In the movie
"Vanilla Sky" the main character, David Ames, played by Tom Cruise,
commits suicide after signing a contract with a company that will
place his body into a cryogenically frozen state. Ames's hope is
that there will come a future in which he could be raised from
to continue a better life thanks to medical
advancements that would be able
to restore his face and fix other severe and crippling injuries
he suffered in an earlier car accident.
The storyline of the movie follows events after the accident,
which in the end turn out to be a dream, part of his 'lucid dream'
of cryogenic awareness. The story is of course based entirely in
fiction, but the subject fueled a long conversation between a
friend and I for an entire evening.
My contention was that if such a thing
were indeed possible, it would be a terrifying experiment with
unthinkable possibilities. I believe, like most, that when you
die and the
electrical activity in your body ceases to exist, you are dead
and nothing aside a miracle by God himself could bring you back
life. It is my belief that at this stage your soul departs the
flesh and blood and ascends to another state, which I suppose would
be heaven (or maybe hell?).
The conversation my friend and I had centered around the possibility
of what might happen if science were able to thaw out a cryogenically
frozen human being who had previously died, then bring that person
back to the land of the living. Assuming their soul has long since
departed, would that person be able to re-exist in any way, or
would the absence of their soul mean that they were now simply
and soggy dead person?
If they could be raised, would this disprove the theory of the
'soul' in the first place? Or how about the possibility that the
person would be alive except no longer with the soul that was the
essence of who they once were. The data in the brain might still
be there, but the morals and conscience of that person could be
gone for good, leaving them as simply a being with no real sense
of right or wrong.
Another possibility we discussed was that maybe that person would
be wrenched back from heaven or hell, a quite ludicrous and disturbing
possibility. While it might be fortunate to be rescued from eternity
if eternity was hell, what if eternity was heaven? Surely to even
contemplate messing around with such a thing is a fool's game?
Is is not at the least a simple waste of time, and at the worst
a grave mistake to tamper in a realm that no amount of exploration
could ever fully explain?
However, despite the fact that hardly any doctor gives the subject
of cryonics any merit, there are still foundations and companies
that specialize in placing humans into cryogenically frozen states,
in much the same way that Ames was frozen in "Vanilla Sky."
The Cryonics Institute in Michigan (formerly known as The Immortalist
Society) specializes in 'life extension' with the tag line, "Your
Last Best Chance For Life--and Your Family's." According to
the the institute's website, for a mere $28,000 you are as soon
after legal death prepared and cooled to a temperature where physical
decay essentially stops. You are then maintained indefinitely in
cryostasis. They go on to say,"When and if future medical
technology allows, our member patients hope to be healed and
revived, and awaken to extended life in youthful good health."
Indeed, the institute's website even goes so far as to offer some
practical advice to the relatives of anyone who has recently died
and needs to be cryogenically frozen:
"IF THE PERSON HAS ALREADY DIED, COOL HIS OR HER HEAD IMMEDIATELY.
PLACE ICE CUBES, OR CRUSHED ICE, OR WATER ICE, IN A PLASTIC BAG,
AND COMPLETELY COVER THE FRONT, TOP, BACK AND SIDES OF THE PERSON'S
A cheaper option might be to turn to the American Cryonics Society
who proudly state that they have been freezing people for more
than three decades with affordable suspension plans that are just
$28 to start. Their website tells the story of some of their 'existing'
clients, complete with pictures of the not yet ready to be dead,
seem to evoke an eery feeling.
"On Friday, May 6, 1994, long-time ACS (American Cryonics
Society) Governor, Dr. Richard P. (Dick) Marsh was pronounced legally
dead and was suspended. Dick had been in poor health for many months
with complications from a heart attack and respiratory problems.
Dick was 81 years old."
"On February 5, long-time cryonicist Jerry White, age 55,
was pronounced dead and was suspended. Jerry (Jerome B.) had been
ill for many months with complications from the AIDS virus."
"Margaret died suddenly and unexpectedly,
by her own hand, in the early morning hours of Monday, January
9. ACS was notified shortly thereafter. I was a member of the ACS
team who went to the coroner's office and packed Margaret's head
in ice. The Medical Examiner released the remains around noon.
Margaret was flown to Rancho Cucamunga and perfused by a team at
BioPreservation. Margaret is now stored at CryoSpan. We at ACS
learned later that Margaret had for years been undergoing treatment
for chronic depression."
The most convincing looking website belonged to The Alcor Life
Extension Foundation, a self proclaimed world leader in cryonics,
cryonics research, and cryonics technology. Interestingly enough,
Alcor's website has a section entitled Cryonics and Religion in
which they explain that "Cryonics is an attempt to preserve
and protect the gift of human life. The purpose of cryonics is
to maintain life, not reverse death. Lack of legal status as a
person does not imply lack of moral status as a person. The spiritual
status of cryonics patients is the same as frozen human embryos,
or unconscious medical patients. When properly examined, cryonics
has been endorsed by both clergy and theologians." Interestingly,
the specific names of any clergy or theologians weren't given.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, at this stage in the field of cryonics
there aren't any great success stories as yet. Indeed one company
specializing in cryogenic life extension has come to the end of
its life before their two frozen customers could be thawed out
to continue theirs.
Established in 1993 the CryoCare Foundation was set up to provide "state-of-the-art" human
cryopreservation. The company's website cites the fact that they "overestimated
the potential growth and profitability of cryonics" as well
the tendency of volunteers and enthusiasts to burn out, as the
reasons for the company's demise.
There is little evidence to suggest that cryonics is going to
be anything more than a last indulgence of a very select few intent
on gambling a small fortune on the promise of a scientific rebirth
into the future when the world would undoubtedly be a vastly different
I am not sure whether I pity or admire those who choose to be
suspended in order to extend their lives. Certainly the possibility
into a future where everyone I loved or cared for had long since
been consigned to history is actually a quite sad prospect. Also
isn't possible that the 'reborns' would
live with a label that could be as damning in the future as it
was to be a minority in the past? Assuming that cryopreservation
is indeed possible and there are no ill effects from spending
maybe hundreds of years in liquid nitrogen, surely your new
life would be a desperately lonely existence.