Cryonics: Putting Death on Ice
Cryonics: Putting Death on Ice
There is a potent thread winding its way through generations of human culture. From Ancient Egyptian rituals to Kurzweil’s Singularity, many paths have sprung up leading to the same elusive destination: immortality.
Today, the concept is as popular as it’s ever been, and technological advances are giving people hope that immortality, or at very least radical life extension, may be within reach. Is modern technology advanced enough to give people a second chance through cryonics?
Today’s infographic, courtesy of Futurism, tackles our growing fascination with putting death on ice.
The Prospect of Immortality
Robert C. W. Ettinger’s seminal work, The Prospect Of Immortality, detailed many of the scientific, moral, and economic implications of cryogenically freezing humans for later reanimation. It was after that book was published in 1962 that the idea of freezing one’s body after death began to take hold.
One of the most pressing questions is, even if we’re able to revive a person who has been cryogenically preserved, will the person’s memories and personality remain intact? Ettinger posits that long-term memory is stored in the brain as a long-lasting structural modification. Basically, those memories will remain, even if the brain’s “power is turned off”.
Descending into the Deep-Freeze
There are three main steps in the cryogenic process:
1) Immediately after a patient dies, the body is cooled with ice packs and transported to the freezing location.
2) Next, blood is drained from the patient’s body and replaced with a cryoprotectant (basically the same antifreeze solution used to transport organs destined for transplant).
3) Finally, once the body arrives at the cryonic preservation facility, the body is cooled to -196ºC (-320.8ºF) over the course of two weeks. Bodies are generally stored upside-down in a tank of liquid nitrogen.
The Economics of Cryopreservation
At prices ranging from about $30,000 to $200,000, cryopreservation may sound like an option reserved for the wealthy, but many people fund the procedure by naming a cryonics company as the primary benefactor of their life insurance policy. Meanwhile, in the event of a death that doesn’t allow for preservation of the body, the money goes to secondary beneficiaries.
Even if we do eventually find a way to reanimate frozen humans, another important consideration is how those people would take care of themselves financially. That’s where a cryonics or personal revival trust comes into play. A twist on a traditional dynastic trust, this arrangement ensures that there are funds to cover costs of the cryopreservation, as well as ensure the grantor would have assets when they’re unthawed. Of course, there are risks involved beyond the slim possibility of reanimation. The legal code in hundreds of years could be vastly different than today.
If you created a trust for specific purposes in 1711, it is unlikely it would function in the same way today.
– Kris Knaplund, Law Professor, Pepperdine University
Cold Humans, Hot Market
At last count, there are already 346 people in the deep freeze, with thousands more on the waiting list. As technology improves, those numbers are sure to continue rising.
Time will tell whether cryonically preserved people are able to cheat death. In the meantime? The cryonics industry is alive and well.
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