Benjamin Franklin, in a 1733 letter expressed regret that he lived ” in a century too little advanced, and too near the infancy of science” that he could not be preserved and revived to fulfil his “very ardent desire to see and observe the state of America a hundred years hence”
To be honest looking at the state of America it’s probably a good thing.
I recently took a walk down memory Lane and watched a few episodes of a childhood favourite, namely Whicker’s World. The episode that brought my interest in this article, was Immortality Inc originally broadcast in 1969. I was at once fascinated and interested in where Cryonics has ended up today, almost 50 years on.
THE MODERN ERA OF CRYONICS
The modern era of cryonics began in 1962 with the publication of “The Prospect of Immortality” by Robert Ettinger and has since been re-published. The Cryonics movement began in California’s San Fernando Valley, namely :-
- Cryonics Society of California (CSC) – 1966
- Cryonics Society of Michigan (CSM) – 1969
The first person frozen was James Bedford, aged 73, a psychology professor, frozen under crude conditons by CSC on 12th January, 1967. Bedford is still frozen today at Alcor.
I was fascinated watching Alan Whicker interviewing several people who for various reasons had had their relatives frozen.
- Mrs Mandel – a New York typist, her son Steven had died of cancer at the age of 24. She described herself as level headed and had no expectation on whether it would work but if there was a chance she wanted her son to have that chance.
- Mr DeBlasio – his wife had died of cancer. He did mention it was not her request to be frozen, but his reasons for doing so were that his wife had been an extra-ordinary women, caring and religious. He also had no high hopes but if it didn’t work he had lost nothing. Regarding Mrs DeBlasio’s religious beliefs and supposedly her soul going to heaven, a Catholic Bishop consecrated the cryonics capsule. The irony
Curtis Henderson, the Director of the CSC made an interesting statement:-
Death is a problem, that’s not yet solved.
I’m afraid I cannot in anyway agree with the above statement, death is not a problem to be overcome, death is the conclusion. Death is not a disease we can cure. Would we really want to live forever?
Cryonics suffered a set back in 1979 when it was discovered nine bodies had thawed due to the relatives lack of funds. Only James Bedford remains frozen of all the “patients” documented between 1967-1973.
The Cryonics field seems largely to consist of three non-profit groups Alcor, The Cryonics Institute and America’s Cryonic Society.
As of November 2014 The Cryonics Institute has 1301 members. Alcor maintains 124 patients and 45 pets. There are also Cryonics support groups in Canada, Europe and Australia.
As of December 2013 approximately 270 have undergone cryopreservation since it was proposed back in 1962.
Cryopreservation is not at present reversible with current medical technology. The idea is that people who are considered dead by current legal or medical definitions may not necessarily be dead according to the information theoretic definition of death.
The paper “Molecular Repair of the Brain” by Ralph Merle defined information theoretic definition of death as :-
A person is dead according to the information theoretic criterion if their memories, personality, hopes and dreams etc have been destroyed in the information theoretic sense. That is, if the structures in the brain that encode memory and personality have been so disrupted that it is no longer possible in principle to restore them to an appropriate functional state, then the person is dead.
If the structures that encode the memory and personality are sufficiently intact that inference of the memory and personality are feasible in principle, and therefore restoration to an appropriate functional state is likewise feasible in principle, then the person is not dead
Cryopreservation is achieved by cooling to 77.15 Kelvin ( approx -196.01degrees Celsius which is the boiling point of liquid nitrogen.
- PRESERVATION INJURY– damage can be caused in the freezing process, namely ice can form between cells, causing mechanical and chemical damage. Cryonics organisations use cryoprotectants to reduce this damage
- ISCHEMIC INJURY – damage can be caused by inadequate or absent blood circulation which deprives tissue of oxygen. This would make resuscitation impossible by present medical technology. At present in the US a patient must be clinically dead before cyropreservation otherwise it would be classed as murder or assisted suicide. So the team artificially restore blood circulation and breathing using techniques similar to cardiopulmonary resuscitation as soon as possible after the heart stops.
- REVIVAL –Cryopreservation is not at present reversible with current medical technology.
- LEGAL ISSUES – Legally cryonics patients are treated as deceased. In France, cryonics is not considered a legal mode of body disposal. Technically they are “lost persons”.
THE PRICE LIST
So if you are interested in the form of immortality for the future:-
- * Brain only – $12,000 – $14,000
- Full Body – $250,000
- Transportation Costs – $28,000 – $35,000
* Please be aware not many of the societies offer the brain only option ( which can be with or without the head).
At present most religious bodies and in fact myself too, would say that cryogenics is just a form of internment, however cryonics advocates call this a circular argument because calling cryonics “internment” presumes that resuscitation is impossible.
They believe future technical advances will validate their view that cryonics patients are recoverable, and therefore never really dead. If cryonics is regarded as medicine, with legal death as a mere enabling mechanism, then cryonics is a long term coma with uncertain prognosis.
Anyone else scared yet?
I am reminded of a quote from the first Jurassic Park movie:-
they were so involved with seeing if they could,no one stopped to think if they should
Robert Ettinger said was back in 1969 that Cryonics would be a trillion dollar industry and I am happy to say it isn’t…… nowhere close.
Alan Whicker’s last words in the Immortality Inc documentary :-
second lifers may one day outnumber those on their first time around
We get one shot at life we should make the most of the time we have right here right now.
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