The public attitude towards cryonics has shifted greatly over the past ten years, at least as measured by the changing tenor of articles in the popular press. They are more favorable, more respectful, and more accurate on technical details. So greater exposure and publicity over the past decade has brought benefits, and increasing familiarity with the topic has allowed more people to overcome whatever knee-jerk reactions they normally have to all novel ideas. This is a positive trend, perhaps driven as much by the general proliferation of media enabled by the internet as by efforts made by the cryonics community, and will hopefully continue apace.
What is it to die? For some, death is our body's expiration date, for others it is an absolute point where the soul leaves the body. For a group of scientists in Scottsdale, Arizona, however, it is merely an arbitrary natural accident, an engineering problem we have yet to find a solution for.
The Alcor Life Extension Foundation is the world's leading provider of cryonics, the practice of using ultra-cold temperatures to preserve humans until such a time when medicine is advanced enough to restore good health. The widely-held belief that it involves freezing is actually something of a red herring. As soon as possible after legal death is pronounced, cryoprotectant solution - a sort of antifreeze - is administered to a patient through their circulatory system, entering almost every cell in the body. Known as vitrification, this process avoids ice crystal formation and allows the body to be cooled with virtually no freezing damage, before being placed in liquid nitrogen in a Dewar container and moved to storage indefinitely.
For a long time cryonics was dismissed by many as science-fiction, an unnatural or even immoral procedure, but while the company make no bones about cryonics being an entirely speculative process, futurist and Alcor chief executive Max More says that the field is gaining legitimacy in the eyes of others. "People have certainly grown less hostile," he told Metro. "In terms of how science looks at cryonics we've definitely seen an improvement over time." Mr More added that Alcor's teams which intervene at members' deathbeds are also being treated more favourably by doctors. "Our relationship with hospitals and hospices has also improved; they used to be very adversarial and reluctant to even let us in, now hospital staff are usually fascinated and want to help in any way they can. They even let us position our equipment in the room next to the patient before clinical death, their whole attitude has really turned around."
Cryonics is an important industry, the only option for all too many people who will die before the advent of rejuvenation biotechnology. It has not found the level of growth that it deserves, sadly, but that doesn't change the fact that it is still the sole chance at a longer life in the future for those who are very old today.