go. It is already predestined.
Moreover, sequels are never as good as the first part! I’m better off living the life I have now, RIGHT without regrets.