Cryonics – Life after death?

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When you die, what will happen to your body? Have you informed your closest family of your personal decision? Do you want to be cremated? Or do you want to be buried? Have you told them where?

What if  I told that you didn’t have to be dead forever, that your death was only a temporary state, that you could be stored upside down in a metal container in liquid nitrogen with your blood replaced by chemicals at -196 degrees for a thousand years, and then be bought back to life again. You’d think I was crazy right? Or perhaps you’d think I was reciting a scene from an Austin powers movie?

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Over a thousand people around the world have signed up to be stored like this when they pass, hoping to one day be resurrected once medical science has advanced. The practice known as Cryonics is widely controversial, breaking many religious boundaries and condemned by many.

Those who choose to be stored in cryopreservation centres such as Alcor Life Extension in Arizona, US, are choosing to cheat death, perhaps because they are ill and there is no current cure for their disease, or maybe they just do not want to die. Whatever their reasoning they are not alone, many celebrities including Music tycoon Simon Cowell have vouched for the option. Despite the huge cost, between £80,000 to £200,000, the process is not just limited to the rich and famous. Some life insurance companies offer a whole life insurance in which after the client dies, the money will be paid out to the desired Cryonics Company.

In an ideal world, cryopreservation procedures will start instantly after death, assuming the patient has informed his family of the first steps to take. In a non-ideal world, procedures will start as soon as the cryonics team arrive. Members of Alcor life extension are advised to relocate to their hospice in Arizona when they feel they are nearing the end, or if they have been diagnosed with a terminal illness.

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As soon after ‘legal death’ as possible the patient will have to be stabilised, he is placed in an ice water bath, whilst blood circulation and breathing are artificially re-established using a Heart-Lung resuscitator (HLR). Once this has been achieved the patient will receive an intravenous line and protective medications will be administered. These protective medicines include the use of Anticoagulants and Anesthetics, which help maintain blood pressure, relax the muscles, and to protect the brain from reperfusion injury. Once the patient has been stabilised, Cryoprotective perfusion will be carried out – See this extract from Alcor Life extension:

A base perfusate similar to the preservation solution used during transport is circulated through the patient at a temperature near 0°C (the freezing point of water) for several minutes. This washes out any remaining blood. The cryoprotectant concentration is then linearly increased over 2 hours to one half the final target concentrations. This slow introduction minimizes osmotic stress, and allows time for the cryoprotectant concentration to equilibrate (become the same) inside and outside cells. A rapid increase to the final concentration is then made, and the final concentration is held until the venous outflow concentration equals the target concentration (approximately one hour). Temperature, pressure, and cryoprotectant concentration data are continuously monitored and acquired by computer.

Once Cryoprotective perfusion has been carried out and Cryoprotectants have been administered (chemicals which help to avoid damaging ice formation in cells) the patient will then undergo cooling. Over a period of three hours the patient will be frozen to -124 degrees using computer controlled fans circulating nitrogen gas. Once this is completed the patient is then ‘vitrified’. They then undergo the second and final stage of cooling to -196 degrees over two weeks. After this they will be moved to storage in liquid nitrogen at -196 until the time comes that they will be resuscitated.

The whole idea seems quite wonderful for the unreligious type who wants to live on forever, however, we must look at the impact this would have on the planet if, for arguments sake, one day Cryonics become a do-able, viable and popular option and medical technology became able to revive us. People would continue to reproduce, the world would begin to overpopulate as people start to be revived, countries would likely introduce birth control/reproduction control laws which would be hard to enforce. The world’s population would grow exponentially and very fast. The world would soon reach its full capacity, a point where governments and countries would start to look for resettlement in currently no-go areas, humans would start living underwater, we would inhabit the oceans, the rich and famous would start to relocate to outer space, perhaps on space stations or on mars. Outer space would become a permanent residence for a select few escaping the misery of the overpopulated earth. Other species will become extinct as our food becomes less available, vegetation would not be able to keep up with human demand. As space runs out and food becomes scarce natural selection between humans would set in. The less powerful would be left to die as the others prosper. The idea seems not so wonderful now?

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Death has and always will be a vital part of the life cycle and us as human beings have a responsibility to remember that, we must protect the planet that we live on, the planet that has given us life and in order to do that we must die. In order for our future generations to live, we must die. There are currently no laws directly involving Cryonics as the process itself does not yet work and it is unclear whether it ever will. Technologies such as molecular nanotechnology are what scientists and cryonics enthusiasts alike are depending on. If it ever became a reality what would the political complications be? Cryonics companies will fight the battle as they will feel they have a moral obligation to revive their patients, however, almost as soon as the first patient has been revived, there will be laws going through to make the process illegal.

Make of it what you will, I have faith that technology will continue to develop until things like Cryonics become a reality, I strongly believe that one day the hopes of many cryonics enthusiasts will come true, having said that who knows what complications they will meet along the way, and it is clearly not a sustainable option for the good of our planet. What would you chose? Leave your comments below.

Article on Cryonics coming soon! The practice of freezing people after they 'legally' die.