Cryonics

Cryonics (from Greek κρύος kryos meaning 'cold') is the low-temperature freezing (usually at −196 °C) of a human corpse, with the hope that resuscitation may be possible in the future.[1][2] It is regarded with skepticism within the mainstream scientific community and has been characterized as quackery.[3]

Cryonics procedures can only begin after clinical death, and cryonics "patients" are legally dead. Cryonics procedures ideally begin within minutes of death,[4] and use cryoprotectants to prevent ice formation during cryopreservation.[5] It is unlikely that a corpse could be reanimated after undergoing vitrification, which causes damage to the brain including its neural networks.[6] The first corpse to be frozen was that of Dr. James Bedford in 1967.[7] As of 2014, about 250 bodies were cryopreserved in the United States, and 1,500 people had made arrangements for cryopreservation after their legal death.[8]

Cryo surgery
Technicians prepare a body for cryopreservation in 1985.

Concept

Cryonic proponents go further than the mainstream consensus in asserting that the brain does not have to be continuously active to survive or retain memory. Cryonics controversially asserts that a human survives even within an inactive brain that has been badly damaged, provided that original encoding of memory and personality can, in theory, be adequately inferred and reconstituted from structure that remains.[8][9] Cryonicists argue that as long as brain structure remains intact, there is no fundamental barrier, given our current understanding of physical law, to recovering its information content. The cryonics' argument that death does not occur as long as brain structure remains intact and theoretically repairable has received some mainstream medical discussion in the context of the ethical concept of brain death and organ donation.[10][11][12]

Cryonics uses temperatures below −130 °C, called cryopreservation, in an attempt to preserve enough brain information to permit future revival of the cryopreserved person. Cryopreservation may be accomplished by freezing, freezing with cryoprotectant to reduce ice damage, or by vitrification to avoid ice damage. Even using the best methods, cryopreservation of whole bodies or brains is very damaging and irreversible with current technology.

Cryonics requires future technology to repair or regenerate tissue that is diseased, damaged, or missing. Brain repairs in particular will require analysis at the molecular level. This far-future technology is usually assumed to be nanomedicine based on molecular nanotechnology.[13][14][15] Biological repair methods[16] or mind uploading[17] have also been proposed.

Practice

Costs can include payment for medical personnel to be on call for death, vitrification, transportation in dry ice to a preservation facility, and payment into a trust fund intended to cover indefinite storage in liquid nitrogen and future revival costs.[18][19] As of 2011, U.S. cryopreservation costs can range from $28,000 to $200,000, and are often financed via life insurance.[18] KrioRus, which stores bodies communally in large dewars, charges $12,000 to $36,000 for the procedure.[20] Some patients opt to have only their brain cryopreserved, rather than their whole body.

As of 2014, about 250 people have been cryogenically preserved in the U.S., and around 1,500 more have signed up to be preserved.[8] As of 2016, four facilities exist in the world to retain cryopreserved bodies: three in the U.S. and one in Russia.[2][21]

Obstacles to success

Preservation injury

Long-term preservation of biological tissue can be achieved by cooling to temperatures below −130 °C.[22] Immersion in liquid nitrogen at a temperature of −196 °C (77 kelvins and −320.8 °F) is often used for convenience. Low temperature preservation of tissue is called cryopreservation. Contrary to popular belief, water that freezes during cryopreservation is usually water outside cells, not water inside cells. Cells don't burst during freezing, but instead become dehydrated and compressed between ice crystals that surround them. Intracellular ice formation only occurs if the rate of freezing is faster than the rate of osmotic loss of water to the extracellular space.[22]

Without cryoprotectants, cell shrinkage and high salt concentrations during freezing usually prevent frozen cells from functioning again after thawing. In tissues and organs, ice crystals can also disrupt connections between cells that are necessary for organs to function.[23] The difficulties of recovering large animals and their individual organs from a frozen state have been long known. Attempts to recover frozen mammals by simply rewarming them were abandoned by 1957.[24] At present, only cells, tissues, and some small organs can be reversibly cryopreserved.[25][26]

When used at high concentrations, cryoprotectants can stop ice formation completely. Cooling and solidification without crystal formation is called vitrification.[27] The first cryoprotectant solutions able to vitrify at very slow cooling rates while still being compatible with whole organ survival were developed in the late 1990s by cryobiologists Gregory Fahy and Brian Wowk for the purpose of banking transplantable organs.[26][28][29] This has allowed animal brains to be vitrified, warmed back up, and examined for ice damage using light and electron microscopy. No ice crystal damage was found;[30] remaining cellular damage was due to dehydration and toxicity of the cryoprotectant solutions. Large vitrified organs tend to develop fractures during cooling,[31] a problem worsened by the large tissue masses and very low temperatures of cryonics.[32]

The use of vitrification rather than freezing for cryonics was anticipated in 1986, when K. Eric Drexler proposed a technique called fixation and vitrification, anticipating reversal by molecular nanotechnology.[33] In 2016, Robert L. McIntyre and Gregory Fahy at the cryobiology research company 21st Century Medicine, Inc. won the Small Animal Brain Preservation Prize of the Brain Preservation Foundation by demonstrating to the satisfaction of neuroscientist judges that a particular implementation of fixation and vitrification called aldehyde-stabilized cryopreservation[34] could preserve a rabbit brain in "near perfect" condition at −135 °C, with the cell membranes, synapses, and intracellular structures intact in electron micrographs.[35][36][37] Brain Preservation Foundation President, Ken Hayworth, said, "This result directly answers a main skeptical and scientific criticism against cryonics—that it does not provably preserve the delicate synaptic circuitry of the brain.”[38] However the price paid for perfect preservation as seen by microscopy was tying up all protein molecules with chemical crosslinks, completely eliminating biological viability. Actual cryonics organizations use vitrification without a chemical fixation step,[39] sacrificing some structural preservation quality for less damage at the molecular level. Some scientists, like Joao Pedro Magalhaes, have questioned whether using a deadly chemical for fixation eliminates the possibility of biological revival, making chemical fixation unsuitable for cryonics.[40]

While preservation of both structure and function has been possible for brain slices using vitrification,[41] this goal remains elusive for whole brains. In absence of a revived brain, or brain simulation from somehow scanning a preserved brain, the adequacy of present vitrification technology (with or without fixation) for preserving the anatomical and molecular basis of long-term memory as required by cryonics is still unproven.

Outside the cryonics community, many scientists have a blanket skepticism toward existing preservation methods. Cryobiologist Dayong Gao states that "we simply don't know if (subjects have) been damaged to the point where they've 'died' during vitrification because the subjects are now inside liquid nitrogen canisters." Biochemist Ken Storey argues (based on experience with organ transplants), that "even if you only wanted to preserve the brain, it has dozens of different areas, which would need to be cryopreserved using different protocols."[42]

Revival

Those who believe that revival may someday be possible generally look toward advanced bioengineering, molecular nanotechnology,[43] or nanomedicine[15] as key technologies. Revival would require repairing damage from lack of oxygen, cryoprotectant toxicity, thermal stress (fracturing), freezing in tissues that do not successfully vitrify, and reversing the cause of death. In many cases extensive tissue regeneration would be necessary.[44]

According to Cryonics Institute president Ben Best, cryonics revival may be similar to a last in, first out process. People cryopreserved in the future, with better technology, may require less advanced technology to be revived because they will have been cryopreserved with better technology that caused less damage to tissue. In this view, preservation methods would get progressively better until eventually they are demonstrably reversible, after which medicine would begin to reach back and revive people cryopreserved by more primitive methods.[45]

Legal issues

Historically, a person had little control regarding how their body was treated after death as religion had jurisdiction over the disposal of the body.[46] However, secular courts began to exercise jurisdiction over the body and use discretion in carrying out of the wishes of the deceased person.[46] Most countries legally treat preserved individuals as deceased persons because of laws that forbid vitrifying someone who is medically alive.[45] In France, cryonics is not considered a legal mode of body disposal;[47] only burial, cremation, and formal donation to science are allowed. However, bodies may legally be shipped to other countries for cryonic freezing.[48] As of 2015, the Canadian province of British Columbia prohibits the sale of arrangements for body preservation based on cryonics.[49] In Russia, cryonics falls outside both the medical industry and the funeral services industry, making it easier in Russia than in the U.S. to get hospitals and morgues to release cryonics candidates.[20]

In London in 2016, the English High Court ruled in favor of a mother's right to seek cryopreservation of her terminally ill 14-year-old daughter, as the girl wanted, contrary to the father's wishes. The decision was made on the basis that the case represented a conventional dispute over the disposal of the girl's body, although the judge urged ministers to seek "proper regulation" for the future of cryonic preservation following concerns raised by the hospital about the competence and professionalism of the team that conducted the preservation procedures.[50] In Alcor Life Extension Foundation v. Richardson, the Iowa Court of Appeals ordered for the disinterment of Richardson, who was buried against his wishes for cryopreservation.[46][51]

A detailed legal examination by Jochen Taupitz concludes that cryonic storage is legal in Germany for an indefinite period of time.[52]

Ethics

In 2009, writing in Bioethics, David Shaw examines the ethical status of cryonics. The arguments against it include changing the concept of death, the expense of preservation and revival, lack of scientific advancement to permit revival, temptation to use premature euthanasia, and failure due to catastrophe. Arguments in favor of cryonics include the potential benefit to society, the prospect of immortality, and the benefits associated with avoiding death. Shaw explores the expense and the potential payoff, and applies an adapted version of Pascal's Wager to the question.[53]

In 2016, Charles Tandy wrote in favor of cryonics, arguing that honoring someone's last wishes is seen as a benevolent duty in American and many other cultures.[54]

History

Cryopreservation was applied to human cells beginning in 1954 with frozen sperm, which was thawed and used to inseminate three women.[55] Eight years later, the freezing of humans was first scientifically proposed by Michigan professor Robert Ettinger.[56] In April 1966, the first human body was frozen, though it had been embalmed for two months. It was placed in liquid nitrogen and stored at just above freezing. The middle-aged woman from Los Angeles, whose name is unknown, was soon thawed out and buried by relatives.[57]

The first body to be frozen with the hope of future revival was James Bedford's, a few hours after his cancer-caused death in 1967.[58] He is the only cryonics patient frozen before 1974 still preserved today. Cryonics gained a poor reputation in the U.S. in the late 1970s after the Cryonics Society of California ran out of money to maintain cryopreservation of existing patients.[57] Robert Nelson, a former TV repairman with no scientific background (who had processed Bedford's freezing before turning the body over to relatives), was sued for allowing nine bodies to decompose.[20]

In 2018, a Y-Combinator startup called Nectome was recognized for developing a method of preserving brains with chemicals rather than by freezing. The method is fatal, performed as euthanasia under general anethesia, but the hope is that future technology would allow the brain to be physically scanned into a computer simulation, neuron by neuron.[59]

Demographics

According to The New York Times, cryonicists are predominantly nonreligious white males, outnumbering women by about three to one.[60] According to The Guardian, as of 2008, while most cryonicists used to be young, male and "geeky" recent demographics have shifted slightly towards whole families.[45]

In 2015 Du Hong, a 61-year-old female writer of children's literature, became the first known Chinese national to be cryopreserved.[61]

Reception

Scientists have expressed skepticism about cryonics in media sources,[20] however the number of peer-reviewed papers on cryonics is limited because its speculative aspects place it outside of the focus of most academic fields.[8] While most neuroscientists agree that all the subtleties of a human mind are contained in its anatomical structure,[62] few neuroscientists will comment directly upon the topic of cryonics due to its speculative nature. Individuals who intend to be frozen are often "looked at as a bunch of kooks", despite many of them being scientists and doctors.[63]

William T. Jarvis has written that "Cryonics might be a suitable subject for scientific research, but marketing an unproven method to the public is quackery".[3]

According to cryonicist Aschwin de Wolf and others, cryonics can often produce intense hostility from spouses who are not cryonicists. James Hughes, the executive director of the pro-life-extension Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, chooses not to personally sign up for cryonics, calling it a worthy experiment but stating laconically that "I value my relationship with my wife."[60]

Cryobiologist Dayong Gao states that "People can always have hope that things will change in the future, but there is no scientific foundation supporting cryonics at this time."[42] Alcor disagrees, stating that "There are no known credible technical arguments that lead one to conclude that cryonics, carried out under good conditions today, would not work."[18] As well, while it is universally agreed that "personal identity" is uninterrupted when brain activity temporarily ceases during incidents of accidental drowning (where people have been restored to normal functioning after being completely submerged in cold water for up to 66 minutes), some people express concern that a centuries-long cryopreservation might interrupt their conception of personal identity, such that the revived person would "not be you".[8]

Many people assert there would be no point in being revived in the far future if their friends and families are dead.[53]

In fiction

Suspended animation is a popular subject in science fiction and fantasy settings, appearing in comic books, films, literature, and television. A survey in Germany found that about half of the respondents were familiar with cryonics, and about half of those familiar with cryonics had learned of the subject from films or television.[64] Some commonly known examples of cryonics being used in popular culture include Demolition Man (film), Vanilla Sky, Fallout 3, Fallout 4, Futurama, Halo,Passengers, Nip/Tuck and "The Neutral Zone" (Star Trek: The Next Generation).[65]

'

Notable people

Cryopreserved

Among the cryopreserved are L. Stephen Coles (in 2014),[66] Hal Finney[67] (in 2014), and Ted Williams.[68]

Associated with cryonics

The urban legend suggesting Walt Disney was cryopreserved is false; he was cremated and interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery.[69][a] Robert A. Heinlein, who wrote enthusiastically of the concept in The Door into Summer (serialized in 1956), was cremated and had his ashes distributed over the Pacific Ocean. Timothy Leary was a long-time cryonics advocate and signed up with a major cryonics provider, but he changed his mind shortly before his death, and was not cryopreserved.[71]

See also

References

Footnotes

  1. ^ Robert Nelson told the Los Angeles Times that he thought Walt Disney wanted to be cryopreserved as Walt Disney Studios had called him to ask detailed questions about his organisation, the Cryonics Society of California. However, Nelson clarified that "They had him cremated. I personally have seen his ashes."[70]

Citations

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External links

Abaddon (The Outer Limits)

"Abaddon" is the fourteenth episode of the sixth season of The Outer Limits television show. It was first broadcast on July 7, 2000.

Alcor Life Extension Foundation

The Alcor Life Extension Foundation, most often referred to as Alcor, is an American nonprofit organization based in Scottsdale, Arizona, USA. Alcor advocates for, researches, and performs cryonics, the preservation of human corpses and heads in liquid nitrogen after legal death, with hopes of restoring them to full health in the unlikely event some hypothetical new technology is developed in the future.

As of November 30, 2018, Alcor had 1,678 members, including 290 associate members and 164 who have died and whose bodies have been subject to cryopreservation, 96 of which have only their head preserved. Alcor also cryopreserves pets. As of February 13, 2009, there were 33 animal bodies preserved.

Alcor accepts bodies as "anatomical donations" under the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act and Arizona Anatomical Gift Act for research purposes, reinforced by a court finding (Alcor, Merkle & Henson v. Mitchell) in its favor that affirmed a constitutional right to donate one's body for research into cryopreservation.

Ben Best

Ben Best was President and CEO of the Cryonics Institute, the world's second largest cryonics organization, for nine years (between 2003 and 2012). Best is a well-known activist in cryonics and life extension advocacy. (YouTube Video of German conference) He holds undergraduate degrees in pharmacy from the University of British Columbia, and physics and computing science (BSc), and finance (BBA) from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada. Best is also certified as a Professional Registered Parliamentarian by the National Association of Parliamentarians. He currently works for the Life Extension Foundation.

Cryonics Institute

Cryonics Institute (CI) is an American not-for-profit corporation that provides cryonics services. CI preserves humans and pets in liquid nitrogen after death with hopes of restoring them when new technology will be developed in the future.

Curtis Henderson

Curtis Henderson (September 28, 1926 - June 25, 2009) was a pioneer in the practice of cryonics.

Death

Death is the permanent cessation of all biological functions that sustain a living organism. Phenomena which commonly bring about death include aging, predation, malnutrition, disease, suicide, homicide, starvation, dehydration, and accidents or major trauma resulting in terminal injury. In most cases, bodies of living organisms begin to decompose shortly after death.Death – particularly the death of humans – has commonly been considered a sad or unpleasant occasion, due to the affection for the being that has died and the termination of social and familial bonds with the deceased. Other concerns include fear of death, necrophobia, anxiety, sorrow, grief, emotional pain, depression, sympathy, compassion, solitude, or saudade. Many cultures and religions have the idea of an afterlife, and also hold the idea of reward or judgement and punishment for past sin.

Fred and Linda Chamberlain

Frederick Rockwell Chamberlain III and his wife Linda were the founders of the cryonics organization Alcor Life Extension Foundation. Their long and continued history of activism in cryonics make them among the most well-known cryonics pioneers. David Pascal wrote in the November/December 2005 issue of the Mensa Bulletin that, second to the man credited with the original idea for cryonics, Robert Ettinger, the Chamberlains have contributed more than anyone to the field of cryonics.

James Bedford

James Hiram Bedford (April 20, 1893 – January 12, 1967) was an American psychology professor at the University of California who wrote several books on occupational counseling. He is the first person whose body was cryopreserved after legal death, and who remains preserved at the Alcor Life Extension Foundation.

Jerry Leaf

Jerry Donnell Leaf (April 4, 1941 – July 10, 1991) was Vice President and Director of the cryonics organization Alcor Life Extension Foundation, and President of the cryonics service firm Cryovita, Inc. until his cryopreservation by Alcor following a fatal heart attack in 1991.Leaf fought in special operations during the Vietnam War. He also worked as a cardiothoracic surgery researcher at the UCLA School of Medicine, co-authoring more than 20 papers from the laboratory of Dr. Gerald Buckberg.During the late 1970s and 1980s, Leaf transformed the field of cryonics by bringing unprecedented medical expertise to the field and introducing technologies and procedures of thoracic surgery, especially heart-lung bypass, for improved blood vessel access and life support of cryonics patients. Leaf was involved in the first experiments done by a cryonics organization. He is most famous for developing with Mike Darwin a blood substitute shown capable of sustaining life in dogs for four hours at near-freezing temperatures. Leaf was the head of Alcor's suspension team and participated in many suspensions of Alcor patients.

Keith Henson

Howard Keith Henson (born 1942) is an American electrical engineer and writer on space engineering, space law (Moon treaty), memetics, cryonics, evolutionary psychology and physical limitations of Transhumanism.

In 1975, he and his then-wife Carolyn Meinel founded the L5 Society, which promoted space colonization and which was eventually folded into the National Space Society. More recently, Henson's outspoken criticism of the Church of Scientology and subsequent criminal proceedings have gained him headlines.

Lithia (The Outer Limits)

"Lithia" is an episode of The Outer Limits (new series) television show. It was first aired on 3 July 1998, during the fourth season.

Mike Darwin

Michael G. ("Mike") Darwin, formerly known as Michael Federowicz, (born April 26, 1955) was the president of the cryonics organization Alcor Life Extension Foundation from 1983 to 1988, and Research Director until 1992. He was also the founder and president of BioPreservation, Inc., and a cofounder, member of the Board of Directors, and Director of Research of Twenty-First Century Medicine (a cryobiological/critical care medicine research company) from 1993 to 1999.

Ralph Merkle

Ralph C. Merkle (born February 2, 1952) is a computer scientist. He is one of the inventors of public key cryptography, the inventor of cryptographic hashing, and more recently a researcher and speaker of cryonics.

Robert Ettinger

Robert Chester Wilson Ettinger (December 4, 1918 – July 23, 2011) was an American academic, known as "the father of cryonics" because of the impact of his 1962 book The Prospect of Immortality.Ettinger founded the Cryonics Institute and the related Immortalist Society and until 2003 served as the groups' president. His body has been cryopreserved, like the bodies of his first and second wives, and his mother.

Saul Kent

Saul Kent is a life extension activist, and co-founder of the Life Extension Foundation, a dietary supplement vendor and promoter of anti-aging research. He is also a pioneer in the practice of cryonics, and is a former board member of the cryonics organization Alcor Life Extension Foundation, which has no connection to the Life Extension Foundation.

Suspended animation

Suspended animation is the inducement of a temporary cessation or decay of main body functions, including the brain, to a hypometabolic state in order to try to preserve its mental and physiological capabilities.As a theoretical concept, it has been included in a wide range of fiction books and films but has not been implemented as a medical procedure for either short or extended time.

The Heist (The Outer Limits)

"The Heist" is an episode of The Outer Limits television series. It first aired on 5 May 1996, during the second season.

The Long Morrow

"The Long Morrow" is episode 135 of the American television anthology series The Twilight Zone. It originally aired on January 10, 1964 on CBS. In this episode, an astronaut falls in love on the eve of a 40-year-long space voyage. The story focuses on how he and his lover confront the problem that his 40 years in suspended animation will cause a wide age disparity between them by the time he returns.

The Rip Van Winkle Caper

"The Rip Van Winkle Caper" is episode 60 of the American television anthology series The Twilight Zone. It originally aired on April 21, 1961 on CBS.

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