Fancy being frozen like left-over salmon? Well you can, but unlike the salmon, you might not defrost so well.
The process of cryonic freezing has long been the subject of science fiction novels and movies – from Dr Evil to Sylvester Stallone – characters have been frozen in a cryogenic state before being brought back to life years down the line in order to wreak havoc/protect future societies. But how likely is it that the process will actually become scientifically achievable?
Perhaps the most famous case of cryogenic freezing (in real life) is that of Walt Disney. Following his death in 1966, rumours circulated that he had paid to have his head preserved like an Iceland pepperoni pizza upon his demise. A nice thought, if you’re a fan of known autocratic anti-Semite Hollywood studio owners reappearing in 2020 and offering franchise deals to Mel Gibson, however the rumour was dispelled long ago by his family.
Another case most recently was Kim Souzzi, of St Louis, who made global news by raising £70,000 though a campaign on social media site Reddit. She was diagnosed with brain cancer and given only months to live, so she raised the cash and when she died last January, had her head successfully frozen. She hoped (or hopes? Past-tense or present-tense – cryogenics is confusing) that through cryopreservation, she will one day be brought back to life in an age when a cure for brain cancer had been found. Of course, being America, there were the inevitable religious questions raised by her family, however eventually they agreed to support her. You may have noticed that I’ve referenced the Daily Mail there, but I’ve read the article, and there isn’t any suggestion that the US immigration policy caused Ms Souzzi’s cancer.
Leaders in the field of cryogenics admit that the current technology is limited, rendering the process of successfully bringing a patient back to life entirely impossible. Further to this, Professor Arthur Caplan told NBC News that hypothetically, a ‘reconstituted’ human would be incredibly fragile: “It wouldn’t take a lot of damage to shift somebody from being a reconstituted person to being a reconstituted vegetable,” he said. “You don’t need that much cell damage to cause harm….“you’re going to be kind of a freak.” Well that’s reassuring for Ms Souzzi.
Graham Templeton, in this article for Extreme Tech, agrees that the process is far too complex for modern science to contend with. He writes: “The super-ice bath of cryonic stasis is much more complicated than just putting a recently made corpse in a freezer. The process must be accompanied by major blood replacement and a complex cocktails of drugs, synthetic hormones, and anticoagulants. Without the drugs and the saline blood replacement, the nucleation of ice crystals in the blood during freezing would explode the patient cell by cell, like wine bottles left in the freezer.” Nice of him to use the wine analogy, although if you’re putting wine in the freezer then you need to reassess your alcoholic storage methods. May I suggest a wine rack?
Caplan adds that as well as the genetic complications, there will be social implications to being ‘born again’ too: “Friends are gone. No one is there. I would worry you would quickly become isolated and depressed.” It sounds like Justin Beiber’s post-fame future.
While contemporary technology holds little hope for resurrection, these graphs from Alcor show that the number of patients electing to be preserved is rising rapidly as people strive to achieve that most elusive of concepts: immortality.
Without turning this article into a Dawkins-esque science vs religion debate (for which I am clearly not sufficiently intellectually equipped), it appears that a small yet ever increasing number of people are shunning the traditional idea of the afterlife, (Heaven for the weather, Hell for the soundtrack) preferring instead to believe that future scientific technology will allow them to exist – as themselves – hundreds of years in the future.
Is this really a desirable idea? Along with the aforementioned physical and psychological downsides, there are many other points to consider. Hypothetically, if you were unfrozen and greeted by a world one hundred years in the future, would it really be a great place to exist on your own? Sure, you could track down your family and possibly catch the Rolling Stones’ 150th anniversary concert at the New, New Wembley Stadium, but would you really want to pay for everything using Bitcoin, or learn Mandarin in an attempt to avoid becoming another western victim of the Chinese genocide? It wouldn’t be long before you began reminiscing about Go Compare adverts, pining after the sniping remarks of X Factor judges and longing for whatever a Rita Ora is. And just imagine the glaring gap on your CV – how will you explain that in your Assistant Shelf Stacker interview at GoogleSupermarket?
Main image: Jasoninhollywood via Flickr