One of the first subjects I covered on HPANWO, shortly after I launched it in 2007, was cryonics. This is the practice of cryopreserving a recently deceased body in the hope that the dead person can be resuscitated and cured at a later date, perhaps only in the distant future when technology has sufficiently advanced. Cyropreservation is a common medical procedure for whole embryos, independent cells and tissue; sperm, ova etc. However it's debatable about whether it would work on an entire body. This hasn't stopped 350 people so far, and even a few dogs, having their bodies cryopreserved after their death, with over a thousand more waiting in the wings. Cryonics involves freezing the body at a very low temperature, below minus 130 degrees centigrade. This is far more complicated than it sounds because the body has to be dehydrated first as much as possible otherwise our internal water would tear apart our cells when it forms ice crystals. The blood and fluid in our bodies is replaced with an alcohol-based antifreeze chemical. The body is then placed in an insulated canister filled with liquid nitrogen to keep it cold, to be left there indefinitely. The idea is that at some time in the future scientists will invent the means to revive the corpse, bring the departed person back to life, and also heal whatever illness or injury claimed their lives in the first place. Cryonics is just one part of the general life-extension movement headed up by the bushy-bearded maverick Aubrey de Grey. See background links below for more detail. Also: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2GLAgOaRVI.
A new cryonics story has just emerged that is very unusual and especially poignant. The patient in this case is a fourteen year old girl. Because of her age she has not been identified for legal reasons and is known by the media as "JS". JS lived in
with her mother. Her father was estranged and she hadn't even seen him since
2010 when she was aged only about eight years old. JS was struck down by a rare
and fast-acting cancer. She was given a terminal prognosis, but then she went
online and looked up cryonics. She decided to take a chance on it and wrote
this letter to the judge: "I have
been asked to explain why I want this unusual thing done. I am only 14 years
old and I don't want to die but I know I am going to die. I think being
cryopreserved gives me a chance to be cured and woken up - even in hundreds of
years' time. I don't want to be buried underground. I want to live and live
longer and I think that in the future they may find a cure for my cancer and
wake me up. I want to have this chance. This is my wish." Because she
is only fourteen the law states that she needs her parents' permission. Her
mother supported her, but her father did not. JS took the case all the way to
the high court and eventually the judge ruled that as long as her mother
supported her, JS could have her last wish granted. It's appropriate that today
is International Men's Day, see: http://www.internationalmensday.com/,
(no Google logo of course) and there is an issue related to it here. I don't
know why JS' parents divorced or why the father has not had access to his
daughter. Of course most people will simply assume that it's because he didn't
care about her. However it turns out he made some applications to visit his
daughter and these were turned down; therefore the bar is raised and the call
goes out that he was simply a violent alcoholic or sexual abuser or something.
Do we know that for sure? What we do know is that the father changed his mind about
the cryonics and offered JS a deal. He would agree to her last wish if he could
see her body after she died. She said no. This is odd. She felt so strongly
about her father not coming near her, even after death, that in order to stop
him she risked her entire case, the legal ruling going against her and scuppering
her bid for immortality. All she had to do was agree to let him see her after
death and the whole matter could have been settled out of court in an instant.
This does indicate some passionately bad feeling in their relationship, for
whatever reason. JS died peacefully on the 17th of October surrounded by her
family. The judge who granted her request came to visit her too. Whatever
happens next to her; I hope she is happy and well. Cryonics is expensive; a
whole-body process costs £37,000. Just having just your head frozen is a bit
cheaper. Her grandparents raised the money.
As a former hospital porter I know the usual procedure for disposing of an inpatient's dead body, yet with a cryonicist it's entirely different. A team of volunteers from Cryonics
was on standby outside the hospital and as soon as JS was pronounced dead by
her doctor they moved in and took her body away. The hospital staff were
concerned and confused by this unusual practice and the judge in the hearing
made note of this, saying that there should be more regulation for cryonics in
future. I'm personally far more suspicious of state interference and find its
absence rather comforting, but it might concern others that the cryonics
industry is completely unregulated. Indeed when the movement began in the
1960's the first company went bust; and, unfortunately, there was no option
except to remove the bodies from storage and bury them. Today there are three
organizations that provide cryonics services, Alcor and the Cryonics Institute in
the USA, and KiroRus
in Russia. Things
have improved a lot since the early days and when JS died she was immediately
placed in an insulated canister with dry ice. Then she was transported by air
to Michigan in the United
States of America where the cryopreservation
process could be completed. There is no such facility in Britain.
Now her body is lying head down in a tank of super-chilled liquid gas, waiting
for the day when... if... the means
exist to resurrect her. However, if that happens what would her new life be
like? She'll be emerging into a world decades, maybe centuries in the future.
Society and culture could have changed beyond all recognition. It's likely that
everybody she knows and loves will be dead. She may have little or no memory of
her past. Now, to answer to the question you're all probably asking... No. I am definitely not going consider
cryonics for myself. I pretty sure we have a natural afterlife anyway in the
spiritual sense. Of course I'm not one hundred percent certain but I'm certain enough
to risk it. Either way, I'm not sure I want to live forever in this world.
See here for background: http://hpanwo.blogspot.co.uk/2007/08/life-extension-movement.html.