Another Example of Cryonics in the Popular Press

Here is a recent example of the more respectful treatment the cryonics industry receives in the popular press these days, though, as ever, the very important differences between freezing and vitrification in terms of their effects on tissues are skipped over. Cryonics providers don't freeze people, they vitrify them, as this offers a greatly improved preservation of fine structures, such as those in the brain that store the data of the mind. Improved methods of vitrification of tissue, with the aim of making it reversible, are in fact under active development by a range of research groups. The goal is use in the tissue engineering and organ transplant communities, to greatly improve the logistics of tissue storage, and I think that growth in that field of research is doing a great deal to change opinions about cryonics.

In the desert climate of Scottsdale, Arizona, rest 147 brains and bodies, all frozen in liquid nitrogen at the Alcor Life Extension Foundation with the goal of being revived one day. It's not science fiction - to some it might not even be science - yet thousands of people around the world have put their trust, lives and fortunes into the promise of cryonics, the practice of preserving a body with antifreeze shortly after death in hopes future medicine might be able to bring the deceased back. "If you think back half a century or so, if somebody stopped breathing and their heart stopped beating we would've checked them and said they're dead. Our view is that when we call someone dead it's a bit of an arbitrary line. In fact they are in need of a rescue." That "rescue" begins the moment a doctor declares a patient dead. Alcor's team then prepares an ice bath and begins administering 16 medications and variations of antifreeze until the patient's temperature drops to near freezing.

"The critical thing is how fast we get to someone and how quickly we start the cooling process," More said. In order to ensure that can happen, Alcor stations equipped teams in the U.K., Canada and Germany and offers members a $10,000 incentive to legally die in Scottsdale, where the record for getting a patient cooled down and prepped for an operation is 35 minutes. Next, a contracted surgeon removes a patient's head if the member selected Alcor's "Neuro" option, as it's euphemistically called, in hopes that a new body can be grown with a member's DNA once it comes time to be thawed out. It's also the much cheaper route. At a price tag of $80,000, it's less than half the cost of preserving your whole body. "That requires a minimum of $200,000, which isn't as much as it sounds, because most people pay with life insurance."

In fact, such a business model is pretty consistent in the nonprofit cryonics community. Michigan-based Cryonics Institute offers a similar payment structure, albeit at the more affordable cost of just $28,000 for whole-body preservation. Which begs the question: Why the price discrepancy? "We've been very conservative in the way we plan the financing. Of that $200,000, about $115,000 of it goes into the patient care trust fund," which is meant to cover eventual costs and is controlled by a board of trustees (a certain number of which is required to have loved ones currently in cryopreservation). The trust currently boasts a total of over $10 million, detailed by Alcor's most recent nonprofit 990 filings.



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