Being cryopreserved after death is the second-worst thing that could happen. The worst is dying without being cryopreserved.” – Ben Best
The Oxford dictionary defines cryonics as “the process of freezing people who have just died in the hope that scientific advances may allow them to be revived in the future.” The thought of this, depending on your mindset, may sound utterly ridiculous or positively amazing.
As of 2016, four facilities exist to harbor the bodies of those who wish to be cryopreserved, one in Russia and three in the United States. Though medical privacy disallows exact numbers, it is estimated that there are about 300 people in the US and 50 in Russia who have gone through the process and another 1,500 to 2,000 have signed up.
But what is the reality of this weird science? Is it really possible to freeze and defrost an entire person without damage? Wills.com takes a look.
The Argument for It
People who argue for the science behind cryonics believe in a process called “vitrification”, where over 60% of the water in cells is replaced with a combo of anti-freeze and organ-preserving chemicals that slow molecules to almost a standstill before placing the body in a cylinder of liquid nitrogen at a temperature of -196ºC. This, they claim, allows the tissues, and even the brain, to be frozen without damage when the reanimation process occurs.
Cryonic scientists say that while they have not been able to reanimate a person yet, future technology may be able to make it happen. They say there have been experiments with rats who have been frozen to zero degrees for several hours in suspended animation and woken up, and that clinical advances in the frozen storage of sperm and eggs points to the possibilities of doing the same with entire organisms.
For those in favour of cryonics, they cite that it is a win-win situation. If it works, they have a shot at living in another time, in a body that functions properly, possibly free of diseases that affect many today. If it doesn’t, well, they were dead anyway.
The Argument Against it
For those who find the process far-fetched, at the moment, science is on their side. Nothing known now fully supports successfully freezing any living thing in such a way and defrosting it without there being damage, perhaps severe damage, at best or the body turning to a gooey mess at worst.
Then there is the issue of “uploading” a person’s personality, mind and memories by jump-starting neural connections in the brain. Even if the body could be unfrozen without a problem, and that’s yet to be proven, the idea that the brain can be jump-started again in a way that makes you “you” is far-fetched according to researchers. Just resurrecting the brain, they say, doesn’t reconnect synapses or resume brain activity.
This gets even trickier for those who are decapitated before the procedure, preserving only the head in hopes that that will be enough, and that a body can be given to or created for them in the future, a la Frankenstein.
Neuroscientists also point out that the amount of time it takes for the cryogenic support team to be admitted to the bedside of the recently deceased may be too long to save the brain. Within minutes of the brain being starved of oxygen, hippocampal neurons die, leading to brain damage, meaning even if a person were revived, they would most likely be a vegetable.
In the End
Before considering buying immortality, give a thought to what that means. On the one hand, it means a life without the people you know and love, on the other, a chance to love again. It is a huge expense that may have been used in a better way to help your family, but it also could be the investment of a lifetime. Weighing up what matters most to you is the only way forward with a decision like this. Either way, it’s a huge leap of faith.