Cryonics is the only present option offering a chance at a much longer life in the future that is open to older and seriously ill people, the many individuals who do not have the time to wait for the arrival of rejuvenation therapies. Cryonics is a part of the broad field of low-temperature storage of biological materials, in this case the practice of placing humans and animals into that storage immediately following clinical death, thereby halting all biological processes and preserving tissues, especially the brain tissues that incorporate the fine structures presently thought to store the data of the mind. This is not mere freezing, which damages cells, but rather a process of vitrification that employs cryopreservant chemicals to prevent ice crystal formation and preserve the small-scale structure of tissues. This is known as cryosuspension within the industry.
Cryosuspension is undertaken with the expectation that advances in medical technology may eventually enable restoration of preserved individuals to life and health. For so long as the structure of tissue is preserved intact, it is possible that advanced technologies can one day work with it. Thus a small industry of cryonics providers offers cryosuspension services and a small number of patients take advantage of this in the hopes that future clinicians will have access to technologies for revival and repair, most likely based on applications of molecular nanotechnology.
Facing Up to an Unpleasant Reality
Death is not a topic that anyone likes 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 to wait for decades, or suffer from other conditions that will kill them before cures can be developed. This is an unpleasant reality and we must face up to it.
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, at least twenty years in the future. 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 can turn to the science and business of cryonics: an industry presently small, but which in a better world would be large enough to help everyone.
The practice of cryonics is an ongoing medical experiment with an unknown chance of success, though the odds improve as progress continues towards reversible vitrification of organs, and evidence for maintenance of memory through vitrification and thawing is obtained from experiments in lower animals. 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 chance of any plausible future science restoring them to life is zero.
Still the Only Viable Backup Plan
Front and center, the primary plan for longevity for people in middle age and younger today is to help push through enough of the right medical research focused on rejuvenation. Our bodies are aging, accumulating damage, but methods of repairing that damage are slowly edging their way towards clinical application. Once in the clinic they will slowly become better. At some point the improvement in repair methodologies will add healthy life expectancy for older people faster than a year with every passing chronological year. Everyone with access to the latest stable medical technology at that point will have beaten the curve: they will no longer suffer and die due to aging. The question for each of us is where that point occurs in the life span, or indeed whether it occurs at all - and that is where activism and funding comes in. We can't make ourselves younger (yet), but you can help to speed up the development process.
That is the primary plan, and for every primary plan there must be a backup plan. Never bet on just one horse. The backup plan for evading the end that comes with death by aging is cryonics: low-temperature preservation of the fine structure of the brain on clinical death. Cryonics organizations will maintain the data of your mind in its physical form for the decades it will take for restoration to active life to become a viable possibility. That will, at minimum, require near complete control over cellular biochemistry and regeneration, as well as a mature molecular nanotechnology industry capable of repairing broken cell structures, removing cryoprotectant from tissues, and similar tasks. None of these goals are impossible or unforeseen, it is just that the necessary technologies don't exist today. Preserved individuals have all the time in the world to wait, of course.
A backup plan is never as good as the primary plan. That is why it is the backup plan. In order to be cryopreserved you have to undergo a very unpleasant set of experiences; you have to age and you have to die, and do so naturally with little help, since our backwards legal systems don't allow for assisted euthanasia in a constructive way that can mesh with cryonics protocols and organizational procedures. Further, in comparison to remaining alive and healthy thanks to the development of working rejuvenation treatments, cryonics will for a long time to come be a leap into the dark with an unknown chance at ultimate success. It is still infinitely better than any of the other possible choices open to the billions who will die too soon to benefit from near future rejuvenation therapies.
Where to Learn More
The cryonics community is friendly and supportive and has been around for decades. The community and the industry it supports have been ever-so-slowly growing since the early 1970s. To find out more about cryonics and its history of development, you might want to peruse the following pages:
- 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!:
A Future that Includes Post-Mortem Critical Care
If you 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. This is a shorthand for the collection of technologies and services assembled to preserve the fine structure of the brain (and thus the mind it contains) following death, and keep that tissue preserved until such time as the patient can be restored to life. At present cryonics is the only available post-mortem critical care option, and we have a fair few years to wait before medical technologies to advance to the point at which restoration is safe and feasible. Hence the chance of eventual restoration for any one preserved individual is unknown but greater than zero.
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, 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 supporting organizations. 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, just ask. Company staff will be happy to help.
More recently other providers and initiatives to start new providers have started to emerge outside the US, the most advanced of which is KrioRus in Russia. 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: if you set this up well in advance, the monthly cost of a life insurance policy is low. This is far and away the most common payment method and the majority of people suspended or signed up are of modest means.
Last updated: September 18th 2016.