Cryonics Essay, Research Paper
“From the time they’re born, human beings are driven by an impulse to take things apart and put them back together. A small group of maverick scientists have decided to take this process one step further. Their project, called cryonics, aims to take apart and
reassemble the world’s most complicated machine: the human body (Epstein 16).”
Cryonics is the practice of freezing human bodies in the hope that one day, it is possible to revive these people and restore them back to health. Although this idea may seem strange and unworkable at first, cryonics is nevertheless practiced today by several groups of quite rational people in the United States (Harris 20).
Through freezing and/or dehydration, the life functions of certain living organisms can be halted by being put into full suspended animation. Later, the organism can be revived at the scientist’s leisure (Tompkins 1B). Many different cells and tissues can be
frozen in liquid nitrogen at nearly absolute zero (Settles). “In the frozen state, there is no metabolism; the machine has stopped, life has stopped.” Recently, it has been demonstrated that certain tissues can even be freeze-dried without damage and stored at room temperature on a shelf (Harris 21). And as amazing as it might seem, the machine can be made to live and function fully again; a number of healthy babies have been born in recent years which developed from embryos that at one time had been frozen to the point of having no metabolism at all (Harris 21).
Even years back, scientists refused to believe that death was man’s final frontier. In 1964, college professor Robert Ettinger, who also had his mother frozen, wrote The Prospect of Immortality. His book suggested that people could be frozen in “suspended death” until medical technology could cure what had killed them and “breathe new life into their bodies (Epstein 16).” Ettinger argued that cryogenics and medical technology were currently advanced enough to do the freezing part of the cryonics preservation procedure, and that the ability to do this relatively simple procedure was all that was required to make cryonics practical now. “We could start immediately”, said Ettinger, “and let the really difficult part, thawing and revival, be taken care of by more knowledgeable people later [on in time] (Harris 21).”
After a person is declared clinically dead and is legally certified to be frozen, a suspension team prepares the body for a large Dewar flask. Normally, a person dying in the hospital will already have an intra-venous line in them which is used by the suspension team to administer about twenty different kinds of medication (Morgan 51). First Heparin is given to prevent blood clots. Potassium chloride, Phenobarbital, or some other similar
kind of chemical is used to depress the brain metabolism so that the cells can stay alive but in a less active state. Other chemicals are also given to keep the acidity level constant and to reduce brain pressure (Tompkins 1C). Calcium channel blockers to prevent calcium
from traveling into the cells and starting a number of chemical reactions that typically do a lot of brain damage are also dispensed (Morgan 51). The drugs are then followed by manual CPR and then eventually with a heart-lung resuscitator (Morgan 52).
A femoral bypass is then conducted at a proper facility. The femoral artery and the vein in the leg are opened and hooked up to a pump. The entire vascular system of the patient is then flushed (Morgan 53). The blood is washed out completely and replaced
with the same solution DuPont makes to flush hearts and kidneys for transplants. “That solution can keep organs alive sometimes as long as twenty four hours in a cool stage (Morgan 53).” All of the brain cells at that point are also protected. “Because the fluids given are usually pre-chilled, the patient is being cooled even more rapidly down to two or three degrees above freezing.” At that point, the circuit is closed off, the patient is covered in ice, and then transported to where the next set of procedures will take place
Freezing damage is normally caused by water turning into ice. Contrary to most liquids and their solid counter-parts, water expands when it turns into ice, forming crystals. Because of the saline (salt) content, the water is harder to freeze causing the ice to form in-between the cells, not in the cells. When the water starts freezing, it expands and crushes the cells poking holes, therefore leading to more damage because of excess fluid excretion. This is why seventy percent of the water in the patient is replaced by glycerol which prevents a lot of this damage. Glycerol does not expand when it freezes, so the more glycerol that is injected, the better. Glycerol is also used commonly to freeze sperm and human embryos (Morgan 54).
After the replacement with glycerol is complete, the patient is placed in a bath of silicone oil. “The patient is then placed in a special tank wrapped in a sleeping bag and in an aluminum pod for protection.” Over several days, using liquid nitrogen, the patient is dropped down to minus one-hundred and ninety six (-196) degrees Celsius. “At that point they are placed in a special stainless steel tank, vacuum insulated like a thermos, and held at that temperature until science can [one day, in the far future, successfully] revive these patients (Morgan 55).”
“Success with hamsters and monkeys is bringing the idea to new levels. Can people live forever? Cryonicists think so (Epstein 18).” Enough evidence has been collected to demonstrate that cryonics has contributed to research, organ preservation, and bloodless surgery (Epstein 18). The American Cryonics Society of Stockton, California, the Alcor Life Extension Foundation of Riverside, California, and the Cryonics Institute of Oak Park, Michigan, are the major organizations that freeze people in the
United States (Epstein 19). There are approximately twenty-one people in cryonic suspension, with about two-hundred and fifty others waiting for their demise to undergo the procedure (Epstein 19).
Many obvious obstructions and controversies are going to arrive with this new method of preservation. “When radical extensions of the human life span become possible, will we want them? Should we have them (Harris 24)?” Cryonicists assume that
a society in the future will be rich enough to afford historically interesting luxuries like newly thawed people. “A further assumption is that the transition of the present culture to such an affluent future society will be smooth, without any significant social or economic upheavals.” And what about other troubles? Long before the time when frozen people can be revived, humanity will have found it necessary to severely control its birth rate. Is it likely that a society that could no longer welcome new babies will want to revive people who have already had full lives and now are dead (Harris 22)?
There are also the economic hardships that will accompany this technology: several hundred dollars a year in membership fees while one is alive, plus the cost of maintaining an extra $35,000 to $150,000 life-insurance policy. “The American Cryonics Society, which has seven frozen and one-hundred and fourteen signed up, generally offers whole-body suspension for $125,000 and will preserve just the head, a procedure called neuropreservation, for $50,000 (Epstein 19).” Dr. Philip Marden MD, had his father buried in the permafrost region of Canada because he could not afford the cryonics
procedure (Epstein 19).
There is also the social loss of the cryonics fund money, which would otherwise be available to dependent organizations such as charities and third-world countries. Thirdly, there is also the always important problem of what the society will think. “Here
there is a real possibility of loss of esteem from nearly everyone: Religious folk are likely to view cryonics as a sort of mortuarial Tower of Babel and there might even be loss of esteem from socially conscious freethinkers again because that money could have gone to
Ethiopia or CODESH (Harris 24).”
On the flip side, there are potential gains from involvement in cryonics that are independent of whether the technique works or not. Chief among these is that cryonics provides a certain amount of comfort for the religious nonbeliever. Some of the sting and shock of a family death can be removed if there remains a chance that the death is not permanent. “Of course, the cynic will comment that freezing a corpse is much like putting leftover food in the refrigerator because one cannot tolerate the waste implied in throwing it away immediately. Even if the food is never reheated, it is easier to discard if done in two separate steps. And so it is, perhaps, with a dead loved-one (Harris 25).”
“For thousands of years, mankind has been conditioned to accept death,” said Ettinger, “I grew up expecting that one day old age would be preventable and reversible (Epstein 17).”
I guess his verisimilitude, along with the dreams and wishes of many optimists with wild yet obviously fantastic imaginations, is being pressed to eventually come true.
Epstein, Miles. “The Big Chill.” American Legion Magazine. September, 1990: 16+.
Harris, Steven B. “Many Are Cold but Few Are Frozen: A Humanist Looks at Cryonics.” Free Inquiry. Spring 1989: 19-24.
Morgan, Jas. “Souls on Ice.” Mondo 2000. Spring / Summer 1995: 50+.
Settles, Gary S. “Cryogenics.” The 1995 Groiler Multimedia Encyclopedia.
Tompkins, Wayne. “Mummification Program Revives Ancient Option for Afterlife.” NEWS. February 4, 1990: 1A-1E.