Cryonics is the low-temperature vitrified storage of at least the brain on clinical death, with good evidence for it to preserve the fine structures that store the data of the mind. For so long as the mind is maintained, there is a chance that future technologies and societies will become capable of restoration. A small non-profit industry offers cryopreservation services for the few people who choose to avoid the certain oblivion of the grave, but growth into a sizable competitive market has proven elusive. This is important because growth is largely agreed to be necessary for longer-term survival of cryonics organizations, and thus the preserved minds, into a future period in which restoration is plausible. A lot of people interested in cryonics have their opinions on what should be done, which strategies should be pursued for growth, and the open access paper linked here is one such, suggesting integration with the funerary industry.
A significant merger of cryonics with the funerary industry has not happened and will likely never happen on the part of present organizations, as the essence of cryonics and the culture of its community is predicated on the fact that preserved individuals are patients, and clinical death is distinct from final information theoretic death. Cryonics is an emergency medical service, not a funeral arrangement, and this distinction is vital to the community. The path presently taken by the cryonics industry to grow and gather more acceptance is through integration with the medical development community, such as via the development of reversible vitrification for use in the organ transplant field, a line of research that is gaining more interest and appears to be nearing realization.
Cryonics service providers offer their customers perpetual care. This care is meant to continue until medical technology has advanced to the point that their reanimation can be performed safely. While the most optimistic estimates are that reanimation may be possible in as little as fifty years, the time frame is normally considered to be hundreds of years. The poor quality of suspensions received by most persons, however, suggests that many will be reanimated only in the distant future, if at all. One of the greatest unknowns is whether these companies will be able to operate continuously over this period. The cryonics industry's offer of perpetual care is organizationally similar to the offer of perpetual care provided by the Catholic Church in England in the Middle Ages in the form of chantries. The first perpetual Mass was established by royalty in the 1180s. Most institutions providing this service were suppressed in 1547 as part of the Reformation. Therefore, the "perpetual" care lasted for less than 400 years. The chantries were established as part of the Roman Catholic Church or as institutions under its direction and control. During this period, the Roman Catholic Church was as powerful as a state and was considered by many to be the governing body of Europe. In contrast, cryonics organizations are very small businesses with extremely limited resources, and are subject to regulation by both State and Federal governments. The key question addressed here is whether and how such organizationally inferior institutions can achieve the longevity that the most powerful organization in Europe only barely achieved in earlier times.
According to the monthly data on the Cryonics Institute (CI) website, CI membership will not continue to increase indefinitely with the current strategy. Those figures show that paid-up memberships will never pass 2,200. At that point, members going into suspension will equal new signups. The Alcor Life Extension Foundation membership appears to be following a similar pattern, i.e. a fixed number of new members per month, which is a declining growth rate. This is in sharp contrast to the earlier growth rates seen at CI, which indicated a doubling in membership every three to five years. If this trend continues, then CI will reach its peak size in about 50 years. We can expect a long decline to follow, since long-term stability is an unknown phenomenon for organizations. CI would then be expected to disappear in less than a hundred years after this peak, about 150 years from now. Since about half of prearranged suspensions can be considered poor, due to delays in cooling, it is unlikely those cryonicists will be reanimated within this time frame. In fact, there is significant doubt that anyone cryopreserved with today's technology could be reanimated within the next 150 years. A hundred and fifty years would be an unusually long lifetime for a business organization, so this estimate is likely overoptimistic.
The mainstream view of cryonics is that it is an unusual interment practice. In fact, CI was, for a time, officially registered as a cemetery. Under the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act employed, persons must be declared dead prior to being processed for suspension. About half of all cases at CI are postmortems. Since no marketing is directed toward the funeral industry, we can conclude that marketing efforts are having no effect or that there is an unmet demand that is being made apparent. In fact, a cooperating funeral director recently requested that he be allowed to offer cryonics as a standard product. Therefore, we can conclude that both mainstream opinion - government - and the market are signaling the need for a strategy employing the funeral industry as a sales channel. Failure of the medical model has been attributed to the inability to demonstrate revival from the suspended state. However, survey data shows that attitudes would hardly be affected by such a demonstration. A majority of the public simply doesn't view aging as a disease and doesn't see death as a medical problem. Some funeral directors see cryonics as an option, suggesting the funeral industry as an appropriate sales channel.
There is no physical difference necessary between facilities for cryonic suspension and cryogenic interment, which could be considered an esoteric burial practice similar to having one's ashes launched into space. The difference amounts to an intent to revive. The major barrier to implementation of this new sales channel is the self-perception of the leadership of the cryonics organizations. They would have to accept that they were participants in the funeral industry. The entire future of the cryonics industry, of those in storage, and of the many that will never be suspended because suspension is not marketed via the funeral industry is being jeopardized to maintain this self-perception by the leadership of the cryonics organizations. From the standpoint of social movement theory, the industry is maintaining its isolation from the mainstream at a time when it is technically mature enough to become a mass movement. If local funeral directors acted as sales agents, a rapid response would be likely. This arrangement could lead to better suspensions and increased sales. The major barrier appears to be the self-perception of leaders in the cryonics organizations.
Knowledge of and acceptance of cryonics, as an interment practice, has become widespread. The discrepancy between the acceptability of cryonics and its adoption suggests that a new approach based upon existing social models is needed. One such model is conventional funeral provision. The key to survival of the cryonics industry appears to be a successful transition to the mainstream. However, continued isolationism appears to be essential to the maintenance of a preferred self-image by insiders. While insiders see themselves as "saving lives" by performing an advanced form of medicine, the isolationism of the industry is actually resulting in the "loss" of many lives that could be "saved."