Finally Signed Up for Cryopreservation: the Existence of a Fallback Plan is Great, but Only if You Actually Take Advantage of It

As regular readers will know, I've long considered the cryonics industry to be a sensible, necessary undertaking in an uncertain world. For those of us interested in longevity, the primary plan is to accelerate development of rejuvenation therapies to the point at which we can achieve actuarial escape velocity: that we'll benefit somewhat from the first generation of therapies, and thus survive long enough to benefit from the second, much better generation of therapies, and so on, until aging is comprehensively defeated and our remaining healthy, youthful, vigorous lifespans become indefinite in length. It is almost certainly the case that some people alive today will achieve that goal. The open question is whether or not that group includes you and I, and that isn't something that can be predicted at the present early stage of development, in which the first true rejuvenation therapies, capable of repairing the cell and tissue damage that causes aging, are not even in the clinics yet.

Uncertainty is one of the reasons why advocacy and fundraising is so important. It is also the reason why a backup plan is a good thing to have. The only viable backup plan for the foreseeable future is cryopreservation, which is to say the low-temperature storage of the brain following clinical death in the hope of future restoration. The evidence is good for vitrification of brain tissue to preserve the fine structure of tissue that encodes the mind, and while the process in practice can always be improved in quality and organization, the (currently unknown) odds of survival following cryopreservation are infinitely higher than those attending any other end of life choice. After the grave there is only oblivion, but for so long as the data of the mind is preserved, there is hope that sufficiently advanced medical nanotechnology will one day bring you back.

I have put off signing up for cryopreservation for a decade or so. This isn't uncommon; after all, it involves paperwork, adult responsibility, planning ahead, thinking about unpleasant events, and all that. People put off many other things for these and similar reasons. Writing wills, buying houses, getting married, starting companies, and so on. That doleful feeling of some unknown scope of paperwork that will have to be accomplished in the event that you do get your act together and set forth to be a responsible adult is ever a strong deterrent. Still, sooner or later all these tasks have to be carried out, and while no-one enjoys wading through legal documents, it is never as bad as you think it is going to be. If you are unfamiliar with the process of signing up for cryonics organization membership and cryopreservation, let me tell you that it is much less work than buying a house. It is about two and half times the work of getting a life insurance policy, if that helps calibrate things any better. Typically, it runs as follows:

1) Contact one of the established cryonics providers (Alcor or the Cryonics Institute in the continental US) and ask to join. They will send you a raft of paperwork typical of membership organizations, but since it involves the highly regulated area of end of life decisions you will have to have some of the documents witnessed and notarized. You are signing up to pay a monthly fee to help keep the lights on, and to donate your remains to the provider on death, but this is all provisional pending organization of payment.

2) Obtain life insurance to pay for your eventual cryopreservation. This is where you will want advice, as there are only a few life insurance companies that have experience with this sort of thing. I recommend chatting to Rudi Hoffman, who has acted as an insurance agent for for scores of people in the cryonics community. Paying for cryopreservation with life insurance involves establishing a policy that will pay out to the cryonics organization on death rather than to the more usual parties, such as family members. The matter of how large a policy to purchase is an interesting question, and I encourage you to read an earlier post that walks through that topic. The short of it is that more is generally better, as the future is uncertain. Life insurance companies will want to pick through your medical records, will send a nurse to check your vital signs, and will usually find some reason to charge a little more than the early, optimistic quote that was given sight unseen.

3) Then you wait for paperwork to cross the country back and forth, as everyone involved between you, the cryonics provider, the insurance agent, and the insurer has to sign everything. It might take a month or two, depending on how many of the end points are comfortable with electronic document exchange, but there is usually a lot of back and forth required. There is always time to stop and think about any particular choice.

4) With membership and contracts in hand, you should take care of a few other supporting legal documents. This means making a will that determinedly and in no uncertain terms states your wish to be cryopreserved, and just as importantly establishing what is known as a living will or advance healthcare directive, a declaration of who you want to have power of attorney in the case of your incapacity, and what actions they should take. That should obviously be someone you trust to ensure that you are cryopreserved, and who for preference has absolute no financial interest in the outcome one way or another. Because the contents of the will and living will are somewhat non-standard, you will probably have to make use of an actual living, breathing attorney rather than one of the very helpful standardized form legal services that have sprung up of late.

There are cautionary tales in the cryonics community regarding people who trusted their immediate family to ensure that they were cryopreserved, and those family members then sabotaged the arrangements in order to access the life insurance funds. This has happened on numerous occasions. Much as I might sound a misanthrope to say this, the best assumption to keep in mind when setting up the legal aspects of your cryopreservation is this: when on your deathbed, everyone not employed by the cryopreservation organization is a potential adversary, interested in the funds that they might be able to obtain for themselves at the cost of your survival. It doesn't matter how well you know people today, or the nature of your relationships with them. Cryopreservation is (hopefully) decades in your future, half a lifetime or more away: people change, and people who don't even exist today will be involved in your end of life care, having legally meaningful ties to you by kinship. Fortunately, it is possible to arrange matters to make it very hard for even family members to sabotage your arrangements, and most of these approaches are well documented by the cryonics providers.

For example, firstly you should ensure that no-one in your family is even named in the life insurance policy you are buying. It should pay out to the cryonics organization, and you might pick an entirely unrelated charity to benefit should you be unfortunate enough to die in a way that prevents your cryopreservation - thus the incentives align for the cryonics provider to try their best, as they get nothing if they fail, and your family has no interest in the outcome either way. Secondly, persuade as many close family members as possible to sign and have witnessed affidavits of support for your cryopreservation. Third, structure your will and living will to ensure that there are material incentives for your family in the event that you are successfully cryopreserved, and there are no material incentives for any of them to block that outcome. Fourth, record your determination to be cryopreserved, both in your will and in other media, and keep that reasonably up to date. Lastly for this list there is the matter of avoiding the unwanted attention of the state in the form of autopsy or other delays after death. The best methods here vary by jurisdiction, but in some states registering a religious objection can work well.

The best way to keep everyone on your side in the matter of cryonics is to ensure that all of the incentives align with the outcome of a successful cryopreservation, should it come to that. The moment that someone can benefit by making it hard to achieve that goal - that is when the problems start. Relying on the essential goodness of human nature has never been terribly effective when it comes to expecting people to follow through with something that they themselves do not support, or think is frivolous, or which requires them to sacrifice their own gain. If you are in the room and exerting your will, that is one story, but when you are gone, it is quite another.

Comments

Reason, I greatly appreciate the info your shared with us.

I need to save this for future use for when I will be doing it (I should have done this already, actually). You make good sense in that you don't want anyone to benefit if you are not successfully cryopreserved, but have them benefit if it is successful.

Posted by: Robert Church at July 15th, 2016 10:04 PM

Cryonics is good for people living nearby. Unfortunetaly there is no facility in EU and the only eureopean cryonicist I am aware of reside in U.K. which is almost as far away as Kriorus. Moving to Michican or Moscow is not an option for my old parents.

Posted by: Martin S. at July 16th, 2016 1:23 AM

Thanks for the info, Reason. I still haven't signed with any organization, because I have no money and no regular job (so even life insurance is out of the question), but I will do it as soon as I can. Recently I talked for the first time about cryonics with my girlfriend, because her mother is very sick, and surprisingly to me, she knew about cryonics and didn't dismissed it as fantasy. We also talked about rejuvenation. It was the first time I talked about these matters outside the Internet, because I expected they would not understand it and dismiss it as snake oil or complain about overpopulation and the obligation to die and leave space for the next generation.

Posted by: Antonio at July 16th, 2016 2:13 AM

I credit that your arguments for cryonics are entirely rational, but I still come to a different conclusion for myself. I am probably the younger between us (thus with a somewhat better chance to reach LEV) and have more misgivings about the details of cryo-preservation (particularly low-temperature tissue fracturing, injury to the brain from desiccation caused by the vitrifying agent, and the difficulty of achieving a high-quality outcome when one must wait for clinical death before starting the procedure).

Moreover, I am uncertain that insurance policies can be relied upon to pay for cryo-preservation arrangements in light of the global macroeconomic outlook. We live in an era of untrammeled fiat currencies driving stupendous sovereign debt and fiscal irresponsibility. Central banks have recently taken almost complete control of the economy through the monetary mechanism. Central bank bond purchases have driven interest rates below zero in many places. Think on the insanity of that... paying for the privilege to loan money to government. This is a comically absurd distortion of free market value. When the price discovery mechanism is so broken, who can say what a dollar is really worth? It gets worse, because the bond market is not the only manifestation of central bank policy driven control. We are now seeing stock market rallies driven by central bank purchases. With this new-found mechanism of "economic growth", the sky is the limit. The stocks can just go up, up and away forever as they print money to buy stock. The end game of all this is an insurance policy denominated in Zimbabwe dollars. This, I think, is a very real risk.

Posted by: José at July 16th, 2016 5:15 AM

First comment. Been following your site for about a month and I really enjoy your insight and rationale. As for cryopreservation, unfortunately I am another European with nowhere to turn to. I hope that in the next decade or two, when science advances and people start smelling immortality, the demand will increase and companies will start offering crypreservation also in the EU.

I have two questions, in case you are willing to answer. First is how old are you? Well, you do not have to answer this one. Second question. How about suspended animation while still being alive? In your educated guess, do you think this option could be available in say the next 50 years? I mean, I would much prefer to be still alive and simply be put to sleep at 90 or whatever. Surely then the damage to the brain would be minimal and chances for being revived and rejuvenated would go through the roof I think.

Thanks and keep up the good work.

Posted by: Denis at July 16th, 2016 6:00 AM

I'm wondering what age range the author of this blog is in? Obviously not 20a, but 30s, 40a, 50a, 60s?

Posted by: Jim at July 16th, 2016 6:55 AM

@Jim: I'm in my 40s. Leaving it much longer would make life insurance an overly expensive option versus planning to take the cost out of retirement funds, and that would require a quite different method of protection from family. As it is my decade of procrastination has a definite cost to it. You can look up the tables yourself.

At present I will be in my late 50s by the time it is fairly certain the first SENS technologies will be available to to the public in a cost-effective way - senescent cell clearance and glucosepane cross-link clearance for example. Somewhere in my late 60s for the tougher problems, or those that continue to lag for whatever reason. Outside of accidents, a scenario in which the backup plan is required would be, say, a failure cascade resulting from infection or cancer that, while it can be controlled at that time, just catches you at a bad time or in a bad way. It is really hard to say what the state of things will be from 60s to 80s, as frailty starts to take hold in earnest, or how effective the first fifteen years of SENS technologies will turn out to be. It is good to be cautious. As I said, for people my age the uncertainty is absolutely dependent on speed of development of rejuvenation therapies.

@Denis: I don't think that suspended animation of the forms they are working on at the moment would slow down brain aging in any meaningful way. Hibernators still age, after all.

@Ted: The more members the cryonics organizations have, the better. I left out advocacy from the article as it is a whole other topic, but obviously if you are thinking about cryonics, then helping to improve the state, legal environment, and technology of cryonics should be on the agenda. Things like support for euthanasia to ensure a good cryopreservation, supporting vitrification research now that it is moving into the mainstream for organ preservation, and so on.

@José: There is tremendous uncertainty in all things that lie ahead, this is very true. It costs comparatively little to make this wager, however, and adjustments to the plan along the way can always be made. No-one will be completely blindsided by collapses that lie ahead.

Posted by: Reason at July 16th, 2016 9:03 AM

@Reason: Did you sign up with Alcor or CI, neural or whole body?

Posted by: Ted at July 16th, 2016 10:44 AM

@ultra: Thanks for the links. Being outside the US, probably the broker fees will be high, but maybe the info is useful for the EU too. Thanks!

Posted by: Antonio at July 16th, 2016 12:27 PM

Thanks for the information.

I have read some quiet speculation by physicists over the years regarding the small possibility that it would be possible to design in essence a neutral "past viewer" able to peer back in time without changing anything.

Arthur Clarke explored it in the novel Light of Other Days, they ended up being able to record past information at molecular levels and start to reanimate the long since dead.

I guess this is the sci-fi version of hoping for some eternal afterlife but it beats God.

Posted by: Arren Brandt at July 17th, 2016 11:42 AM

In quantum physics you cannot read an information without destroying it. Besides, causality is not the only caveat in timetraveling.

Posted by: Martin S. at July 17th, 2016 1:14 PM

Thank you Reason for this most instructive post. I wish Alcor had a fully operational branch in EU or Asia today. Maybe in 5-10 years?

Posted by: Mike at July 17th, 2016 4:38 PM

Does anybody knows what cryoprotectant KrioRus uses and how they carry patients from EU ?

Posted by: Martin S. at July 18th, 2016 1:18 AM

Funny how there seems to be more demand for cryopreservation in the EU since there are a lot of us atheists here.. Yet we still don't have a cryonics facility. :( Step it up Germany!!!

Posted by: Denis at July 18th, 2016 5:23 AM

@Denis:
Be patient... We're working on it!

Posted by: Nicolai at July 18th, 2016 1:58 PM

@Nicolai:
Hello, can you please share more details with us ?

Posted by: Martin S. at July 18th, 2016 11:39 PM

Hi all,

My own opinion (which may not be relevant) is that while it may makes sense to subscribe to crypreservation when one is their forties, it makes little sense *now* to use it at a later age.
My rational is that in 40 years, the procedures for cryopreservation will have greatly evolved and may be applicable to human.
For now, it seems to me that only individual cells have been preserved for a long time (for example human embryos with four cells), and that great achievement still does not match the goal of preserving a human being.
It is true that organs have been vitrified but for a short period of time (less than a week). If it was possible to keep organs vitrified for a long period, at a reasonable cost, there would be little shortage of organ donors and we certainly do not see that today.

My best wishes to all who are interested in this technique.

Jean-Pierre

Posted by: JP Le Rouzic at July 19th, 2016 2:37 AM

@JP Le Rouzic:

"It is true that organs have been vitrified but for a short period of time (less than a week)"

That's not a problem. Once vitrified, there is no measurable change, whether you wait weeks or hundreds of years.

Posted by: Antonio at July 19th, 2016 6:05 AM

I have found this website http://www.aarau-bestattungen.de/kryonik-eng claiming that cryonics is denied by law in Germany. A corpse must be burried or burned. I do not know german law but heard that Cryonics Institute is registered as a cemetary, so frozen bodies are officialy "burried". Is it not sufficient to make authorities happy ?

Posted by: Martin S. at July 19th, 2016 7:19 AM

@Martin S.
There are plans to establish a cryonics facility in Switzerland. Sorry, but I cannot provide more details yet.

Posted by: Nicolai at July 19th, 2016 10:04 AM

@Antonio,

The important point (which may not be clear in my post) is not that vitrification can be done, it is done at extended scale in fertility industry, rather it is that it seems that most organs are not viable once defrosted after been vitrified for longer than a week.

You can think of the organ transplantation industry as some acid test for cryopreservation. Any technology that would help preserve organs even only for a few weeks, would be quickly adopted by this industry as it would vastly increase the number of usable organs by people who need them.

Posted by: JP Le Rouzic at July 20th, 2016 12:45 AM

@JP Le Rouzic: those organs where cooled to liquid nitrogen temperature ?

Posted by: Martin S. at July 20th, 2016 2:25 AM

- @Martin S. I read an article about it, which I cannot find again. Sorry for that, but I think that, yes it was somewhere in the 100K.

- An article that summarizes things nicely is this one: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/u-s-funds-efforts-to-freeze-human-organs-for-long-term-storage/

- Terms like vitrification are misleading, there is no vitrification except in a figurative way.

- Another thing about cryopreservation is what will happen after thawing? People seems to assume that they will awake young and in good health, what is the process that will make this possible?

Posted by: JP Le Rouzic at July 20th, 2016 4:03 PM

@JP Le Rouzic: The answer is simple. Thawing a body will destroy it to an unrecoverable state. So it must be repaired before thawing at cryonic temperature. Someone share an idea on the internat that the brain can be sliced and scanned at cryonic temperature.

And yes. People, including me, assume that they will awake young and in good health. Or at least there is a change for it, which is larger than for burned or burried body. The process that will make this possible is does not exist. (yet)
Some cryonics companies promise advanced nanotechnology to repair all intracellurar damage. Maybe it is physically possible or may be not.
Another options are 3D printing the body from cloned stem cell or decellularization the full body and than recolonizing it with cloned stem cell. Because the second option seems more viable to me (it was already done with donor organs) I strongly prefer Cryonics Institute way (freezing rest of body without a cryoprotectant) over a "neuro" preservation.

If you ask me how the brain will be repaired and revived, I do not know. Not only we need intact connectome, like cryonics companies falsely believe. Recently scientist discovered that neurons store information into their DNA. Chemical levels may also be important, but we do not know how cryprotectants alter them. I do not have an illusion that orinal neurons will work again. And if those proposed nanorobots will replace damaged proteins in original neuron, will it be still original ?

Bioquark is working on reviving dead brains but from what I know, they want to replace whole neurons with new stem cells. This probably is not the way to safe brain's memory or even person identity.

Posted by: Martin S. at July 21st, 2016 12:33 AM

@Martin S:
Some people do not ask for youth and health, only to stay with their loved one a bit longer.

It seems to me that a much more useful approach than sci-fi proposals would be to state a goal to increase life duration by 30% for at least 60% of us, in ways that are certainly not what we call "youth" or "a good health" but that would still be manageable by most people.
There are many organs that can be replaced by artificial ones, let them be miniaturized to the point they are implanted in the same volume as the real organ.

We need two things:
- To screen people much more regularly than today with advanced scanners to detect health problems while they are still manageable.
- Ultra-miniaturized artificial organs.

While this approach is certainly not easy to implement, it is perfectly possible in short term and offer (IMO) more potential that most other proposals.

Posted by: JP Le Rouzic at July 21st, 2016 12:30 PM

JP Le Rouzic said:

"- Terms like vitrification are misleading, there is no vitrification except in a figurative way."

Huh? Vitrification is a clear physical term and it's routinely achieved in cryonics procedures and biology/medical labs. See for example http://www.alcor.org/Library/html/CTscan1002.html

See also this for background:

http://www.benbest.com/cryonics/vitrify.html

http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/physics/General/Glass/glass.html

"- Another thing about cryopreservation is what will happen after thawing? People seems to assume that they will awake young and in good health, what is the process that will make this possible?"

Nanobots.

Posted by: Antonio at July 21st, 2016 1:18 PM

Antonio: I doubt there will be any nanobot. At least not like those inside Seven of Nine or like Kurzweill renders them. The most realistic way to make "nanobots" is to copy the nature, in others words to make synthetic organisms. Even more realistic is geneticaly alter human cells to do some designed work, like reprogramming immune cells to fight cancer or destroy senescent cells. Therefore I believe that the most realistic approach is program cryonic patient's own stem cells to fully regenerate all tissues except his brain. This is still far from feasible today but at least I can imagine it. Like I wrote in my previous post, present day technique is decellularization and recolonization with cloned cells.
If there will be advanced nanobots, they can repair patient's brain while the rest of the patient's body still be recellularized with simpler means.

Posted by: Martin S. at July 22nd, 2016 12:05 AM

How will you reprogram the stem cells of a vitrified patient? How will you repair cooling cracks? How will you rehydrate a vitrified brain that has shrunk to half its size?

Your solution also requires nanobots.

Posted by: Antonio at July 22nd, 2016 2:27 AM

I assume stem cell or at least DNA can be stored with minimal damage. Eggs and even embryos are cryogenically stored today.
I agree nanobots or some other technology is needed to repair brain. In first post I also have mentioned scanning of brain. Maybe it does not really matter whether brain is replicated by nanobots from the inside or it is simulated in a computer. Hopefully I am wrong and the brain can be revived without replacing cells. But what is the difference between replaceing full cell or damaged proteins if all proteins are damaged ?

Posted by: Martin S. at July 22nd, 2016 5:30 AM

Well, at least for me, it *does* matter. I don't want to be mind-uploaded, I want to be rethawed.

Posted by: Antonio at July 22nd, 2016 8:53 AM

I agree with Antonio, it seems "safer" to be rethawed rather than mind-uploaded due to the issue of a copy of one self but not the real you.

Posted by: Robert Church at July 22nd, 2016 1:36 PM

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