Freezing the Future

Cryonics is the practice of deep freezing bodies to preserve them in the hope that in the future, science will be able to revive them. It can cost as much as $200,000 to fully freeze our entire bodies, whilst “the head only” option costs $80,000. The first body that was cryogenically frozen was James Bedford, who was legally pronounced dead on January 12th 1967, and since then over 250 bodies have been frozen.

The process of cryonics would begin when your body is pronounced legally dead, a team of doctors (around the same amount needed to conduct heart surgery -12 people present) then stabilises your body - supplying your brain with enough oxygen and blood to preserve minimal function. Your body will then be transported to the “suspension facility” where it will be packed in ice and injected with heparin (an anticoagulant) to stop your blood from clotting. Finally, you will be transported to the cryonics facility where the physical freezing of the body takes place. However they cannot simply place your body in liquid nitrogen, because the water inside all your cells would freeze, causing the cells to shatter. To stop this from happening, the team removes the water from your cells and replaces it with a chemical mixture called cryoprotectant (a sort of human antifreeze). The goal is to prevent the tissues and organs from forming ice crystals even at incredibly low temperatures. This process (deep cooling without freezing) puts the cells in a suspended state.

The most common people to use cryonics are young people with a life ahead of them that they haven’t been able to live. Recently, for example, a 14 year old girl with a rare form of cancer has been allowed to have her body frozen cryogenically. During the last few months of her life the teen used the internet to research having her cryonics. Initially, her father opposed the idea and she was not allowed to go through with it. However, she wrote a letter to the court stating “I’m only 14 years old and I don’t want to die, but I know I am going to. I think being cryo‐preserved gives me a chance to be cured and woken up, even in hundreds of years”. She won the case and her body is now frozen in America. This girl believed that in the future they will be able to revive her and cure her cancer due to scientific advancements, but how plausible is this?

Nature has shown is that it is possible to cryogenically preserve animals such as reptiles, insects and amphibians. For example, a wood frog freezes in a block of ice during winter, and in spring continues to live normally. However in humans, every “freeze to thaw” process causes significant tissue damage. There are several issues surrounding both the preservation of the body and reviving them later on. This all relies on the fact that they will be able to cure the person of the condition that killed them in the first place.

There are several ethical issues with cryonics, the first and foremost being you are “cheating” death. Some people believe that cryonics stops people from living a natural life and having a natural death. Christians believe that cryonics is fine because it is not raising the dead, but they disagree with the fact that people wouldn’t want to join God in heaven after death.

Our generation may never know whether the cryonics process will be successful. Despite its disputable ethical and scientific aspects, it is ultimately down to the individual’s decision whether they choose to partake in such an unknown procedure.