Death is not a topic that people like to think about, and that is just as true of advocates for longevity science as anyone else. We have to recognize, however, that the future of greatly extended healthy lives, produced by technologies such as SENS therapies, regenerative medicine, and medical nanotechnology, will not arrive soon enough to benefit everyone. Many people are too old already, or suffer from other conditions that will kill them before cures can be developed. This is an unpleasant reality that we must face.
A billion people will die between now and the earliest possible plausible date for the first package of rough and ready but working rejuvenation therapies - say twenty years from now. That date will only be hit if fundraising and other matters proceed very well over the next few years. Another few decades will pass after that point in order for the technologies of rejuvenation to work their way out to global availability at low cost, and the toll of deaths caused by aging will continue in less fortunate regions while this happens. Do we just write these people off and forge ahead regardless? Of course not. Instead, we turn to the science and business of cryonics, a serious effort to solve this problem that has been underway since the early 1970s.
What is Cryonics?
Cryonics is the only option for life extension open to many older and seriously ill people: those who cannot wait for the promised therapies of the next few decades. It is the science of placing humans and animals into a low-temperature, biologically unchanging state immediately after clinical death, with the expectation that advances in medical technology may eventually enable full restoration to life and health. A small industry of cryonics providers exists to vitrify your body on death, using cryopreservant chemicals to avoid freezing damage in cells, in the hopes that future scientists will be able to revive and repair you, most likely by using applications of molecular nanotechnology. This process is known as cryosuspension within the industry.
The practice of cryonics is an ongoing medical experiment with an unknown chance of success. Responsible cryonicists understand that cryonic suspension is an educated gamble. The chances are certainly better than zero, however, and as one wag noted, "the control group in this experiment isn't doing so well." By this, he was referring to the vast number of people who are cremated, buried or otherwise interred. The chances of any plausible future science restoring them is zero. Cryonic suspension is, after all, only the second worst thing that can happen to you.
The cryonics community is tightly knit, friendly and supportive. The community, and the industry it supports, have been ever-so-slowly growing since the early 1970s. To find out more about cryonics, you might want to peruse the following locations:
- Alcor explains cryonics
- Common myths and misunderstandings about cryonics
- Cryonics at Wikipedia
- Cryonics as an extension of metabolic arrest medicine
- The Cryonet community, archives and resources
In addition, an excellent article on the philosophy and practice of cryonics can be found here at Fight Aging!:
If you are going to die tomorrow, then cryonics is the only chance you have at a longer life in the future. But there will always be a role for what we might term post-mortem critical care of the sort provided by the present cryonics industry: a collection of technologies and services to preserve the fine structure of the brain (and thus the mind it contains) following death, and keep them preserved until such time as that patient can be restored to life. At present cryonics is the only post-mortem critical care option, with what looks like a fair few years to wait for medical technologies to advance to the point at which restoration is safe and feasible - hence the unknown but greater than zero chance of eventual success for any individual.
In a future in which the technology to restore a preserved person exists, cryonics and other preservation technologies such as plastination will occupy a more dynamic position in the medical toolkit, and patients might expect to wait in a preserved state only for transport to the nearest major population center. Even after aging and disease is completely conquered by means of advanced biotechnology, there will be an ongoing toll of death due to accidents. Death isn't going away completely for we biological folk, no matter how well we do in the field of medicine in the foreseeable future: medicine can't wave away falling rocks. But first things first - there is a way to go yet before that better world arrives.
How to Sign Up For Cryosuspension
You can sign up for cryosuspension fairly easily - both inside and outside the US - through one of the established cryonics providers or cryosuspension groups. You can learn more at the websites for the companies. Alcor is the largest of the providers, has the most comprehensive online information. If you have questions, pick up the phone or e-mail and ask. Company staff will be happy to help.
Cryosuspension is expensive, on a par with major surgery, but can be paid for in a cost effective manner through life insurance. You purchase a policy that pays out to the provider on your death and they take it from there. This is far and away the most common payment method for those of us who are not fortunate enough to be wealthy baseball stars, and the majority of people suspended or signed up are of very modest means.
Last updated: April 16th 2013.