SCIENCE

Cryonic Preservation After Death: What Does The Science Say? (VIDEO)

It's been said that nothing in this world is certain, except death and taxes. But what if you could freeze your body immediately after death and be revived in the distant future, when medical science has found a cure for your injuries or illness? You'd be able to cheat death (and perhaps your taxes)! Indeed, this is what advocates of the cryonics movement believe--so much so that they are willing to wager a lot of money and their own bodies.

Kim Suozzi was one of those people. She passed away this year, at the tender age of 23, of brain cancer. She chose to have her body frozen in the hopes that one day, she may come back to life.

I spoke to a member of the Cryonics Institute, David Ettinger, to learn more about the process of cryonic preservation. His own father, Robert Ettinger, was called the "father of cryonics," after self-publishing the book "The Prospect of Immortality" in 1962. When Robert died, he was cryonically preserved, as was his wife and their mother. David hopes to one day join his family members suspended in a frozen state when his time comes.

To learn more about cryonics, watch the video above and/or click on the link below to read a full transcript. And don't forget to sound off in the comments section at the bottom of the page. Come on, talk nerdy to me!

KIM SUOZZI: I think of it as the last thing I can possibly do to give myself another chance.

CARA SANTA MARIA: Hi everyone. Cara Santa Maria here. And that's Kim Suozzi. I couldn't interview her personally, because earlier this year, at only 23, she passed away from brain cancer. She chose to be cryonically preserved--a scientifically controversial method of freezing the body in hopes of resuscitating later. To learn more about the process, I reached out to David Ettinger, a member of the Cryonics Institute, a non-profit organization founded in 1976 by his father, Robert Ettinger, who also happens to be frozen there. The Cryonics Institute houses about 115 frozen bodies currently, and David estimates that a few hundred people are in cryonic preservation at other facilities around the world. I asked him, what is cryonics?

DAVID ETTINGER: Cryonics specifically refers to freezing people, at death, in order hopefully to preserve them and revive them when medical technology has made that possible.

CSM: As of right now, medical technology has not made that possible. Apparently you can be frozen immediately after death, but you're left in a suspended state indefinitely. So, isn't this just wishful thinking? I asked David how he responds to the assertion that this is all pseudoscience.

DE: Cryonics is based on a bet about the future, that technology will advance. A bet that we think is very sound, but is it evidence-based, it’s not. Some people say, well do you have faith in cryonics? No, I just look at history and think this is a good bet. It’s not certain by any means, but it’s the best alternative. And that’s how my father approached things. I mean, he wrote some articles about probability theory and what he called the probability of rescue. So cryonics was always from the first, scientifically based, and though there were people at the time who said this isn’t going to happen, my father always challenged them and said, what’s your evidence?

CSM: But of course, it's easy to play devil's advocate here and say, what's your evidence that it is going to happen? Cryogenics, or low-temperature science, and specifically cryobiology, is still at a stage where freezing whole organisms cannot be done without damage to their tissues.

DE: Is the damage so limited that you can freeze and revive a person today? It is not. I mean, there is too much damage that we cannot reverse currently for that, but that’s part of why you need more time, but people frozen have the time. My father said that what some people want, will not be satisfied. Some people will not be satisfied until someone is frozen, and revived, and lives forever. Well, we can’t wait for them.

CSM: And if you don't want to wait, you can be frozen too, for anywhere from $28,000 to upwards of $200,000. But then, how is your body actually preserved? What's the science behind cryonics?

DE: The quicker you do it, the less damage will occur. And the process begins with cooling of the body, and especially the head, sometimes while continuing to pump the blood so that oxygenated blood flows to the brain and that limits the damage in the meantime. The next step is, and the cooling goes through several steps, starting with ice, then the body is perfused with cryoprotective agents to protect against damage in the freezing. You know, the next stage is dry ice and then liquid nitrogen vapors and ultimately liquid nitrogen, and the entire process takes a couple of days, takes a few days, really, to be finished.

CSM: David told me that this process of freezing is called vitrification. That word literally means transforming a substance into a glass. Through the use of cryoprotective agents, the ultimate goal is to minimize or eliminate the amount of crystals that form when water freezes. And nearly 60 percent of the human body is made of water, so this is a significant hurdle. Reasonable advocates of cryonic research and development know that there's no guarantee that technology will ever allow them a chance at immortality. But they're hopeful.

KS: The options are either I die and nothing happens, likely, or I come back and things are weird probably, but I’m alive again!

CSM: There's plenty of legitimate research that goes into the study and practice of cryonics, but does the end result have a scientific footing? Think you'll want to be frozen when you die, for hopes that you may one day live forever? Come on, talk nerdy to me!

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