By Jim Yount      ;

Cryonics is no longer just the stuff of science fiction

I attended my first meeting of the American Cryonics Society (ACS) in 1972 when it was called the Bay Area Cryonics Society At the meeting, one of the members I met told me the "in-house" cryonics joke:

Question: How do cryonicists start their meetings?

Answer: They start by singing their theme song, "Freeze a Jolly Good Fellow!"

This pun was typical of the light-hearted, almost jovial, attitude many of the "never say die" crowd held concerning this very serious subject. After all, why worry about death when you plan to cheat it with a brief hiatus in the freezer?

Since then, a number of good Men have been frozen, and present-day society meetings, while still jovial at times, have a more studied serious ness. Funeral directors encountering a family desiring this service should be aware of this difference in attitude. When assisting in a cryonics case, funeral directors best serve their clients by accommodating their wishes without either approving or endorsing the practice.

Keep in mind that cryonicists believe post-mortem preparation, freezing and long-term cold storage is a matter of life and death.
This article will provide funeral directors with an overview on cryonics, using a question-and-answer format.

Although the article focuses on the suspension program of the American Cryonics Society (ACS) as an example, other societies have similar plans. In addition, the terms "member," "subject" and "patient" are used interchangeably.

"Cryonics" is being frozen at death, then kept in a freezer until a cure is found, at which time you are thawed and restored to life, right?

Not quite. Even for people frozen by a suspension team waiting by the patient's bed side using our best cryoprotectant perfusates, the amount of damage to the body is very great. This damage occurs because of the illness, a lack of oxygen to body tissues and damage from the freezing process itself.

Because of this, anyone suspended by present technology will require future restoration involving more than just curing the disease from which the person died. In fact, if the suspension was reasonably prompt, the cause of death probably will not matter since any hope of reanimation would require the individual be pretty much re-built! Some advocates think the emerging field of nanotechnology will provide the tools for this awesome task.

When you are dead, you are dead. How can you seriously talk about bringing dead people back to life? Cryonics is just a con game to get money from a lot of old, rich people.

We may be wrong, but we are not insincere and certainly not dishonest. Those advocating cryonic suspension are people desiring the service themselves.

The American Cryonics Society, for example, is a member- run organization where the directors have all made suspension arrangements for themselves. Cryonicists are well-informed, intelligent people who have studied this option in detail and decided they wanted this service.

As for "bringing dead people back to life," if anyone is ever revived then it could be said that the person was never really dead but just had the appearance of death. Cryonicists are content to let people of the future make that distinction.

What conditions of death are considered "hopeless" for purposes of cryonic suspension?

Cryonics advocates anticipate future technical developments might allow restoration of the subjects. We have some ideas what these developments may be, but can not predict when or if anyone frozen today can be reanimated. ACS members decide this question for them selves and provide instructions in their suspension paperwork.

Generally, subjects that have been dead more than a few days, or where most or all of the brain matter is missing, are not suspended. One exception to this is where the member has left instructions to be frozen "regardless of the damage or lime elapsed."

The age of the subject is immaterial, however. Many cryonicists believe that science will unravel the mysteries of why and how we age, and be able to halt or even reverse the aging process long before the first frozen person is reanimated.

Where are frozen bodies kept?

Our patients are placed in insulated containers called cryostats, or capsules, and kept frozen by the periodic addition of liquid nitrogen. The building housing these cryostats is called a Suspension Facility or Long-term Storage Facility. There are only four such facilities in the U.S., and none outside this country.

Is cryonics just for the rich? How much does it cost?

For full-body suspension, the American Cryonics Society recommends members provide $45,000 to $135,000, depending on the plan selected. However, most members simply purchase a life insurance policy and name the American Cryonics Society or a family trust as beneficiary. The premiums for such a life insurance policy are affordable to most people.

Why does cryonics cost so much?

For the more expensive plans, a surgical team per forms an operation equivalent to open-heart surgery which involves as many as two dozen people. This part of the procedure can cost $40,000 or more if the team must remain" on standby" at the bedside of the patient in order to start the suspension just after death.

Most of the cost, however, arises from the need to create a dedicated fund large enough so the interest or income from the fund can pay on-going expenses to keep the member frozen. Readers familiar with cemetery maintenance funding can appreciate the complexity of establishing and maintaining properly funded accounts. Ideally, these investments will yield enough income to not only pay for yearly costs but grow each year, thus adding to the principal as a hedge against possible future "bad" times.

Is there a pre-need enrollment program?

Yes. Because of the timeliness of cryonic suspension and its high cost relative to other options, it is the experience of ACS that unless a person has preneed arrangements, chances are they will not be suspended.

The value of preneed planning for cryonics cannot be over emphasized. People wishing this service should be well informed of the limitations and problems associated with this decision. No cryonics organization wishes to accept a patient whose family does not fully understand the cryonics option, or who can ill afford the expense. When a member chooses cryonic suspension and makes preneed arrangements, they have likely sorted through this complex subject, discussed their decision with relatives and made art informed decision.

Explain the suspension procedure. How can funeral directors assist?

The procedure employed varies greatly depending upon the conditions of death and the preneed choices made by the member. Ideally, we try to retain tissue viability by maintaining blood flow to the body tissues as we cool the body. As the core temperature of the body decreases, less oxygen is needed to maintain tissue viability.

A cryoprotectant-a kind of "antifreeze"-is introduced in increasing concentrations as the temperature falls, helping minimize tissue damage from freezing.

Under some circumstances, the patient may undergo a "field washout" where an extracorporeal circuit is established by cannulating the femoral artery and vein. Sometimes funeral directors assist with cannulation procedures, and we have often found them more adept at cannulation than physicians. The purpose of the field washout is to cool the body quickly by pumping, oxygenating and cooling the blood, and then replacing the blood with a balanced salt solution for further rapid cooling.

There have also been occasions when a cooperating funeral director simply packed the patient in regular ice cubes inside of a watertight shipping coffin before sending the body to a suspension facility.

How many people have been frozen?

Despite 30 years of media attention and various scientific advances, there have only been 70-85 people frozen. This includes "neuro" (head only) and brain-only suspensions. Presently, somewhere between 800 and 1,000 people are enrolled in preneed suspension programs.

If a family inquires about cryonics, how can a funeral director best serve them?

If the inquiry is made on behalf of a family member who has just died, call ACS or another cryonics society immediately because time is of the essence. Although it is unclear how much of a delay is "too long," since possible future repair mechanisms are unknown, the sooner cool-down can commence, the better.

In addition, do not embalm or freeze the body. Instead, pack the body in regular ice cubes or shaved ice to lower the body temperature quickly. Families often need time for extended discussion, and funeral directors should take steps to preserve the biological integrity of the subject. If the family decides not to proceed with cryonic suspension, the cooling procedure causes no harm.

If funeral directors wish to add cryonic suspension to their services, how should they go about it?

The American Cryonics Society as well as The Cryonics Institute, actively encourages funeral directors to participate. Other organizations use funeral directors as well, but often in a more auxiliary manner (See con tact information at right.) In addition, funeral directors licensed to sell life insurance are well suited to assist cryonic suspension clients with estate-planning needs.

Jim Yount is chief operating officer of the American Cryonics Society, has been on the board of governors for more than 20 years, and served as its president in 1994-96.

Previously, Yount established Long Life Insurance Agency and helped pioneer the use of insurance to fund cryonic suspension. Yount is also associate editor of The Immortalist magazine, a cryonics publication.


For additional information about cryonics, contact:

American Cryonics Society, Inc.
P.O. Box 1509
Cupertino, CA 95015
e-mail: Cryonics@AmericanCryonics.org • AmericanCryonics.org

The Cryonics Institute, Inc.
24355 Sorrentino Court
Clinton Township, MI 48035 .586-791-5961
e-mail: Cryonics@cryonics.org • www.cryonics.org

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