September 23, 2013
Cryonics: Exploring The Life-Or-Death Gamble Of Low-Temperature Preservation
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
Once thought to be a pursuit reserved for the rich and eccentric, scientists are now looking to bring cryonics – the low-temperature preservation of humans hoping to find cures and/or treatments for life-threatening conditions in the future – to the masses.According to Rupert Jones of The Guardian, a US-based organization known as the Cryonics Institute currently has more than 100 men and women in “cryonic suspension” at a Michigan-based facility.
Cryonics involves placing a body in liquid nitrogen to preserve it indefinitely, Jones explains, with the hope that in the near future technological or medical breakthroughs will be able to assist the individual undergoing the process. The Cryonics Institute charges a minimum of $28,000 (plus fees for preparation and transportation) for their services.
A similar firm, the Arizona-based Alcor Life Extension Foundation, requires $80,000 for “neurocryopreservation” (preservation of the head only) or $200,000 for the entire body, while a Russian firm known as KrioRus is offering their services for as little as $12,000 for domestic residents (foreign clients apparently face a higher bill for services rendered).
It is medical research companies like Google’s recently-announced offshoot Calico that people opting to undergo the cryonics process are banking on. Calico is said to be an independent healthcare company to develop new technologies that fight age-related illnesses and extend the human lifespan.
“Illness and aging affect all our families… from the decreased mobility and mental agility that comes with age, to life-threatening diseases that exact a terrible physical and emotional toll on individuals and families,” explained Google co-founder and chief executive Larry Page.
“With some longer term, moonshot thinking around healthcare and biotechnology, I believe we can improve millions of lives,” he added during an announcement last Wednesday. “While this is clearly a longer-term bet, we believe we can make good progress within reasonable timescales with the right goals and the right people.”
Even if Calico or other medical research firms manage to succeed in finding cures for ailments like cancer, heart disease, or other life-threatening conditions, there is no guarantee that cryonics customers will be able to capitalize on those advances. After all, there are issues with the process itself, theoretical physicist Dr. Michio Kaku explained in a 2012 YouTube video.
“If you suddenly freeze the human body, the problem is that ice crystals begin to form inside the cells,” said Dr. Kaku, a professor at City College of New York. “As the ice crystals expand, they rupture the cells. So, in other words, freezing the human body seems to work only superficially. But if you look at the human tissue under a microscope, you find massive tearing and disruption of cell walls.”
“It is a gamble; it's not a certainty that this will work,” 38-year-old Victoria Stevens, a mother of two who lives in North Yorkshire and has signed up for cryonic preservation, admitted to Jones. So why take the chance? “I really enjoy being alive,” she said. “I think the prospect of death… it just seems like an awful waste after people spend their lives learning and progressing. I'd like to live longer and see more and experience more. We are happy to prolong our lives with heart transplants and so on – it's just one step on from that.”