7: SOULS ON ICE
Iserson KV: Death To Dust: What Happens To Dead Bodies? 2nd Edition,
© 2001 Galen Press, Ltd. Tucson, AZ; (800) 442-5369; www.galenpress.com;,
821 pages; $48.95 hardcover.
FOLLOWING IS AN ABBREVIATED VERSION OF THE 26-PAGE CHAPTER ON CRYONIC
PRESERVATION FROM DEATH TO DUST. MANY SECTIONS-LISTED BELOW-HAVE
BEEN OMITTED, ALL SECTIONS ARE ABBREVIATED, AND ALL REFERENCES HAVE
WHAT IS CRYONIC SUSPENSION?
B. WHOSE WERE THE FIRST BODIES FROZEN?
C. WHAT IS THE SCIENTIFIC VIEW OF CRYONIC PRESERVATION?
D. CAN ANY BODY BE FROZEN?
E. HOW IS A BODY FROZEN?
F. HOW DOES NATURE FREEZE BODIES?
G. COULD I JUST HAVE MY BRAIN FROZEN?
H. HOW SECURE WOULD MY FROZEN BODY BE?
I. WHAT ARE THE PROSPECTS OF SUCCESSFULLY REVIVING A CRYONICALLY
J. SHOULD I BELIEVE IN CRYONICS?
K. WHAT ARE NEW CRYONICS ALTERNATIVES?
L. WHAT PROBLEMS WOULD THERE BE IF I WERE REANIMATED?
M. HOW RICH WOULD I BE IF I WERE REANIMATED?
N. WHAT ARE RELIGIOUS & LEGAL ATTITUDES TOWARD CRYONICS?
O. WHO ARE CRYONAUTS?
P. HOW MUCH DOES CRYONIC PRESERVATION COST?
WHAT IS CRYONIC SUSPENSION?
Cryonic suspension or solid-state hypothermia is the process of
freezing and maintaining a dead human at an extremely low temperature,
in the hope that the body may be resuscitated after medical science
This dream is not new. In 1773, Benjamin Franklin wrote, "I
wish it were possible from this instance to invent a method of embalming
drowned persons, in such a manner that they may be recalled to life,
The modern idea of preserving dead bodies for future repair is credited
to a science fiction story, The Jameson Satellite, written by Neil
R. Jones in 1931.
Robert C. W. Ettinger popularized the concept of cryonic preservation
with his book, The Prospect of Immortality (1964), in which he suggested
that freezing was the easy part of the process and could be accomplished
with present technology. He believed that the complicated process
of thawing could be worked out at a later time. He stated that "Most
of us now breathing have a good chance of physical life after death-a
sober, scientific probability of revival and rejuvenation of our
frozen bodies." Ettinger felt that "No matter what kills
us, whether old age or disease, and even if freezing techniques
are still crude when we die, sooner or later our friends of the
future should be equal to the task of reviving and curing us."
WHOSE WERE THE FIRST BODIES FROZEN?
The first corpse to be intentionally "frozen" with the
idea of restoring it to life after medical science advanced was
that of Professor James H. Bedford, a 73-year-old retired psychology
professor, land investor, and cryonics adherent, who died on January
12, 1967. His body was cooled while preservatives were injected
over a four-hour period. ("Dr. Harold Greene," sometimes
cited as the first body preserved, is actually a pseudonym an author
used in a book describing the preservation of Professor Bedford's
Another early freezing with significant media attention was that
of Steven J. Mandell, a 24-year-old aeronautical engineering student
from New York City, who died on July 28, 1968, of "enteritis
and adrenal failure." Knowing his health was only "fair,"
he joined the Cryonics Society of New York as a student member just
eight months before his death. After he died, his body was stored
in a $4,000 liquid nitrogen capsule at -320oF (-196oC). When Mandell's
life insurance company refused to pay off on his policy (he had
concealed his terminal illness to obtain coverage), his mother bore
the cost of maintaining his cryonic capsule, first at the Washington
Memorial Park Cemetery in Coram, New York, and later in Chatsworth,
California. While in California in the 1970s, however, the capsule
was inadequately monitored and Mandell's corpse thawed in what has
been termed the "Chatsworth Disaster" or "Chatsworth
Of the first seventeen corpses cryonically preserved, only James
Bedford remains frozen today; more recent cases have fared better.
WHAT IS THE SCIENTIFIC VIEW OF CRYONIC PRESERVATION?
Opinion among scientists is divided over the feasibility of cryonic
preservation. Those who deal with conventional medicine and cryobiology
tend to be pessimistic, while opinions of those in such fields as
computer science and nanotechnology (a new field that studies atomic-
and molecular-level manipulation of matter) are more favorable.
Much of the mainstream scientific community, including those scientists
who work in the area of cryobiology, view cryonic preservation as
science fiction at best, and a cruel hoax at worst. When Robert
Ettinger's The Prospect of Immortality, the bible of cryonics, first
appeared in 1964, the reviewer for the respected journal Science
One may take this kind of thing seriously or one may not. If one
does, the book can only be considered the work of an utterly confused
optimist . . . There is absolutely no evidence that low temperature
storage and recovery procedures will be possible in the near future
with live human beings, let alone dead ones . . . Perhaps the author
has been pulling our legs. Maybe it's science fiction after all.
The major scientific organization for cryobiologists, The Society
for Cryobiology, categorizes cryonic suspension (also known simply
as cryonics) as unethical, and denies membership to anyone involved
in "any practice or application of freezing deceased persons
in the anticipation of their reanimation." Arthur Rowe, Ph.D.,
of the New York University School of Medicine, provides a more vivid
description: "Believing cryonics could reanimate somebody who
has been frozen is like believing you can turn hamburger back into
HOW IS A BODY FROZEN?
Once the cryonics technicians get control of a corpse, they reinstitute
cardiopulmonary resuscitation and, as quickly as possible, put the
body on a heart-lung machine similar to that used in an operating
room. Attaching a body to this machine takes considerable time,
even in the most expert hands. Technicians must not only set up
this complicated device, but also insert catheters into the large
(femoral) artery and vein in the groin. Cryonicists say that under
optimal circumstances a body can be on the machine within thirty
minutes after death. Circumstances are rarely optimal.
Once the body is attached to this machine, technicians rapidly cool
the blood, and then the body, to 59oF (15oC). Cooling can take as
little as fifteen minutes. Technicians then administer drugs that
supposedly reduce damage from decreased oxygen going to the tissues,
such as calcium channel blockers, blood thinners, and free radical
inhibitors. All of these medications have shown experimental evidence
of protecting tissues, and one, the calcium channel blocker nimodipine,
is used in some patients with brain injuries. (Calcium channel blockers
alter the pathways through the cell wall and are commonly used as
heart medications.) Cryonicists watch the brain during this process
through a hole made in the skull. They place a temperature probe
through this hole when the bypass is done.
They then submerge the body in a bath of silicone oil for 36 to
48 hours, cooling it to a temperature approximating that of dry
ice (-109oF/-78.5oC). When the body reaches this temperature, it
is wrapped in a precooled sleeping bag, placed inside a protective
aluminum pod, and lowered into an insulated container (dewar) to
which liquid nitrogen is repeatedly added in small amounts. The
body gradually cools over five days to -320oF (-196oC).
After it has cooled, the body is transferred to another, larger,
dewar that is filled with liquid nitrogen. (British Professor James
Dewar devised this type of double-walled vacuum storage vessel in
the 1890s to handle and store cold liquefied gases.) Each custom-made
"Bigfoot" dewar weighs almost 2½ tons, stands nine-feet
high, and can store up to four bodies. A dewar boils off 12 to 15
liters of nitrogen per day. Constructed like large Thermos®
bottles and filled with liquid nitrogen, they are fragile and difficult
to transport. The neck of the flask is plugged with a plastic foam
If death occurs at a location where technicians are not available,
cryonicists suggest that a cooperative mortician administer cryonic
"first aid" by replacing the blood with a commercial solution
used to preserve organs for transplant. He should then pack the
body in ice and transport it to the cryonics organization for "permanent"
cryopreservation. Once the body arrives at the main facility, it
is placed on a heart-lung bypass machine by opening the chest and
attaching tubes to the main heart vessels. The temporary preservative
is replaced with glycerol and sucrose (sugar) over a two- to four-hour
period and the freezing is then completed by the usual methods.
COULD I JUST HAVE MY BRAIN FROZEN?
Yes. In fact, radical advocates of cryonics would prefer to euthanize
and cryonically preserve the brains of patients just before clinical
death, and even earlier in those with a degenerative brain disease,
such as Alzheimer's. They say that "an extreme example of inappropriate
care from a cryonics standpoint would be so-called `supportive'
care of patients with dementias that progressively erode brain structure,
such as Alzheimer's disease or multi-infarct dementia." Whether
people have been killed and then cryonically frozen is uncertain,
but cryonics advocates say that "unfortunately, it is not yet
legally possible to suspend patients during the initial stages of
these diseases, when it would be most productive to do so."
WHAT ARE THE PROSPECTS OF SUCCESSFULLY REVIVING A CRYONICALLY FROZEN
None at this time. Even devout cryonics advocates admit that the
necessary science and technology to revive a cryonically preserved
body are still in the realm of science fiction.
While some simple cells can easily be restored to life after freezing,
it is unclear whether complex cells, entire organs, or complex organisms
such as people, could be reanimated-even under hypothetically perfect
conditions. Different types of cells require different thawing conditions
to survive freezing. To avoid cell damage during reanimation, even
different types of cells next to one another in a single organ may
need different thawing techniques. This may be due, in part, to
the presence of ice outside the cells forming or reforming at different
rates during warming or cooling. This permanently destroys the connections
between cells. Even the size of organs plays havoc with freezing
and thawing. A kidney, for example, has about 10 trillion times
the volume of a single cell. And if a kidney is to work like a kidney
after being thawed, its cells cannot be separated to optimize the
rate at which each cell type freezes or thaws. The result is that
complex cells and organs do not survive cryonic preservation with
their functions intact.
The only hope for cryonic reanimation lies in the repair of molecules
and individual cells, including a cell repair technology that could
identify billions of injured cells and repair or replace them. This
technology would not only have to repair cells damaged by the original
disease, but also repair the damage inflicted to body tissues by
the freezing process. So far, however, these techniques are in the
far-distant world of science fiction.
For successful reanimation, cryonicists are betting on nanotechnology,
an infant discipline that combines science and engineering. Nanotechnology,
first hypothesized by the Nobel-physicist Richard Feynman, extends
the realm of current molecular biology to machines so small that
they use individual molecules as tools and are fitted with cell-sized
HOW MUCH DOES CRYONIC PRESERVATION COST?
Cryonics is very expensive. The least expensive preservation in
the United States starts at about $28,000 (or $35,000 if not arranged
before death), plus about $6,000 for transporting whole bodies,
at Robert Ettinger's Cryonics Institute of Michigan. It's been referred
to as "the industry equivalent of Sam's Club."
As of January 2000, Alcor Life Extension Foundation, a cryonics
organization in Scottsdale, Arizona, charged $120,000 for whole-body
suspension and $50,000 for neurosuspension, with an additional $10,000
for suspensions outside the United States. There is also a $300
per day remote standby fee (>100 miles from their Scottsdale
facility). They recommend that life insurance policies with Alcor
as the designated policy owner be used for payment and supply a
list of willing insurance agents. Nearly all those currently in
cryosuspension with Alcor were already members when they died. Alcor
currently charges $150 to apply and $360 per year membership dues.
Lifetime membership is $15,000.
Press, Ltd., Tucson, AZ, 2002