The Human Face of Cryonics

This lengthy human interest article looks at the cryonics industry through the lens of one person's end of life decisions and efforts to organize a good cryopreservation. Cryonics is the low-temperature storage of at least the brain immediately following clinical death, preserving the fine structure that encodes the data of the mind. It offers the only chance at a longer life in the future for those who will die before the advent of rejuvenation therapies, and it is a great pity that cryonics remains a niche industry while tens of millions go the grave and oblivion every year.

In the moments just before Kim Suozzi died of cancer at age 23, it fell to her boyfriend, Josh Schisler, to follow through with the plan to freeze her brain. As her pulse monitor sounded its alarm and her breath grew ragged, he fumbled for his phone. Fighting the emotion that threatened to paralyze him, he alerted the cryonics team waiting nearby and called the hospice nurses to come pronounce her dead. Any delay would jeopardize the chance to maybe, someday, resurrect her mind.

They knew how strange it sounded, the hope that Kim's brain could be preserved in subzero storage so that decades or centuries from now, if science advanced, her billions of interconnected neurons could be scanned, analyzed and converted into computer code that mimicked how they once worked. But Kim's terminal prognosis came at the start of a global push to understand the brain. And some of the tools and techniques emerging from neuroscience laboratories were beginning to bear some resemblance to those long envisioned in futurist fantasies. Might her actual brain be repaired so she could "wake up" one day, the dominant dream of cryonics for the last half-century? She did not rule it out. But they also imagined a different outcome, that she might rejoin the world in an artificial body or a computer-simulated environment, or perhaps both, feeling and sensing through a silicon chip rather than a brain.

She agreed to let a reporter speak to her family and friends and chart her remaining months and her bid for another chance at life, with one restriction: "I don't want you to think I have any idea what the future will be like," she wrote in a text message. "So I mean, don't portray it like I know." In a culture that places a premium on the graceful acceptance of death, the couple faced a wave of hostility, tempered by sympathy for Kim's desire, as she explained it, "not to miss it all." Family members and strangers alike told them they were wasting Kim's precious remaining time on a pipe dream. Kim herself would allow only that "if it does happen to work, it would be incredible." "Dying," her father admonished gently, "is a part of life." Yet as the brain preservation research that was just starting as Kim's life was ending begins to bear fruit, the questions the couple faced may ultimately confront more of us with implications that could be preposterously profound.

Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/13/us/cancer-immortality-cryogenics.html

Comments

Pretty good article, but the current state of the industry doesn't really appeal to me yet. Though, my mind might change if there are vast improvements made in the next 30-50 years, as I suspect there will be. The comments section on that article is pretty brutal though... the typical "death is fine, natural, greedy to want more, etc" stuff you see everywhere.

Posted by: Ham at September 14th, 2015 9:26 AM

We're on the same page, Ham.

On a side note, the first sentence of my article made my blood boil a little. A cancer at 23. That's not supposed to happen. That should never happen. And that's exactly why we need to fund research, to help initiatives like SENS, to win the fight for indefinite health.

Posted by: Nico at September 14th, 2015 11:30 AM

Yeah I agree, it's awful. The commenters (and most of the NYT selected comments) are equally as awful and judgmental too. Anyways, even with SENS cancer can probably still happen at an early age... but we just have to hope for more and better treatments. At least there has been progress made in effectively treating various cancers though. All cancer is terrible, but brain, pancreatic and stomach seem to be especially brutal.

Posted by: Ham at September 14th, 2015 1:34 PM

"Speaking as a practicing medium"

91 Recommend

Also, that obviously bogus bit about Tad Williams' head is being repeated there.

A huge chunk of the commenters of the NYT are dumber than the worst of the chans, and that's not an exaggeration.

Posted by: Slicer at September 14th, 2015 6:20 PM

I agree with you Slicer. Problem is, I fear that's the attitude and reaction you're going to get from a majority of the general public still on any topic concerning longevity, aging, or in this case, cryonics. There's definitely work to be done in trying to change the way people look at things.

Posted by: Ham at September 14th, 2015 8:36 PM

@Nico
BTW, a cancer at 23 may not have the same causes as cancer at an old age. I think the cancer at old age is caused by lack of sufficient repair in an old cell (not only of the DNA repair). Which is a concerned of SENS, I understand.

In children or young people, the causes might be mainly (DNA) inherited or the cause might be extraordinary bad environmental conditions damaging the DNA. These problems might have easier solutions than fixing the old cells along the lines of SENS solutions.

Posted by: veriti at September 14th, 2015 8:53 PM

@Ham and Veriti: Yes, you are right, the causes and ensuing treatments may well be different for early cancers.

I would still venture to say that an advanced mastery of the SENS techniques may also be helpful in such cases; at least slow down the degradations.

@Slicer: Indeed. That seems representative of the general population of any given country. Many are prone to believe in pseudo-sciences, even the most obviously fake ones.

And yet, you'll note, the exact same people will be adamant that SENS is non-sense sci-fi! Telling you the usual bollocks that death is a logical step in the cycle of life, that you shouldn't try to be a god, etc.

Posted by: Nico at September 15th, 2015 6:05 AM

Nico,

And that's why i worry about longevity ever being released. Too many people want to tell others what's natural or what's right and wrong. Though I imagine longevity will come in a different form than what the general population probably thinks, but still. I don't want to miss out something because other people are too busy fighting over whether it should be allowed or whether it's playing God.

Posted by: Ham at September 15th, 2015 7:27 AM

I guess to further what I was saying, you don't have to look much more than stem cells and abortion in America. Too many people worried about "playing God" and telling people what they should or shouldn't do based on their own beliefs. Even though in a way, I guess all medicine could be seen as playing God... And I'm fine with that. I don't want the outcome of my life being decided by someone else on their "moral grounds".

Posted by: Ham at September 15th, 2015 7:42 AM

Lately I'm lowering my expectations about cryonics. I still think it's theoretically sound, but present procedures are far from perfect. Only half of the brain of this girl received cryoprotectants. There are other similar cases at Alcor and CI too. Much more serious R&D must be done.

Posted by: Antonio at September 15th, 2015 2:54 PM

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