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Cryonics, Death in Deep Freeze

Updated on September 2, 2015

Destined to Die Once

The bible tells us we are destined to die once, at least in our present physical bodies. But some people are trying to change that dire prophecy. They are pinning their hopes on cryonics, freezing their bodies with expectations of being revived in the future. Currently, in the United States, people can only be subjected to cryogenic freezing after being declared legally dead.

People sometimes confuse cryogenics and cryonics. Cryonics focuses on a concept advances in science may someday make it possible to bring people back from the dead. Currently it’s not possible, but it could happen at some future date. At last count there was about two hundred people in Cryogenic suspension and over 1,000 more signed up.

Cryogenics is a branch of physics involving very low temperatures and what effects they have on organisms or materials. The prefix cryo is derived from the Greek word kryos, meaning "cold."

Most animals, like people, can’t tolerate prolonged freezing temperatures. When exposed to below-freezing temperatures, ice forms in smaller blood vessels and either bursts or stretches them beyond limits of functionality. Frostbite is a common example of damage caused by freezing temperatures.

Francis Bacon

The originator of modern experimental science, Francis Bacon, conducted an experiment on a cold day in 1623 to see whether snow would delay the putrefaction of flesh. He stuffed a dead fowl with snow and observed the effects. In the process, he caught a sudden chill which over time developed into acute bronchitis, contributing to his death in 1626.

However, some varieties of frogs and turtles can survive being frozen. When ice is sensed on the outsides of their bodies, their livers produce extra glucose which protects cells from freezing damage. This extra blood sugar maintains the cell's shape so it doesn't collapse. Special proteins allow water to go between cells and the organs allowing water to freeze without puncturing cell membranes.

Arctic Ground Squirrel

Presently only one mammal, the Arctic ground squirrel, seems able to tolerate ice crystals during a physiological state, falling somewhere between hibernation and freezing. Scientists are studying these animals to see whether they can gain more insight for freezing donated human organs for transplants. So far they have been successful in freezing only single cells, meaning sperm cells and corneas.

Those considering this process have two options. They can have their entire body frozen or only their head. It is assumed older people won’t want to be awakened to find themselves still in a time ravaged body.

At present cryonic freezing is only a theory. Some in the scientific community and medical profession say there are insurmountable obstacles to overcome. Cryonics is viewed by these opponents with skepticism, although some do support it. However, a major concern is brain structures containing memory and personality could be damaged. Unfortunately, they are the first to die.

Advocates claim it’s possible to preserve brain cell structures where memory and identity are contained with present technology. They are stored in durable structures and patterns within the brain not requiring continuous brain activity to survive. But, it’s generally accepted in medicine under certain conditions the brain can stop functioning and still retain long-term memory.

In the United States there are currently two organizations offering cryonic services. They are The Cryonics Institute in Michigan and Alcor in Arizona.

At 21st Century Medicines in California a team of researchers are working to make donated human organs storable for indefinite periods. Currently, they are only viable for several hours. They have, however, successfully frozen a rabbit liver and re-implanted it. Ideally cryonic procedures begin immediately following cardiac arrest.

Theological and ethic concerns have also cropped up over the procedures. Some believe anyone who would ordinarily be medically viewed as deceased should be made a "permanent patient" because it’s the morally right thing to do. In 2005, an ethics debate in a medical journal stated in part “…few if any patients pronounced dead by today’s physicians are in fact truly dead by any scientifically rigorous criteria.”

Cryopreservation can be achieved by reducing temperature to near 77.15 Kelvin, the point liquid nitrogen boils at. It is a common belief cells will burst from ice crystals within the cell. However, this only happens if the freezing rate exceeds loss of water to the extracellular space. But damage from freezing can still occur if ice forms between cells. This could cause extensive mechanical and chemical damage. Cryoprotectants are circulated through blood vessels to replace water inside cells with anti-freezing solutions, chemicals to prevent freezing. This will reduce damage, but freezing whole bodies will still cause irreversible damage with today’s technology.

Many opinions of cryonics revolve on the issue of whether it’s considered an interment or medical concern. If cryonics is interment, then religious arguments may arise. Revival may be thought an impossibility by the spiritually religious because the soul is supposedly not present with the body at death. And according to most religions only God can resurrect the dead.

Surprisingly, cryonics isn’t a new notion. None other than Benjamin Franklin, in a 1773 letter wrote, he lived “…in a century too little advanced, and too near the infancy of science that he could not be preserved and revived to fulfill his very ardent desire to see and observe the state of America a hundred years hence.”

So, can mankind defy biblical prophecy and attain immortality, or does our salvation rest in the hands of human science?


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    • profile image

      Allcommentssuck 5 years ago


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      paxwill 6 years ago

      I was just reading something about the old drama with the late Ted Williams' children and how his frozen head might have been damaged at Alcor.

    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 7 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Interesting view Icebrand. Thank you Martie.

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 7 years ago from South Africa

      Interesting topics - Cryonics and Cryogenics – and most certainly perfect themes for modern Frankenstein-horrors. See you again (in this life).

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      Icebrand 7 years ago

      Obviously the person doesn't really die if they can still be brought back, so the "biblical" thing is a non-issue even for the most devout religious person. Unfortunately some people interpret their religion in a way that indicates their soul cannot survive the event of long term freezing or vitrification. Heck, many are still uneasy about heart transplants or defibrillators.... But science marches on.

    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 7 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Cheryl, The price keeps changing, but for whole body it was somewhere around $200,000. Depending on when that figure was arrived at, it could be much more now.

    • _cheryl_ profile image

      _cheryl_ 7 years ago from California

      Interesting thoughts. I do think though, that this world will see it's end before that becomes a reality. It's amazing to me that there are so many on the waiting list. I can't imagine what it costs to do so.