Ladies and gentlemen, readers the world over, welcome to the future. In it, people are being voluntarily turned into meat popsicles after death so that in the even further future they can be reanimated.
What is Cryogenic Freezing?
Cryogenic freezing is the process by which a person is put into a suspended frozen state following their death. In truth, the term cryogenic freezing isn’t correct, as this relates to the production and behaviour of materials at low temperatures. The term you should be using is cryonics.
Now, in essence, cryonics is the preservation of humans (or animals) who cannot be cured/sustained using contemporary medicine. The process was first proposed in 1962, and since then nearly 300 people have been cryopreserved worldwide in a hope that they can be awoken in the future.
How Does It Work?
Well the first thing that you should know about cryonics is, despite the wealth of jokes and assumptions, the process does not involve freezing people. Instead, it uses vitrification. This is an ice-free process during which more than 60% of water inside cells is replaced with protective chemicals (like anti-freeze).
These chemicals prevent freezing, and force molecules to move at a slower rate until eventually all chemical reactions stop. This state of deep cooling works to prevent damage to bodies in storage, in a hope of future reanimation.
But They’re Dead?
Yes, legally (and not surprisingly) the process of cryonics cannot be undertaken on any person who is alive. Therefore, cryonic companies need to wait until a person has been declared legally dead before they can start the process of preserving them.
Cryonic companies argue that the concept of legal death is entirely separate from actual death. Death is declared when it is clear that the heart has stopped and cannot be restarted. That’s where cryonics comes in, using life-support machines to keep cells alive, and beginning the process of introducing cryopreserving chemicals into the body/brain.
So, How Do We… Defrost Them?
Well, here is where the science of cryonics runs into one of its biggest obstacles. In the same way that most of the people who undergo cryonics have no chance of being cured by contemporary medicine, science has no way to reanimate those who are cryonically preserved. At the moment, only cells, tissues and come small organs have been successfully taken out of a cryopreserved state.
This means that, along with being dead, the people who choose to undergo cryonic preservation have to live with (no pun intended) the fact that there isn’t currently a way to bring them back to the world of the living.
But, of course, that doesn’t mean there won’t even be one.
Why Would You Want To Do That?
People choose to undergo cryonics for a number of reasons. The process is based on the idea that personality, long-term memory and identity are stored in cell structures in the brain that are durable. This means they don’t need continuous brain activity (such as what we experience during life) to survive. Although you may not believe it, this concept is actually widely accepted in the medical community. It has been proven that under some conditions the brain can stop functioning, only to recover later with long-term memory retention.
Scientists involved in cryonics believe that these brain structures (and therefore the things they store) survive even after legal death. They also believe that using cryopreservation these things can be safely preserved, until such a point that future technologies are able to bring that person back to life.
Who Does It?
Now there are two ways to look at this question: Who has been cryopreserved, and who does the preserving.
The big name in cryonics at the moment is a company called ALCOR who market themselves as a Life Extension Foundation. ALCOR was established in the early 1970s, and was providing its own patient storage by 1982. Since then they have cryopreserved nearly 140 people. They are even the current ‘home’ of the first man ever to be cryopreserved: James Bedford, who has been in a suspended state since June of 1965.
Patients at ALCOR’s facility vary greatly, and include a 101-year-old woman, and a toddler from Thailand. More than 80 of the 138 patients in cryopreservation are brain preservation patients, and there are even more than 30 pets in a state of suspension!
But, that’s far from the end. Famous faces Seth MacFarlane, Larry King, Simon Cowell, Muhammad Ali and even Paris Hilton have hinted that they’ve explored cryopreservation.
Isn’t It Really Expensive?
Let’s be honest, getting turned into a frozen meat popsicle is going to cost more than pocket change. But, people are consistently surprised at just how affordable the procedure is becoming, considering what it entails. Many people use life insurance to help them afford cryopreservation, and preserving just the brain (neuropreservation) is much cheaper than preserving the entire body.
But of course, if you’re sure that this isn’t the end, is any price too high?