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Thank you for contacting Cryonics Europe. We hope this booklet will give you an insight into cryonics.
In 1964 a physicist Robert C. W. Ettinger wrote a book which would change the way we look at death forever. He called it The Prospect Of Immortality .
It is a very simple concept which utilizes a well proven idea that low temperature preservation (cryopreservation) might be a way for the dying patients of today to gain access to developments in medicine in the future - 'an ambulance to the future'.
We know that embryos and small organs can be cooled to the temperature of liquid nitrogen (-196 degrees centigrade) and we know DNA survives well because of the so-called 'test tube babies'.
Cryonics is the name given to the process of maintaining patients at low temperature for future revival . It is thought to be controversial because freezing an entire body is not yet reversible. Although many individual cells remain viable and able to resume function after freezing and thawing, the ice crystals that form between cells can cause extensive tissue damage. We can reduce this damage as far as possible with cryoprotectants (a form of human antifreeze) .
Once frozen, we should be able to maintain a human body for centuries if necessary, with very little change. This allows time for the development of new medical technologies, to reverse ageing and unlike today's medicine, the potential to repair any cellular damage.
Will the injuries of freezing always be irreversible? It is believed that cell repair technologies in the future and medical improvements will eventually be able to cure frost bite and so reverse freezing damage.
Cryonics may have remained idle speculation to this day were it not for a proposal by Robert Ettinger. How could this procedure be legally applied to dying patients? Ettinger's answer was to wait until a patient's breathing and heartbeat stopped before beginning the cryonics procedures. The patient would then be legally dead, cryonics would cause no further damage.
The rationale for applying cryonics after official pronouncement of death is that legal death and real death are not always the same. Those caring for patients with a terminal disease may be instructed not to resuscitate. No attempt will be made to resuscitate them if their heart stops. This may be despite the fact that they might be revived should an attempt was made. This variance between legal death (the actual stopping of the heart) and when the brain ceases functioning, creates a window of opportunity for the cryonicist. Waiting for the legal death of terminal patients creates substantial logistical (and sometimes medical) problems for cryonics, it is an acceptable and legal way to implement the protocol.
At this time there are approximately 70 cryo-preserved patients, all in the US. There are four organizations that offer cryonics storage services but as yet none exist outside the US. Over 800 other people have made the legal and financial arrangements necessary to have cryo-preservation available when needed. They include doctors, scientists, students, tradesmen, housewives and children. They are people from all walks of life, sharing a common desire to reach beyond the limits of today's medicine.
The Purpose of Cryonics Europe
We are a voluntary group and although we do not offer storage, our purpose is to advise and help anyone who is signed up with any cryonics storage company. We have a suspension team and all the equipment required to carry out a suspension. Although it is not necessary to join CE as part of signing up for cryopreservation, the group might provide a better chance for a successful suspension.
There is constant research taking place to develop new techniques, processes and cryoprotectants. One new technology currently being developed, is Vitrification, which may possibly be available to us in the near future.
A human cryopreservation might begin in a hospital, nursing home, home hospice setting, or wherever a Cryonics Europe member is seriously ill. In consultation with the Doctor, the member's condition is evaluated by the staff at C.E. Legal death must be pronounced by a doctor (if possible, immediately after the heart stops). The C.E member now becomes a C.E patient, and the cryonics transport team begins its work.
Cooling is the first process. The patient is lowered into an ice bath, and as soon as possible, circulation and breathing are artificially restored by a Heart Lung Resuscitator (CPR machine). At CE surgery is performed to gain to the femoral artery and vein. Intravenous lines are established, and special medications are administered to protect the brain from any lack of oxygen. The patient's blood is circulated through a heart-lung machine.
Cryoprotectant gradually replaces the patient's blood. The solution containing glycerol (an antifreeze agent) is to protect against freezing injury. A heat exchanger greatly accelerates the cooling to the freezing point of water. Once perfusion (circulation) of this cryoprotectant solution is complete, the patient is immersed in alcohol for cooling down to -79 degrees Centigrade (dry ice temperature) over the next 48 hours.
This completes the transport and perfusion phases of human cryopreservation as performed by C.E ready to transport to the US for long term care.
Using a special container, the patient is flown to the US to be finally cooled to -196C where they will be stored until revival is possible.
The Cryonics Institute in Clinton Township, Michigan and Alcor (Scotsdale, Arizona) are the two companies operating in the US at this time.
The Cryonics Institute (CI) is a nonprofit organization founded in 1976 that provides basic inexpensive cryonics services to its members. It is controlled by its members, has no stockholders, no landlord, and no debt and a policy of not having any debt. It has over 200 members, and currently cares for 26 patients using a unique design of insulated containers developed inhouse. It is located in an area of almost zero seismic risk. CI has recently agreed to provide long term care of CE patients. Following initial transport and perfusion by CE, patients are transported at dry ice temperature to the long term care provider of their choice. They are then slowly cooled over a two week period to the temperature of liquid nitrogen (-196 degrees centigrade), and immersed in liquid nitrogen for long term care. At this temperature all biological processes are stopped, and tissue remains unchanged indefinitely.
In some cases, particularly when sudden death is involved, it is not possible to begin cryonics procedures promptly after the heart stops. There may be a wait of many minutes, or even hours before cooling can begin. Brain injury is severe in such cases. By today's medical criteria, anyone whose blood circulation has been stopped for an hour is very "dead."
The question we must ask, however, is what future medicine will define as "death". Today's medicine cannot revive people after the heart has been stopped for much longer than five minutes. (Although there was a case when a child fell into freezing water and was revived after two hours.) This is because injuries to blood vessels within the brain (such as blood clotting) prevent circulation from being restored after five minutes. Surprisingly, individual brain cells (neurons) remain alive and able to resume function for as long as an hour after the heart stops. If future medicine can heal and replace injured blood vessels, then it should be possible to resuscitate people far beyond today's time limits. If microscopic devices can reverse chemical imbalances within injured cells, then people could be revived an hour or more after clinical death.
With future advanced medicine, the outer limits of resuscitation could be greatly lengthened. It is for this reason that cryonics is still applied to patients who are far beyond the reach of today's medicine. It would foolish and arrogant to believe that medicine today is the best medicine that could ever exist. Cryonics is medically conservative. Continuing to care for a patient with an uncertain prognosis is morally and ethically correct. Many patients whom we would call "dead" today are likely to be reclassified as "seriously ill, but treatable" in the future.
The Future of Medicine
We can only speculate about medicine 100 years from now. How many doctors a century ago could have foreseen antibiotics organ transplants or gene therapy? Even 30 years ago a radiologist would not have foreseen MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). The developments leading to MRI were occurring in computer science and physics labs, not radiology departments. Sometimes we have to look beyond medicine for a new medical breakthrough.
In 1959 Nobel laureate and physicist Richard Feynman presented a paper entitled, There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom. Feynman proposed building tiny machines that would build still smaller machines, until individual atoms could be manipulated like building blocks. Feynman predicted that such a capability would have a profound impact on the science of biology and technology in general.
In 1981 MIT engineer Eric Drexler published a technical paper, later followed by a book in 1986 called Engines of Creation, outlining the ways that protein engineering could lead to the capabilities described by Feynman. Drexler foresaw a whole new technology, which he called nanotechnology , that would emerge from the ability to engineer materials on a molecular scale. In particular, he predicted general purpose "assemblers", which like plant seeds, would grow complex objects from simple raw materials. There could be powerful computers the size of bacteria, and microscopic "cell repair machines", able to perform surgery on individual cells.
Nanotechnology and nanoscience are now virtually household words, with articles in Science and Nature appearing regularly, documenting progress. The Japanese government is sponsoring a billion dollar initiative to develop methods of engineering at molecular level. Think tanks and major corporations in the U. S. are now employing scientists specifically to study engineering applications of nanotechnology. While the capability to build the devices foreseen by Feynman and Drexler will emerge slowly over decades, the medical applications are already clear.
Medicine today does not heal patients. It depends on enabling and assisting patients to heal themselves. It is not always successful. Traumatic injury, massive infection, or the genetic alterations of viruses, cancer, and aging often leave the body unable to heal itself.
During the 21st century this must change. Vast new arsenals of medical tools will become available. These tools will include microscopic robots able to perform surgery from within the body, engineered viruses able to repair genetic defects, and even intelligent cell repair organisms that are able to enter and heal cells one molecule at a time.
Medicine is entering a new era. Detailed understanding and control of genes will allow the conquest of viruses and cancer. Systems of engineered cell repair organisms will be able to repair injuries that the body cannot heal by natural means. Specialized genetic programs will make possible the regrowth of injured or lost organs and limbs. Eventually even the genetic changes of aging itself will be understood and controlled. Lifespans will increase dramatically.
This is the Cryonics Europe vision of the future: a medicine based on mastery of the molecular basis of life. We consist of atoms and molecules. The difference between health and disease, youth and old age, even life and death, is ultimately a difference in the arrangement of our atoms. Medicine will not reach its fullest potential to heal and restore health until it is able to analyse and rearrange atoms in sophisticated ways. Such a time is still far off. But the time will come when these treatments are common place.
Q Doesn't freezing burst cells, like water freezing in a bottle?
A No. Slow cooling causes ice to form in the tiny spaces outside cells first. This causes an increased concentration of salts outside cells, which draws water out of cells, dehydrating them. At the end of freezing, the space between cells is filled with ice crystals, but cells themselves remain unfrozen (vitreous) in their interior. Ice crystals outside cells still cause damage, but not as much damage as would be caused by ice inside cells.
Q Can humans be frozen and revived?
A Humans can only be frozen; they cannot be revived with today's technology. The purpose of cryonics is to carry people to future technology that will be able to revive and treat them.
Q If no one has been revived yet, isn't cryonics unproven and unscientific?
A Cryonics is unproven, but it is not unscientific. Cryonics depends on foreseeable medical advances, not blind faith in the future. In 1961, when the United States committed itself to landing a person on the moon, there was no proof this could be done. It had never been done before. Nevertheless it was concluded from known principles of science and engineering that such a feat was possible. The space program, human genome project, freezing the DNA of endangered species for future cloning, are all projects that were begun based on the expectation of foreseeable technologies that did not yet exist. Like cryonics, they are scientific undertakings not acts of faith.
Q Won't memories be lost if a brain stops working, like turning off a computer?
A No. Neuroscientists agree that long term memory is stored by durable structural and molecular changes within the brain, not transient electrical activity. In fact there are many situations in clinical medicine today in which a patient's brain is stopped and restarted with no lasting harm. These situations include ischemia (stopped blood circulation), deep hypothermia, and deep anaesthesia.
Q Isn't freezing after legal death too late?
A In many cases it is possible to have a cryonics transport team standing by during the final stages of a terminal illness. CPR and administration of stabilizing medications can begin within a minute or two after breathing and heartbeat stop (legal death). Under such favourable circumstances, brain injury can be so minor that there would be no difference even if cryonics procedures were begun before legal death.
It is also possible that cryonics may still work even if legal death occurred many minutes (perhaps even hours) earlier. There are published reports in the scientific literature of viable brain cells sometimes being found hours after legal death. Some so-called "dead" patients today may in fact still be treatable by far future medicine. (From a cryonics standpoint, the chief problem caused by protracted clinical death is failure of the brain's circulatory system. This prevents good cryoprotective perfusion, greatly worsening freezing injury.)
Q Does this mean that future medicine might be able to bring back the dead?
A Not at all. If patients in the future can be recovered after hours of clinical death, it will simply mean that medicine today is wrong about when it thinks death really happens. When considering these questions it is helpful to remember that death is usually a process, not an event. The most difficult cryonics scenarios are those involving chronic degenerative brain diseases (such as Alzheimer's Disease), or protracted respirator support of severely brain injured patients. By the time legal death is declared in such cases, loss of brain structure can be so extensive that these patients are dead by any medical criteria, present or future. To counter these possibilities, C.E recommends that individuals take legal steps (such signing a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care) to ensure that medical measures such as life support are never utilized in a manner that violates their wishes for timely cryopreservation.
Q Is research being done? What improvements can be expected?
A Cryonics research projects are being pursued by Cryonics Institute in Michigan. Dr Pichugin is one of the worlds leading authority in freezing and Vitrification. His research is directly aimed at better understanding and improving cryopreservation of the human body. Unfortunately no government agencies or other conventional funding sources have an interest in cryopreservation. There is, however, some wider interest in cryopreservation of the kidney, heart, liver, and other transplantable organs. In recent years great strides have been made toward reversible cryopreservation of the kidney. The most promising approach is called vitrification .
Vitrification is cryopreservation without formation of damaging ice crystals. C.E is hopeful that vitrification will be used to achieve reversible (noninjurious) preservation of a human within the next decade, or less. If successful, this technology would be perhaps the most important medical breakthrough of our time an assured means to transport us with only minor damage to the future.
Q Why would I want to live beyond my natural lifespan?
A "Natural lifespan" is a relative term. Today we consider a natural lifespan to be about 75 years because this is how long the average person lives in the industrialized world. Someone from the middle Ages (with a life expectancy of 30 years) would regard today's medicines and lifespan as extremely unnatural. A century from now, people will probably look back on the lifespan of the 20th century with amazement and even pity as they look forward to centuries of life, health, and youth.
Q Why would people of the future revive cryonics patients?
A Cryonics patients are not being cast adrift upon a sea until some future historian finds them. They are being cared for continuously by an organization such as Cryonics Europe and CI with the express purpose of reviving them. If a patient stays frozen long enough for revival technology to be developed, it will be because they are still in the care of an organization that intends to revive them. In other words, revival will happen (if it happens) because someone cared enough about your revival to keep you frozen. It will not really matter what the rest of future society thinks.
Q How is future society likely to regard cryonics patients?
A By the time it is possible to revive today's patients, future medicine will already have a long tradition of treating patients in "suspended animation" and other forms of biostasis. Today's cryonics patients would be morally equivalent to any other injured patient who needs help in that era, and will likely be regarded as such.
Q When will cryonics patients be revived?
A When you are revived will depend on when you were frozen. Cryonics will be a last in, first out process. Patients preserved with the most advanced technology will require the least treatment. At some point, perhaps 20 years from now, completely reversible "suspended animation" will likely be developed. The wait for revival for such patients will be zero; they will be revivable at any time. Patients frozen before suspended animation is developed will have to wait for revival. The older the technology used, the longer the wait will be.
Today's cryonics patients are severely injured, even by future medical standards. Although there are reasons for optimism, the wait will be long. Comprehensive cell repair systems based on mature nanotechnology will have to be developed. Cells will have to be repaired individually, in some cases even one molecule at a time. Responsible estimates of the time required to develop such technology range from 50 to 100 years.
Q What will the future be like?
A Many futures are possible. Not all possible futures (particularly the bad ones) are compatible with revival of cryonics patients. This has interesting implications. For instance, the simple fact that you stayed frozen long enough to get revived means that civilization did not collapse. Human progress must have continued its unsteady march forward, reaching a level of very advanced medical technology. The world must also be a reasonably comfortable, safe place. If it were not, the people reviving you would be preoccupied with their own problems instead of yours.
Advanced nanotechnology, as foreseen by Drexler, Feynman and others, must also be a reality. Among other things, this technology implies:
If cryonics works, it will work in a world that is much bigger, wealthier, and more interesting than the one we know today.
Q Doesn't cryonics contribute to overpopulation?
A Currently about three children are born for every one person who dies. Rushing people off to an early grave is not going to solve this problem. Birthrates must be reduced to sustainable levels. This has already happened in the industrialized world, where population is generally not a problem. If past trends continue, birthrates will eventually drop in poorer nations as they too become more industrialized. Longer life spans in rich countries will not hinder this process, and eventually all the world will benefit.
Q Isn't cryonics an expensive extravagance?
A The cost of cryonics is small in comparison to the cost of other major medical procedures today. It is affordable for most people who can buy life insurance. We all have to decide our priorities, smoking, drinking, eating out; these are all more expensive than cryonics insurance, so it is the individuals choice. CI charge only £20000 plus perfusion and getting to the US, a approximate cost of £30000 and although that is still a great deal to most of us when paid by life insurance it works out to a few pounds a week.
Q What happens to the soul of a frozen person?
A What happens to the soul of a person who is awakened after many decades in a coma? Most people would say that the soul was dormant, or asleep in God's care, until it was time to wake again. In fact many babies have been born after years of frozen storage in liquid nitrogen (while they were embryos). Revival of frozen embryos is not resurrection, and neither is cryonics. If cryonics works it will simply mean that the patients were never really dead in the first place. They were instead in a kind of coma that today's primitive medicine mistakenly calls death. Medical definitions of death have changed several times this century. These definitions are bound to change even more during the next century.
Q Does cryonics conflict with religious beliefs?
A Medical advances that increase the quality and length of our lives are usually embraced by most religions. If life in this world has a purpose and value, then acting to preserve that life by reasonable means is morally valid. Is cryonics a reasonable means? This is a question we must each answer for ourselves. Acceptance of new medical ideas is sometimes slow. There was once a time when many people considered surgery (or even anaesthesia during surgery) to be unreasonable and against God's will. Today we take painless surgery for granted. Cryonics may also require a long time to achieve wide public acceptance. In the meantime we must strive to evaluate cryonics according to its own merits.
Getting on the Internet, either at home or via a library or cybercafé, is a must. The amount of information about cryonics and links about us and other groups will give most of the information you require.
The Prospect of Immortality by Robert Ettinger. This is the book that started the cryonics movement. The entire text is available free on the Internet at the Cryonics Institute web site http://www.cryonics.org
Engines of Creation (Anchor Press, 1986) by K. Eric Drexier (highly recommended)
Unbounding the Future (Morrow, 1991) by K. Eric Drexier with Gail Pergamit
Many Are Cold But Few Are Frozen: A Humanist Looks at Cryonics by Steven B. Harris, M.D.
Will Cryonics Work? Examining The Probabilities by Steven B. Harris, M.D.
Nanosystems (Wiley & Sons, 1992) by K. Eric Drexler, Ph.D.
Drexler K E, Molecular Engineering: An Approach to the Development of General Capabilities for Molecular Manipulation PNAS (USA), 78: 52755278 (1981)
Merkle R C, The Technical Feasibility of Cryonics Medical Hypotheses, 39: 616 (1992)
The Cryobiological Case for Cryonics
A "Realistic" Scenario for Nanotechnological Repair of the Frozen Human Brain
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