In preparation for death, people make all sorts of arrangements for their remains. Some pick out coffins, others plan to be cremated and have their ashes scattered over a special place or even transformed into vinyl records.
However, some people have their bodies frozen in hopes they can be thawed and out and revived to live in the future.
And for a couple hundred thousand dollars, you too, can have your blood replaced with medical-grade antifreeze with the hope that someday, you'll awaken in a world you would’ve never naturally lived to see.
One of the world’s largest cryonics companies, which currently has nearly 1,000 people signed up to be frozen upon death, is Arizona-based Alcor Life Extension Foundation. Its preservation costs range from $80,000 for just the brain to $200,000 for the entire body.
Cryonics might seem like something out of a science-fiction movie, but Alcor President Max More describes it as simply an “extension of emergency medicine,” pointing out that because of modern medicine we’re able to revive people that 50 years ago we would’ve dismissed as dead.
“Cryonics is the same thing,” he told The Atlantic. “We just have to stop them from getting worse and let a more advanced technology in the future fix that problem.”
No one has ever tried to bring a human back to life after cryopreservation, but many doctors and scientists believe it could be possible in the future and some have had successes with similar procedures.
For example, Dr. Peter Rhee of the University of Arizona and Dr. Samuel Tisherman of the University of Maryland, have shown it’s possible to keep bodies in “suspended animation” for hours.
The procedure, which involves draining the body of blood and cooling it to more than 68 degrees below normal body temperature, has so far been tested only on animals.
When blood is pumped back into the veins and the body is slowly warmed, the heart flickers back to life. While the animals are groggy upon waking, they exhibit no other side effects.
Tisherman has begun human trials of the procedure on Pittsburgh gunshot victims. However, all the patients are so badly wounded that their hearts have already stopped beating, so the technique is truly their last hope.
How do you freeze a body?
Alcor maintains a list of members in failing health, and when it seems like a person is nearing death, a “standby team” is dispatched.
If a person dies suddenly, the preservation process can be delayed by hours or even days, and the more time that passes after death, the more cells decay and the harder it will be to resurrect the patient.
In one recent case, an Alcor member committed suicide and staff had to wait for the police and the coroner to allow them access to the body.
Once a member is declared legally dead, the body is transferred into an ice bed and staff use a “heart-lung resuscitator” to get blood moving through the body again. Then, 16 medications are administered to protect cells from deterioration.
As Alcor notes on its website, “Because cryonics patients are legally deceased, Alcor can use methods that are not yet approved for conventional medical use.”
Next, blood and bodily fluids are drained from the body and replaced with the same antifreeze solution used in organ preservation.
Once the veins are full of this solution, the body starts to be cooled by about 33 degrees Fahrenheit every hour. When the body reaches a temperature of minus 320 degrees after about two weeks, it’s placed upside down in a freezer alongside other cryopreserved bodies.
Is cryopreservation only for the wealthy?
In the early days of cryonics, family and friends had to pay for the maintenance of preserved bodies, but now such companies require patients to pay upfront, and the money for preservation typically comes from life insurance policies.
“It’s not only something for the rich,” More said. “Anybody who can afford an insurance policy can afford this.”
Such policies name the cryonics company as the primary benefactor, which covers the cost of the initial procedure.
In addition to providing for the initial cost, some companies also require members to fund an irrevocable patient care trust to cover the cost of ongoing preservation expenses. Any funds not used for such maintenance will go to the member upon revival, providing them with a financial starting point.
While a life insurance policy makes it possible for more people to be preserved, guaranteeing a similar quality of life upon revival is obviously easier for those with more assets.
Celebrities like Britney Spears, Simon Cowell and Larry King have reportedly invested in cryopreservation and arranged for trusts so they can resume lifestyles similar to those they had prior to death.
Watch the video below to learn more about cryopreservation at Alcor.
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