I guess I should start this with a 'Spoiler Alert'. If you haven't managed to watch the movie Vanilla Sky circa 2001. I feel that enough time has passed that I can reveal the ending to you. You see Tom Cruise's main character David was in a state of cryonic suspension for the majority of the movie. He wasn't initially aware of this, however, as the story went on there were little clues here and there that you notice when you watch back a second time. The story has David going through a seemingly happy life until things started to go wrong. It was then revealed by his 'tech support' that his subconscious had turned his 'lucid dream' into a living nightmare. David had taken an overdose of pills all those years ago and his body was taken to the 'Life Extension' lab where he was cryogenically frozen. They helped formulate a lucid dream he lived in, completely unaware he had even died. It was now 150 years in the future and medical technology had advanced far enough that they could repair his body and bring him back to life ready to 'live again'. While this is a movie of fiction, the concept of cryonic suspension is something researchers are experimenting with and as we speak there are people frozen in time in cryogenic suspension. The main difference with this movie of course is that they are not inducing a lucid dream experience on the person inside.
Cryonics is a technique with the intention of expanding the longevity of life. When a person is declared as legally dead, they are put in a structure where their body is cooled using liquid nitrogen which stops the physical decaying process. They are then stored at this temperature indefinitely. The aim is to keep the body frozen until such time that medical science has evolved to the point that they can be brought back to life. They don't just freeze the outsides, they also inject chemicals through the bloodstream to help with the preservation process.
On January 12th 1967, the first-ever human was cryogenically frozen. Dr James H. Bedford suffered from cardiac arrest as a result of kidney cancer. Of course, Dr James had volunteered to become 'the first frozen man'. A press release written by Robert Ettinger states:
"The first reported freezing of a human at death, under controlled conditions, occurred Thursday, January 12, 1967, in Los Angeles. A patient was frozen immediately after his death from cancer in the hope of eventual revival and rejuvenation by future techniques. The next of kin concurred in the patient's wishes.
"When clinical death occurred, Dr. Able was present and at once began artificial respiration and external heart massage, to keep the brain alive while cooling the patient with ice. Heparin was injected to prevent coagulation of the blood.
"Later, the team of Dr. Brunol, Robert Prehoda and Robert Nelson, perfused the body with a protective solution of DMSO (Dimethylsulfoxide) using a Westinghouse Iron Heart sent by the Cryonics Society of Michigan.
"The patient is now frozen with dry ice, -79°C., and will soon be stored in liquid nitrogen, -196°C., when a cryocapsule is supplied by Cryo-Care Equipment Corporation of Phoenix, Arizona. He will be kept frozen indefinitely until such time as medical science may be able to cure cancer, any freezing damage that may have occurred, and perhaps old age as well.
On 25th of May 1991, the patient was removed from suspension and while remaining in liquid nitrogen was examined to see what the physical result of suspension had left behind. They found while there was some surface fracture due to the cold temperature that the body was stored in, they claimed the patient looked well and had preserved as predicted with no signs of decay.
There are various companies that offer to cryogenically freeze an individual after death. At this stage, they can only freeze someone who has been declared legally dead. Their aim is to one day be able to extend this to terminally ill patients. In researching the Alcor company which offers this service, they use life insurance policies to fund this suspension. This cost ranges from $80 - $100k. Not all insurers cover this option and there is also a yearly membership fee to be paid.
You can choose to have your whole body frozen or you can have your brain frozen. The plan for your brain would be for it to be implanted into the head of a donor body. Freezing the brain is more popular with people that had disabilities in life where they suffered from a form of paralysis. A lot of scientists have argued that the freezing process has irreversible effects on the brain and this would not be a success. In 2016, scientists behind this movement claimed to have performed the first successful head transplant on a monkey. They believe that they will be ready for a human subject in 2020 with many who have volunteered. It is thought that if this is successful, it will change the world and how we perceive the afterlife.
"In a few months we will sever a body from a head in an unprecedented medical procedure. In this phase, there is no life activity, not in the brain, not anywhere else in the body.
"If we bring this patient back to life we will receive the first real account of what actually happens after death. The head transplant gives us the first insight into whether there is an afterlife, a heaven, a hearafter.
"If we are able to prove that our brain does not create consciousness, religions will be swept away forever. They will no longer be necessary, as humans no longer need to be afraid of death. We no longer need a Catholic Church, no Judaisim, and no Islam because religions in general will be obsolete.
"It will be a turning point in human history."
While it very much seems like something from Science Fiction, it remains to be seen if this will be a success. This article isn't to explore the science of how it works and why it will or will not work. It is something real they are working on and it remains to be seen what the results will be. One must however also think about the moral and ethical repercussions. Is this playing with nature? Our human bodies are designed to only live for a certain amount of time. A lot of people believe that when the physical body dies, your consciousness lives on in some higher plane of existence. If you are playing with the 'natural order' of things, could this disrupt this process? Or is it just the same as someone having a heart transplant for example? If a body no longer needs the heart to survive as the brain has died and the heart is healthy, it can be transplanted to another body meaning that person is able to live on for longer. Is this just an extreme version of a 'transplant?' Another repercussion of course would be that it is likely when you are what they call 'reanimated', all of your friends and family will be gone. They will have died (unless they themselves are frozen too.) . The world will be a very different place. You won't have any money because it would have all been spent on keeping you in cryogenic suspension.
My main question would be, what happens to our consciousness? What if your consciousness was living in some sort of higher existence and suddenly it is summoned back to a new body? How does it know to come back? How would it adjust? Would it be your consciousness that came back or someone else? The body of a person could be the same, but the consciousness inside could be different. What if the physical body is bought back to life but there is no consciousness because its time with that body is finished? The body is not supposed to come back so if it was reanimated, would it be with consciousness or would it be just a working body with working organs? Perhaps there is a timeline or a natural order to things. I can't help but think of Frankenstein.
There are so many questions here, but as Prof Canavero said, it would be a 'turning point in human history.' The problem is, could people handle this information? People tend to believe what they want to believe no matter what facts are presented to them. This is a topic I will be covering soon as well.
What do you think? Would you want to be cryogenically suspended after your physical body dies? What are your thoughts?
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