When the word cryonics is spoken, I get the impression most people first picture some futuristic time capsule, like in Forever Young or Futurama. Then their mind degrades that thought into a zip-lock bag and a freezer -completing the details with a little frost and freezer burn. But maybe not. And while the truth is closer to the first concept, neither is accurate. But any mental depiction of the word is fueled by a single reality: death.
What is death and when does it occur?
At what point are we dead? I mean really dead, never to be alive again because we have worms for eyeballs dead. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself that question? Everyone knows death will happen at some point, but what about the dying process? Sure, the argument can be made that we are dying a slow death as we speak, but I am not talking about that type of dying. I am referring to the type of dying which yields in imminent death. At what point do we move from the dying process to death?
It’s not when our heart stops, although if our heart continues to be stopped we will die. It’s not when we stop breathing, but if we never take another breath we will die from that too. People are brought back to life from many dead-like states -some of which were even medically induced. The current legal understanding of the time of death is when a person’s heart is stopped, and we have no immediate means to revive the person. Note how I used the word “immediate”.
True complete death is all about chemistry.
Our body is alive because of constant chemical reactions. When we are dead, all the reactions that keep us live cease, and decomposition reactions begin. When the dying-decomposition process can no longer be reversed, we are dead. Stagnating blood does damage to delicate brain tissue, which is why some revived people suffer brain damage. Cold temperatures slow down the dying process. People have been revived long after death should have occurred because they drowned in a near freezing body of water. Even some delicate medical operations require the body to be cooled to low temperatures. However, to use body cooling as a longer term means of life extension, more extreme measures must be taken.
Cryonics today is very different,and much more sophisticated, than the technology of 30 years ago despite a dearth in research. Cryonics research as a means of life extension is actually not only taboo, but cryobiologists who participate in such research are ostracized from the community. Currently, while cryobiology is considered the study of life at low temperature, it does not include “freezing and thawing” whole animals. Human eggs, embryos, and even whole organs have cryo-research facilities working on solutions. But to freeze a whole creature is taboo? Why? We have so called “snowflake children” alive today which were conceived in a test tube and frozen years before they were actually implanted and allowed to grow to full term humans. But cryonics as a means of life extension isn’t taken seriously? Nonsense.
Currently, the most advanced way to preserve tissues for long term cold storage is called “vitrification”. To prevent the damage to cells that would normally occur, cryoprotectant solutions are used. Most water in the subject to be frozen is replaced by cryoprotectant. Many of the problems with ice crystal formation damage are prevented, but the toxic nature of the cryoprotectant solutions do pose new challenges.
To learn more about these techniques and their applications for human cryoperservation, visit my favorite cryonics life extension foundation: ALCOR.
To those who would say I am wasting my time, hope, and money:
While I realize the probability of my body being revived if I am cryoperserved today is unknown, I still see this opportunity as a win-win situation for myself. First, I fully support cryonics research as a means of life extension. Any money I spend with ALCOR is money used to fund research and possibly save/extend my life. Ideally, I’ll sign up for ALCOR’s services, pay their monthly dues, and NEVER have to actually use their services because better life extending options will be available in the future. But these options may be slow in development, or I may befall a tragedy. In such a situation, if my body is buried or cremated, I am dead FOREVER. Never to be revived again, even on a 1 in a billion chance. With ALCOR, at least I have a theoretical chance.
Also, if I am committed to donating my body to science should I cease to continue living, I can think of no better research project for my body to participate. People say what they want to be done with their bodies after “death” all the time, why can’t I have this choice too? So what if it’s a gamble? People waste more money on erroneous feel good nothings all the time. Also, I can get life insurgence to cover the final expenses!
What’s my worst scenario? I actually get hit by that proverbial bus and my brains get splatted on the pavement and eaten by rats. Really hungry sewer rats. No brains = death. However, even in such an event, my final wishes are for ALCOR to scrape up any remains, cryopreserve what they can (oh I hope I don’t die in a plane crash at sea), and any left over money from my personal cryoperservation allotment be used for further research.
I will be a part of the life extension movement -one way or another.