Cryonics – the practice of freezing people after death in the hope that technology will advance sufficiently to rejuvenate them in the future – is a technology immersed in science fiction.
It is easy to forget that around the world there are several thousand people frozen in liquid nitrogen, who took the decision in the hope that one day they will be awoken. But a documentary film recently posted online has cast a light on the process, by going inside one of the largest cryonic organisations in the world.
The film, We Will Live Again, is made by Brooklyn Underground Films and focuses on the Cryonics Institute, where the bodies of almost 100 people are stored ready for reanimation once technology makes it possible.
Rather than being sensationalist or extreme, the filmmakers have portrayed cryonics in a sensitive and personal way, focusing heavily on then president and CEO of the Cryonics Institute, Ben Best.
“Cryonics is another medical procedure as far as I’m concerned. We keep the person in storage as long as necessary,” said Best.
Best, along with many others, believes that the technology to safely unfreeze and restore people back to healthy life will be here by the end of the century.
“I’m thinking that within 50 – 100 years people will start being recovered from this process,” he explained. “People will be rejuvenated to a youthful condition and any of the disease they have cured.”
Great care is taken to ensure that the bodies are frozen and stored in a way that gives them the best chance of living again – the Cryonics Institute website is full of advice for would-be cyronees, funeral directors involved in the preparation and transport of bodies to the institute and other professionals involved in the field.
Autopsies, for example are a clear no-no and the organisation provides information and advice on dealing with this.
Even cryonics enthusiasts are very clear that this is based largely on hope; cryonics is ultimately a technology that banks on scientific innovations that do not yet exist, and enthusiast sites and discussion groups show a clear awareness of this fact.
The technology does have its detractors, though, with some scientists feeling there are a range of issues that will make bringing unfrozen people back from the dead impossible. These include what will happen to memories and the brain in a body this old – it may be that memories can’t be stored this long – and the possibility of damage to cells and organs due to the freezing process, although the freezing process used is designed to keep this to a minimum.
Less discussed is the potential impact on humanity cryonics could have. Although the numbers of people involved are still very small, the price for freezing is within reach of an increasing number of people – the cheapest option offered by the Cryonics Institute is $28,000 – and life insurers are increasingly seeing support for cryonics as a lucrative revenue stream.
If cryonics were to be achieved and large numbers of people made use of it, this could be a serious societal problem; by 2100 the world is predicted to have a population of 11 billion, and more people wouldn’t exactly be a welcome strain on precious resources.
There is also the question of coping with living in a time where everyone you know is dead; in Futurama, Fry was very happy to embrace his new, accidentally acquired life, but cryonees will have planned and imagined how life will be when they wake up.
What if the future doesn’t meet their expectations?