By Roop Kunwar Singh
Okay, before you read any further, I want you to close your eyes and ask yourself- ‘What is my biggest fear? Since, this is very much a monologue and you don’t have to post your answer on facebook or tweet it, I would request you to keep away from those pseudo-moral and politically correct answers and for a change, be honest with yourself. As far as I believe, we all share that one common fear- that one horror which haunts all of us. We fear our mortality. We fear that one day everything will come to an abrupt end. We fear DEATH. But what if I were to tell you that you can substitute death with a transient hibernation (No, I am not one of those Austin Power fanatics. As a matter of fact I haven’t even seen the movie). What I am referring to is the perplexing science of CRYONICS.
In a nutshell, Cryonics refers to the preservation of humans, who are legally dead (their heart has stopped beating) but yet not absolutely dead (all their brain functions haven’t ceased). The subjects are preserved at a very low temperature with the hope of reviving them when such technology has come into being, which could help sustain them. Cryonics is based on the study of Cryogenics (study of what happens to materials at really low temperature) and is centered around the belief that ‘Death is not an event but a process’.
It is a scientific fact that after the heart stops beating, there is a short span of time before the activities of the brain come to a halt. It is during this window of opportunity that Cryonics comes to forth. The subject’s body is cooled down and pumped with oxygen so as to delay the cessation of brain functions. Post this, begins the process of Vitrification i.e. deep cooling without freezing.
An anti-coagulant (usually Heparin) is injected to prevent blood from clotting. Then the water in the cells is replaced with Cryoprotectant (Anti-freezer), which is the most crucial element of the process. If the procedure is carried out without substituting Cryoprotectant, it would lead to frosting of the organs. Once this is done, the subjects are allowed to cool on a bed of dry ice until temperature reaches -1300C (-2020F) and finally the body is stored head down.
There are a handful of institutions (generally non-profit), providing Cryonic services including Alcor Life Extension, The American Cryonics Society and Cryonics Institute. More than 100 subjects are lying preserved as if now including baseball legend Ted Williams and more than 1000 people around the world have subscribed to avail these services.
One question must be arising in your mind- ‘Has anyone been recovered from this state of Neuro-suspension(state in which the subjects are stored)?’. To answer precisely-No. Then why believe in cryonics? Why live in hope of revival of those preserved when they might be as good as dead?
Well let me put it this way- 100 years ago, those who suffered from cardiac arrest were deemed to be irrecoverable but today, patients are being cured and restored to a healthy life on daily basis. One might argue that cryonics is a concept far away from cardiac arrest. So, let me put forth a much more relatable annotation There have been numerable instances of humans surviving cessation of brain activity due to Hypothermia (body temperature falling below the point required for metabolism). People have been revived from temperature as low as 130C, that too without being preserved in a sophisticated system. Added to that, the exuberantly rapid advances in the field of Nano-technology have given such a profound boost to this study that 62 scientists have come out with an open letter expressing their conviction in cryonics.
Okay, now let us leave the feasibility aspect out and assuming that extension of life through cryonics will one day be available to humankind, see through the moral and demographic aspects of cryonics. If we talk in the most basic terms, Cryonics is nothing but a scientifically wrapped term for the age old quest for immortality. Man has always been enticed by the prospect of living forever. But it is an established fact that we seldom realize the implications of our desires. Is it really correct to spend our already insufficient resources on someone suffering from a fatal and chronic disorder and has probably already lived a full life, while millions of children are looming under the shades of hunger and poverty? And how will it impact the already exploding population? And above all, won’t meddling with death be our ultimate act of defiance towards nature? You and I are probably too juvenile to answer these questions.
For now, all we can ruminate upon is- ‘DO I WANT TO BE CRYONI-fied?’