With election trauma behind me and turkey recipes in front of me, I needed a little nudge in writing today’s entry, and my friendly neighborhood bloggers suggested Daily Word Prompts of chemical and freeze. Put them together and voila! today’s topic: cryonics.
Get Your Batsh*t Crazy Freezing Definitions Straight
First off, learn the distinction between cryonics, cryogenics, suspended animation. Cryonics is the science of freezing bodies with the hopes of future re-animation, after medical technologies have advanced to reverse aging or cure whatever ailed the body. Cryogenics is the branch of physics dealing with low temperatures. Suspended animation is inducing a cessation of body functions, perhaps through a low metabolic state, that preserves the body over an extended period of time. Suspended animation has been successfully extended to mice for a few hours, but not on anything as big as sheep or pigs, so unless you squeak, this is not a viable option yet.
Cryonics has caught the imagination of scientists in earnest since the 1960s, when cancer-stricken James Bedford became the first to have his body frozen at the Alcor Institute. As Wikipedia points out, there is a lot of positive thinking involved here. It seems like the ultimate merging of faith and science: folks having faith that the crappy science today which can’t cure their disease will nevertheless sustain them into the future at which point they can be revived perfectly well and on they go with their lives.
Cryonics operates under a fundamentally distinct paradigm from suspended animation in that it depends on future technology as part of its premise for working. It is not currently possible to preserve mental capacities and memories by this method and only currently to cells and microorganisms.
On the other hand, they’re dying. What have they got to lose?
Scottsdale, Clinton Township, and Sergiyev Posad
Well, dignity perhaps might be lost. Lots of money. It costs hundreds of thousands to get frozen–though the companies say that life insurance will “easily cover it”–and thousands annually to be maintained. Yet, there are institutes which are deep into the cryonics business, with bodies numbering in the hundreds so far, as a character on TV once said, “stacked like cordwood.” For example, the Cryonics Institute is northeast of Detroit, and KrioRus is in Sergiyev Posad, outside of Moscow. Clinton is near Flint, the town where the government allowed the core water supply to be poisoned.
Alcor, the granddaddy of companies, is in Scottsdale. Alcor was in Riverside, but ran into some legal and storage issues which prompted the move to Arizona. They do seem to prefer locating their refrigeration-based company inside a desert comwhere, which creates cognitive dissonance. Michigan or Russia makes more sense.
The Curious Case of Dora Kent
Then, there was the case of Dora Kent, the 83-year-old mother of an Alcor board member. Dying from pneumonia and Alzheimer’s, Dora was put into the freeze–or at least her head was. A Riverside county coroner who autopsied the body ( I wonder who asked for that!) claimed that Dora had died by a dose of excessive barbiturates administered in the process. Riverside charged Alcor with murder and demanded to examine the head. Alcor refused, staff members were led away in handcuffs, and a SWAT team seized records. The legal wrangle ended with a judgment that the coroner’s office had made a mistake. All charges were dropped, and Alcor won a $90,000 settlement against the Riverside coroner. Then, they moved to Arizona.
Other court cases also ensued, including a famous dispute over whether Ted Williams, the baseball player, wanted to be cremated or frozen. Ted’s son, a cryonics fan, won the case with a handwritten note that’s still disputed. Today, Ted’s head is frozen and awaiting the rosy future.
Jan in the Pan
The website marketing materials of these sites show pictures of young couples embracing on the beach, which is hard to reconcile that with the image of 84-year-old Ted Williams’ frozen head. But a note buried in said marketing press releases starts to reveal the strategy:
Danila Medvedev predicts that the first head transplant will be performed in the near future, resulting in an ailing rich person’s head being transplanted on to a healthy poor person’s body.
–Courtney Weaver, The Daily Mail on Kriorus.ru
Mystery Science Theater 3000 once riffed on the movie The Brain That Woudn’t Die and named the character Jan in the Pan. So, while this seems the stuff of many creepy science fiction stories, the reality is that most of the folks being frozen are wealthy white men. Their faith perhaps is not that the science will cure their disease but instead enable a transplant in the 23rd century into one of the other twenty billion schmucks fighting over water and soylent green. Want to learn more? Operators are standing by!
To quote Freddie Mercury (a little segue from last week’s blog), I don’t particularly want to live forever. Cryonics Institute sounds a little too much like Gizmonics Institute, and I’d rather put my money and faith into life today rather than future re-animation. What also strikes me, as an expert in process design, is the number of failure points when you evaluate the stories and photos.
Do I trust a company that uses so many pipes, ducts, ladders, and old guys to maintain me for untold centuries? How do I feel about the governments of Arizona, Michigan, or Russia in providing the legal or physical infrastructure to keep these enterprises running, when they can’t even keep a nearby town’s water safe? Plus, isn’t the world too populated already–do I really need to be adding to it by wanting to live past my body’s Buy/Sell date?
Some want their corpses to end with a freeze
Some just their head
From what I know about disease
I’d want my corpse to be in freeze
But if ’twas cancer struck me dead
Deny traitor cells the thermostat!
Keep just my brain inside my head
Within a vat
That’s sure to please.
–Kajmeister, “Body or Head?”
PS: The AI of WordPress is upset with me over this story and refuses to get the spacing correct. My apologies. Meantime, look for an early Thanksgiving-related post possibly on the weekend… the Turkey-cookin’ Flowchart!