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C R Y O N I C S

The Other Side of Heaven

By Jennifer Ashraf

EVERY one is mortal, and no matter how brave a person maybe, there is not a single existing soul who does not fear death. What lies on the other side of Heaven is a mystery, and frankly few are unafraid of venturing into the unknown. Modern technology has helped made life easier, even prolonging life with advanced medicines and medical science. Genetic engineering has brought forward even exciting marvels, but another upcoming scientific breakthrough, which is unknown to many even today, is Cryonics. As defined in Webster's new universal unabridged dictionary, cryonics is "the practice of freezing the body of a person who has just died in order to preserve it for possible resuscitation in the future, as when a cure for the disease that caused death has been found."

A few people look forward to the time when their minds can be uploaded to a computer. In either case, cryonics may be the gateway to a future world of eternal youth and prosperity. As currently practised, cryonics is a radical approach to saving life. Cryonics is radical in two different ways: (1) This science cannot be proven to work or proven not to work until some time in the future. Cryonics is dependent on a future technology, and there is no guarantee that the future can create the required technology. (2) Most people who seek cryonics do not simply want a procedure comparable to heroic surgery. Cryonicists are usually people who want a procedure that can transport them to a future technology capable of restoring youth, and extending youthful life-span hundreds or thousands of years or more.

Biological death is a process, not an event, and the deterioration of the biological basis of life (cells in tissues and organs) occurs over a period of many hours after cessation of heartbeat. Cryonicists seek to initiate cryo-preservation procedures as soon after the legal declaration of death as is possible, to minimise deterioration of cells. Those being cryo-preserved are referred to as "patients" rather than "dead people" -- in keeping with the thought that cryo-preserved people still have the basis of life within them, but are very medically compromised. Although steps can be taken to minimise freezing-damage, such damage cannot be completely eliminated. Nonetheless, damage is distinct from destruction. A structure that is merely damaged can ultimately be repaired. Future science may well be able to cure most disease, repair freezing damage, and stop as well as reverse ageing. At liquid nitrogen temperature (-196°C = -320°
F), biological structures in need of repair can be preserved many millions of years with virtually no change. Most cryonicists expect the necessary molecular repair technology within 50 to 100 years -- but are prepared to wait as long as it takes.

Now, the question arises whether cryogenic temperatures (below freezing) can cause sufficient damage to cell structures. There are Arctic reptiles such as frogs and salamanders that can survive very low temperatures with a large part of their body water converted to ice. They can do this because their livers manufacture a large amount of glycerol. Glycerol is antifreeze: it reduces ice formation and lowers freezing point. Other arctic insects and reptiles use sugars as antifreeze. Such antifreeze substances are called cryo-protectants. (A cryo-protectant can make water solidify the way glass hardens: with no crystal formation.) Freezing-damage to cells is due to the formation of ice-crystals, which grow between cells and crush them -- or the creation of toxic hypertonic solutions. Freezing and re-warming lettuce or strawberries can provide evidence of freezing damage. In 1950, it was discovered that glycerol could be used to protect red blood cells against freezing injury. Since then, many organisations are trying to put this information into the scientific use of cryonics.

For many people, the prospect of living in the future means much more than extended lifespan. They are excited by the possibility of space travel and of the transformation of human life. In a world of wealth and advanced technology, people will have more time to pursue their dreams and be less constrained by the requirements of work. People may be superhuman with bodies engineered for better sensation, better protection, better thinking, and instantaneous communication with any other person or machine with greatly enhanced capabilities. A world with the technology to reanimate a cryo-preserved person would probably be filled with superior means of helping people to become adaptive and productive -- including high-tech training technologies and technical means of enhancing mental and physical powers. Yet, as all scientific successes, even cryonics faces religious, ethical, psychological and moral issues.

To cryonicists, cryonics is a medical procedure unrelated to religious issues. Medicine has doubled the average life expectancy in the last hundred years. It is hard to for cryonicists to understand why it would be an affront to religion for life expectancy to be increased even a thousand-fold. A religious problem might concern whether cryonics and anti-ageing science greatly extends human lifespan or eliminates death entirely. It is only the complete elimination of death that seems to trespass on religious grounds. Although many cryonicists speak of "immortalism", the possibility (or inevitability) of death by accidents, murders or suicides will never be eliminated -- so it is presumptuous to speak of cryonics eliminating death. Is it immoral to spend money on a doubtful last grasp at life like cryonics, when the same money could be used to save the lives of hundreds of malnourished Third World children? In this view, cryonics is an example of egotistical selfishness and greed.

Is there room for cryo-preserved bodies in a world that is grossly overpopulated at present, and is headed for a more serious population crisis in the future? Cryonicists tend to be optimistic futurists and technophiles, so they often believe that technology can solve all problems.

The desire to live as long as possible need not be viewed as an inhumane desire, biologists argue. It is also often argued that death is necessary to remove rigid old minds from positions of power so that humanity can progress. If technology eliminates ageing, however, minds could continue to grow without becoming rigid or inflexible. Hundreds of years of accumulated wisdom by minds that do not grow old could prove to be the most valuable resource available to humankind. Such individuals would be more far-sighted and more concerned about the quality of the future environment, which they themselves would expect to inhabit.

The majority of people regard a greatly extended lifespan as personally undesirable. Interviewers seem genuinely baffled when they ask cryonicists, "Why would you or anyone want to live forever?" Cryonicists too are baffled by the question -- why would anyone want to die? (It has been mentioned that greatly extending lifespan is different from wanting to "live forever".) For many people, a life of physical or psychological pain is not worth living. To a cryonicist it appears that most people must live lives of chronic boredom, depression, resignation and despair. People who have followed the formula of school, career and family often regard their lives as completed -- as if they can't think of anything else to do. They may imagine cryonicists to be people with desperately unfulfilled lives. Some people will not become involved in cryonics because too many things could go wrong, and there is no 100% certainty that the procedure will work. People who opt for cryo-preservation, however, do not require 100% certainty, because even a small chance is regarded as better than no chance -- especially when the reward of success is viewed as being enormous. Others believe that within the next 50 years science will cure ageing or devise ways to transfer human consciousness to computers -- and that cryonics arrangements are unnecessary. Such optimism overlooks an important point: death can occur at any time before the anticipated technology is achieved. A person in cryo-preservation can "patiently" wait for science to advance, but a person rotting in the earth cannot.

Before a cryonics organisation can cryo-preserve a person it is essential that all of the legal and financial arrangements have been formalised. Too many people assume that they can make these arrangements on their deathbed or that others can make the arrangements after death. But cryonics organisations usually refuse to handle "last minute" cases. Cryo-preservation involves a great deal of up-front expense and legal risk. A cryonics organisation cannot risk spending large amounts of money on services, equipment and transport costs only to discover that the person had written a Will requesting burial, that financing is inadequate, that relatives vehemently oppose cryonics or that the funding is tied-up in probate. For this reason, cryonics organisations require that the people they cryo-preserve have proven intention and financial capability well before death as part of the sign-up process and paperwork. A formal cryo-preservation agreement is signed and notarised along with other paperwork, such as anatomical donation.

Many people question whether cryonics organisations have integrity and/or long-term survival capability. Cryonics organisations are not moneymaking rackets - they are the creations of people who are trying to build their own lifeboats. Cryo-preservation funding is partly spent on cryo-preparation, but most of the money is held on behalf of the patient so that interest in the principal can pay for long-term cryo-storage. People wanting to save their own lives, and the lives of their loved-ones control cryonics organisations. Survival means more to them than money -- money is a means to survival. Nonetheless, good intentions don't guarantee competence. One of the first cryonics organisations was the Cryonics Society of California, formed in the mid-1960s. Robert Nelson, the principle organiser, froze many people, placed them in storage and received some money for this. He also took many charity cases and pay-as-you-go cases on the expectation that future proceeds would make up the difference. Because his revenues were inadequate, Nelson could not maintain his clients in a cryo-preserved state and allowed them to thaw (hidden in an underground crypt, which he would not allow others to inspect). He maintained a fraudulent facade until he was exposed and sued.

Currently existing cryonics organisations are more trustworthy and fiscally prudent than the Cryonics Society of California. No cryonics organisation currently accepts pay-as-you-go funding. The full capital must be paid up-front so that perpetual care can be paid for from the interest on that principle. At present there are five organisations in the world offering cryonic suspension services to the public. Some people think that after the cryonics patient has paid money and is in cryo-storage that there is no incentive for the organisation to continue service (storage) since the person is dead and will soon be forgotten. It may be easy to forget a person buried in the ground, but it is not so easy to forget a person who is in cryo-storage. The people who run cryonics organisations expect themselves to eventually be in cryo-storage and are betting their lives on the process, so they take care of their patients. Many cryonicists have loved-ones in cryo-storage. Each cryo-preserved member is precious -- symbolically if not actually -- and a threat to one is a threat to all. Those who run cryonics organisations defend all the members in storage like ferocious mother hens. The first people revived will be the last people stored -- because they will have been stored with the least amount of damage. Gradually, as repair capabilities improve, patients stored earlier -- under less optimal protocols -- with be repaired and reanimated. The very first case of cryonics was in Toronto, Canada. Cryonics is currently a big gamble, and even the enthusiasts acknowledge that there are many unsolved problems. But there is little to loose by choosing cryonic suspension: either it will work and restoration methods will be developed and used in the far future, or it won't. There are many more issues, features and complications of cryonics. As it is, this article has run long enough, and if I continue, will probably fill the next three issues of the RS. I have tried my best to include (summarise) all the important facts, but anyone with further questions or inquiries are welcome to contact me at jenniash@hotmail.com

 

 
 

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