Over 100,000 people die each day globally. Why don't more of us consider cryonics — the practice of freezing the clinically dead in the hopes of bringing them back to life at a later date — as a way to avoid death?
You've probably seen cryonics before. Hollywood loves to use it in movies. Mike Myers (as Austin Powers), Woody Allen, and Mel Gibson are just some examples of people who have been "frozen" on the big screen.
Most cryonicists would not call frozen patients dead. They say patients are temporarily beyond the help of modern medicine, and that cryonics is the final attempt to provide emergency healthcare. Cryonics, they argue, is actually saving a patient by buying them time for science to catch up to the point where they can be revived.
"Death is not a moment, but a process, where an individual goes from a state of health, through many steps which end up becoming irreversible by modern means. It is not an absolute event. It is almost entirely dependent on the skills and means of the rescuer, and as we know, those skills and means improve over time," says Christine Gaspar, a RN, President of Cryonics Society of Canada, and CEO of Biostasis Canada.
I visited Alcor while traveling cross-country aboard my Immortality Bus (a campaign bus that resembles a coffin). Dr. Max More, a philosopher and the CEO of Alcor, gave me and my Transhumanist Party volunteers a private tour at the nonprofit's Scottsdale, Arizona facility.
Check it out in this video from Roen Horn:
More oversees many of the cryonics procedures, and has a medical and scientific advisory board to look after operations. His team includes medical doctors, paramedics, and surgeons. 138 patients have been placed in cryonic suspension at Alcor so far.
Among these patients are baseball legend Ted Williams, transhumanism advocate FM-2030 , and James H. Bedford, PhD., the first patient to be cryopreserved back in 1967.
"FM-2030 is a good friend of mine,” More tells me.
That comment made me wonder about the immense challenges and commitment of being responsible — literally —for the existence of one's good friends. It seems overwhelming, but More, a fit 51-year-old, is up to the challenge. He is a steward for the transhumanist community — overseeing the bodies of friends and their families as they grow too old for science to help them. He acts as their guardian, advocate, and spokesman.
The process of cryonics begins with signing up for the service and gaining membership at Alcor or one of the other few cryonics facilities in existence. Ideally, a patient dies near a cryonics facility, so that they can be immediately cooled and prepared.
This is the ideal condition for diffusing cryoprotectants in the brain: Cooling the patient down to liquid nitrogen temperatures in the most controlled method possible, so that brain neurons containing memories and (hopefully) identity can be protected and preserved.
Many cryonicists wear “dog tags” or other identifying jewelry that show they require cryopreservation immediately after pronouncement of death — and medical professionals are supposed to respond to that. Dr. More told me one person even had instructions tattooed on himself so that they could be easily seen. Patients that aren't transported to a cryonics facility within a few hours of death are thought to not be preserved in ideal conditions.
Patients are placed in a bath of ice for transport and infused with chemicals to help preserve their cells and tissue structures in a process called vitrification. This, hopefully, eliminates the formation of ice crystals that can puncture cell walls and destroy the cells themselves. Later, either the head or whole body (depending on the preference of the patient) is transferred into a giant dewar filled with liquid nitrogen. Preserving just your head at Alcor is about half the price of the body, coming in around $80,000 plus minimal annual fees.
The science at Alcor and in cryonics is constantly improving, according to More. He tells me the new techniques they've been using the in the last 10 years are better at staving off the ice crystals that scientists suggest might lead to damage of the brain.
Some experts believe that patients could be revived in as little as 50 years, though there is no definitive way to prove this.
When I first began my Immortality Bus tour, I considered transforming the bus into a cryonics dewar to raise attention to life extension issues. But so few people knew about cryonics that the bus's effect on the public would be muted. So I chose to make my bus look like a coffin, and most people get it right away.
Because I'm in excellent health, and cryonics is expensive, I haven't signed up yet. However, More told me that life insurance can help provide financial means to get the cryonics procedure done. Now I'm set on signing up for cryonics before my presidential campaign ends, in hopes of bringing attention to this small but potentially life-changing industry.
When I asked More why more people don't sign up for cryonics, he shrugged and said, "I don't really know. You would think everyone that likes living would be interested in this. But so far few people have signed up.”
As an aspiring politician, I advocate for government policy that specifically protects citizens' lifespans. Today, cryonics is the only hands-on treatment I know of that has a shot at preserving the lives and minds of the people we love. If people could become more comfortable with the idea of cryonics as emergency medicine rather than simply “freezing the dead,” then I think it might become a much larger industry.