People Who Are Cryogenically Frozen: Thawing the Myths of Eternal Slumber

Preservation of human bodies in the hope of future revival.

Understanding Cryonics

Cryonics is a field that involves the low-temperature preservation of human bodies, with the hope that resuscitation and restoration to full health might be possible in the future.

History and Key Figures

The concept of cryonics was put into practice in 1967 when Dr. James Bedford became the first person to be cryogenically frozen.

His body is still preserved to this day.

This event kickstarted the cryonics movement which has since then involved organizations like the Alcor Life Extension Foundation and the Cryonics Institute.

Robert Ettinger, known as the “father of cryonics,” founded the Cryonics Institute and wrote The Prospect of Immortality, which significantly boosted the visibility of cryonics.

Outside of the US, organizations such as Kriorus in Russia also offer cryonic preservation services.

  • 1967: James Bedford becomes the first person cryopreserved.
  • 1976: Alcor is founded.
  • 1976: Cryonics Institute is established by Robert Ettinger.
  • 2005: Kriorus conducts its first cryopreservation.

Cryonics vs. Cryogenics

While often used interchangeably in popular media, cryonics and cryogenics are distinct fields.

Cryogenics is the broader scientific study of materials at very low temperatures and their behaviors, spanning many applications in physics and engineering.

Meanwhile, cryonics specifically refers to the preservation of human bodies after legal death, with the speculative hope that advancements in technology might one day enable revival and curing of any diseases that led to their demise.

  • Cryogenics: Scientific study of low-temperature phenomena.
  • Cryonics: Preservation of human bodies after legal death.

The Cryopreservation Process

Metallic tanks filled with liquid nitrogen, tubes connected to them, and a control panel with blinking lights and buttons

Cryopreservation serves as the cornerstone for modern-day organ preservation, tissue storage, and the hope for future revival of cryogenically preserved individuals.

This process meticulously slows down and stops all biological activity by cooling biological specimens to extreme temperatures.

From Preservation to Revival

Cryopreservation isn’t merely about storing biological material; it also encompasses the complex challenge of reviving the preserved tissue.

Liquid nitrogen plays a crucial role in this, often utilized to cool the tissues to a staggering -196°C. This state allows the material to be stored indefinitely without the threat of cellular damage due to biological activity.

The ultimate goal is to revive the tissue when required, using specialized warming techniques that aim to minimize any damage and restore the tissue to a functional state.

Cryobiology and Cryoprotectants

A cryobiologist delves into the science of cryopreservation, focusing on understanding how cells and tissues can be brought to such low temperatures without causing irreversible damage.

This is where cryoprotectants become vital.

Like antifreeze for the cells, these substances protect the tissues during the freezing process.

Vitrification takes this a step further, transforming the cellular water into a glass-like state, preventing ice crystal formation that can puncture and damage cells.

Understanding the intricate dance between temperature control and the use of cryoprotectants is essential.

Whether it’s organ preservation for transplants or tissue storage for research, each step is designed to maximally preserve the function and integrity of the biological material, ensuring that when the time comes, revival is possible.

Through the combination of low temperatures and cryoprotectants, cryopreservation captures a moment in biological time, offering a pause button until science is ready to press play once again.

Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications

A group of cryogenically frozen capsules arranged in a sterile, futuristic facility, with monitoring equipment and a sense of uncertainty and ethical debate

Navigating the frontiers of cryonics involves a complex web of ethical quandaries, legal hurdles, and social ripples.

Every person frozen in liquid nitrogen brings a story that fuels debates on the boundaries between life and death and the uncharted waters of medical ethics.

Consent and Religiosity

When someone decides to undergo cryopreservation, the question of informed consent is paramount.

This is not just a simple medical procedure; it’s a choice that intersects with deeply held religious beliefs for many.

For instance, Ted Williams, a baseball legend, was cryogenically frozen, and his case raised questions about the necessity of explicit consent for post-mortem cryopreservation.

Religion also plays a critical role, as some argue that such practices may conflict with beliefs about life after death or the sanctity of the human body.

Legal Recognition and Cases

Legally, cryonics inhabits a grey area between the definitions of life and death.

Cases like that of Dora Kent, whose post-mortem cryopreservation led to legal controversy, highlight the need for clarity in the law about the status of cryopreserved individuals.

Are they simply dead, or are they legal entities with the potential for revival? Courts have occasionally grappled with these questions and will continue to do so as cryonics becomes more prevalent.

Future Prospects and Public Perception

Public perception of cryonics swings between fascination with the prospect of immortality and skepticism about the feasibility of the technology, such as the use of nanotechnology for repair at the molecular level.

Additionally, the Society for Cryobiology distances itself from cryonics, citing concerns that it may be seen as representative of the broader field of biological preservation technology.

Yet, if society’s intrigue turns to acceptance, cryonics could influence fundamental social structures like inheritance law and population dynamics.