Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Hot Topic: Cryonics

Death is not a topic that people like to think about, and that is just as true of healthy life extension advocates as anyone else. We have to recognise, however, that the future of healthy life extension (regenerative medicine, stem cell therapies, understanding the biochemical processes of aging, and nanomedicine, to name a few fields) will not arrive soon enough to benefit everyone. Many people are too old, or suffer from other conditions that will kill them before cures can be developed. This is an unpleasant reality that we must face.

Do we just write these people off and forge ahead regardless? Of course not. Instead, we turn to the science and business of cryonics, a serious effort to solve this problem that has been underway since the early 1970s.

...................What is Cryonics?

Cryonics is the only option for life extension open to many older and seriously ill people: those who cannot wait for the promised therapies of the next few decades. It is the science of placing humans and animals into a low-temperature, biologically unchanging state immediately after clinical death, with the expectation that advances in medical technology may eventually enable full restoration to life and health. A small industry of cryonics providers exists to freeze or vitrify your body on death, in the hopes that future scientists (most likely using nanotechnology and nanomedicine) will be able to revive and repair you.

The practice of cryonics is an ongoing medical experiment with an unknown chance of success. Responsible cryonicists understand that cryonic suspension is an educated gamble. The chances are certainly better than zero, however, and as one wag noted, "the control group in this experiment isn't doing so well." By this, he was referring to the vast number of people who are cremated, buried or otherwise interred. The chances of any plausible future science restoring them is zero. Cryonic suspension is, after all, only the second worst thing that can happen to you.
The cryonics community is tightly knit, friendly and supportive. The community, and the industry it supports, have been ever-so-slowly growing since the early 1970s. To find out more about cryonics, you might want to peruse the following locations:

Alcor explains cryonics
Common myths and misunderstandings about cryonics
Cryonics at Wikipedia
The Cryonet community, archives and resources

In addition, an excellent article on the philosophy and practice of cryonics can be found here at the Longevity Meme:

Why Cryosuspension Makes Sense, Part I
Why Cryosuspension Makes Sense, Part II

Cryonics was in the news throughout 2003 and early 2004, largely thanks to the cryopreservation of baseball star Ted Williams and the ensuing high profile family fight over his will. This publicity led to local government efforts to regulate the cryonics industry, first in Michigan and then in Arizona, where the two largest cryonics providers are based. A new cryonics research group made headlines in Florida at the end of 2003, when the cryonics community rallied to try to prevent an unfavorable zoning ruling against the business.
In addition to the publicity, it is becoming clear that backers of cryonics like Saul Kent of the Life Extension Foundation are beginning to put more money and time into pushing the cryonics industry forward into the 21st century. This makes sense for them, based on the arguments I put foward at the top of this page. They have thought long and hard about the likelihood of living long enough to benefit from the technologies of the future, and decided to put more effort into cryonics. One result of this renewed funding is Suspended Animation, a cryonics company that focuses more on research than providing services. Another is the Timeship, an ambitious project to expand the cryonics industry: Visit the Timeship website

You can sign up for cryosuspension fairly easily - both inside and outside the US - through one of the established cryonics providers or cryosuspension groups. You can learn more at the websites for the companies. Alcor is the largest of the providers, has the most comprehensive online information. If you have questions, pick up the phone or e-mail and ask. Company staff will be happy to help.

Alcor Life Extension Foundation
Cryonics Institute

Cryosuspension is expensive, on a par with major surgery, but can be paid for in a cost effective manner through life insurance. You purchase a policy that pays out to the provider on your death and they take it from there. This is far and away the most common payment method for those of us who are not fortunate enough to be wealthy baseball stars.

Visit the Longevity Meme Org site for more info >>

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