By Mugdha Singh

When the curtain of death falls, there is not much we can do. We can’t get away from the rolling credits, no matter how much we like the show. But what if there was another option?  A way to circumvent what appear to be definite biological processes and take advantage of future medical advances? It’s been said that one of the things that makes us human is our consciousness of our own death, and for almost as long as we’ve known of our own mortality, we have thought about the prospect of waking back up. Many faiths and mythologies have stories about resurrection and immortality, and many of these stories have a resemblance to the concept of Cryonic Preservation.

Cryonic Preservation involves freezing a corpse in the hopes of future reanimation, resuscitation, and restoration or simply, revival or to be digitally replicated in a technologically advanced future. Firstly, cryonicists inject the body with plenty of anti-clotting drugs, such as Heparin. Next, they protect the tissues from forming ice crystals using cryoprotectants. This process is known as Vitrification. Lastly, they put the body into a bath of liquid nitrogen at a temperature of 196 degrees Celsius. James Bedford, a cancer patient, was the first person to be cryogenically frozen in January 1967, and his corpse is still in cold storage today. Freezing causes damage by two distinct mechanisms. The first is mechanical damage as the shape of cells is distorted by ice crystals. The second is damage caused by chemical and osmotic effects of concentrated solutes in the residual unfrozen water between ice crystals. Vitrification, which converts samples into a glass-like condition rather than ice, was invented in the early 2000s to solve, to some extent, the problem of ice development within and around cells. A team led by vitrification pioneer Gregory Fahy employed a mixture of antifreeze and chemicals to cryopreserve an entire rabbit kidney in late 2002 and early 2003. After being thawed and implanted back into its donor, the organ appeared to operate correctly. Scientists at Alcor, a cryopreservation company, discovered in 2015 that when tiny worms were deep-frozen and thawed, they not only survived, but they could also ‘remember’ connections they had learned before they were frozen. These experiments are quoted as proof that one day humans too will be able to be successfully cryopreserved. The potential of new tools in neuroscience, particularly recent work in “connectomics”—a discipline that studies the connections between neurons—has given the theory of digitally uploading brain connections to a computer a scientific veneer of credibility.  According to the theory, putting a thorough map of brain connections into a computer simulation might be enough to restore a person’s mind, memories, and personality.

Most cryobiologists (scientists that investigate the effects of freezing temperatures on living tissues for operations such as in vitro fertilization, stem cell treatment, and organ transplantation) believe that the cell membrane is fully destroyed, and the tissue is utterly decimated. So, there’s no indication that you’re conserving anything, and that’s because science is just not there yet.

Normally, science requires that any human trials follow successful animal trials, but this has not been the case here as the complete ‘resurrection’ of mammals has not worked. Still, many companies have emerged that are offering this service for a fee. Despite the scientific community’s skepticism, cryopreservation companies are continuously increasing their market share. “Government investment in the medical industry” and “increasing deaths due to incurable disease” are driving this vertical’s growth, however stringent government regulations and a shortage of competent medical personnel constitute significant challenges. Instead of depending on family members or other persons to cover the costs of upkeep and preservation, cryonics companies demand patients pay upfront. Cryonic preservation costs anywhere from $28,000 to $200,000. The money for preservation often comes from life insurance policies.  If the cryonics candidate dies in a way that prevents the corporation from preserving the body (for example, a terrorist attack or a horrible vehicle accident), the insurance money is distributed to the secondary beneficiaries, which are usually family members. The remaining funds, if not used for care and preservation, would give the individual a financial starting point once they have been resurrected.

Cryonics is unusual as it is entirely reliant on technology that does not yet exist. It is an ambulance ride to a future hospital that may or may not exist. Even if the people are properly preserved after death, it is just assumed that scientists will be able to reanimate them and heal their ailments one day. The most difficult question is not whether it is feasible to restore a full human from extremely low temperatures; there is a good likelihood it will be doable in the future. It’s the reality that they will still be dead when you thaw them out if they were dead when they were frozen.

Even if reanimation is successful, several ethical questions arise. After getting brought back to life, the person would then be stuck in an unfamiliar environment, cut off from everything that made life worthwhile in the first place. Even if cryogenically resurrected people return to a more egalitarian and advanced future, the mental shifts necessary to acclimate to the new environment would be significant. They would likely experience profound trauma as a result of being dislocated in time, estranged from society, and coming to terms with the conviction that everyone and everything they had ever known is irreversibly lost. Isolation, loneliness, depression and illness could all follow, bioethicists suggest. Additionally, digitally uploading brain connections will lead to a set of challenges as well. An uploaded brain will have defeated death, which presents fundamental psychological and philosophical issues. Death is at the root of consciousness, normative law, and human life. The loss of death will very certainly change who or what the being or creature is. There’s no certainty that this ‘being’ is the same one that started the cryogenic procedure in the first place. Whether scanning the brain and uploading it into a different substrate constitutes revival at all, or whether you’d be generating a new human with the same features.

Cryonics is also considered to not be ecologically friendly since it uses a lot of resources to preserve bodies for a long time. The question also continues that how would the world cope if the human population lived far longer than it does now. Overpopulation will certainly become a more pressing concern in society than what it is now. This might have a direct impact on the available finite resources. New ideas will be halted if older generations never die. Essentially, advancement of culture could slow down. Death is a natural occurrence that acts to renew and replace the population; thus, shouldn’t we accept our fate, focus on caring for those who are still living, and give up on immortality?

As we have discussed, suspended animation is an extremely costly procedure. The expense of resuscitation will only rise as technology progresses to make it viable. This means that only the rich will have this choice. Does that mean the wealthy have an option for immortality while the poor do not?

However, it is critical not to stifle technological progress in society. Human stem cells, sperm, eggs, embryos, and other tiny tissue samples are now cryogenically frozen as part of scientific study and reproductive medicine in several nations. Cryo-technologies are currently also being explored for use in treating atrial fibrillation (Afib) patients. Suspended animation research is now underway, and it has the potential to be highly valuable to medicine in the future. Any patient in a critical condition may benefit from it, since it would provide them more time and a better chance of survival. Also, suspended animation methods in the military may be able to assist soldiers to avoid excessive blood loss during conflict. Another application in the far future would involve people being frozen alive and placed in suspended animation for long-term space trips. As a result, increased financing for this study is critical as these developments would benefit society, individual well-being, and general living circumstances.

The definition of death should evolve as science and technology progresses. Around 100 years ago, cardiac arrest was thought to be irreversible, and persons were proclaimed dead. However, contemporary research and medicine have demonstrated that cardiac arrest can be reversed. So, it might well be possible that such a technology to ‘resurrect’ people and extend the known barriers of death may be developed in a far future. Yes, indeed it is true that putting your faith in a future technology may seem like a hefty risk, especially since cryonic preservation expenses start at roughly $30,000. However, a remarkable breakthrough, on the other hand, may be the last chance for those whose lives have been cut short by diseases.

 At the end of the day, we’re definitely going to die, so if there’s even an outside chance of prolonging life through cryonics, there’s nothing to lose and potentially a second lifetime to gain. 


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