Cryonics In the course of the Pandemic – The New York Instances

When an 87-year-old Californian man was wheeled into an working room simply outdoors Phoenix final 12 months, the pandemic was at its top and medical protocols had been being upended throughout the nation.

A case like his would usually have required 14 or extra baggage of fluids to be pumped into him, however now that posed an issue.

Had he been contaminated with the coronavirus, tiny aerosol droplets might have escaped and contaminated employees, so the working crew had adopted new procedures that lowered the effectiveness of the remedy however used fewer liquids.

It was an elaborate workaround, particularly contemplating the affected person had been declared legally lifeless greater than a day earlier.

In some cases, Covid-19 precautions have limited the parts of the body that can be pumped full of protective chemicals to curb the damage caused by freezing.

Alcor, which has been in business since 1972, adopted new rules in its operating room last year that restricted the application of its medical-grade antifreeze solution to only the patient’s brain, leaving everything below the neck unprotected.

In the case of the Californian man, things were even worse because he had died without completing the normal legal and financial arrangements with Alcor, so no standby team had been on hand for his death. By the time he arrived at Alcor’s facility, too much time had elapsed for the team to be able to successfully circulate the protective chemicals, even to the brain.

That meant that when the patient was eventually sealed into a sleeping bag and stored in a large thermos-like aluminum vat filled with liquid nitrogen that cooled it to minus 320 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 196 Celsius), ice crystals formed between the cells of his body, poking countless holes in cell membranes.

Max More, the 57-year-old former president of Alcor, said that the damage caused by this patient’s “straight freeze” could probably still be repaired by future scientists, especially if there was only limited damage to the brain, which is often removed and stored alone in what is known in the trade as a “neuro” preservation.

“I have always been signed up for a neuro myself,” Mr. More said. “I don’t really understand why people want to take their broken-down old body with them. In the future it’ll probably be easier to start from scratch and just regenerate the body anyway.”

“The important stuff is up here as far as I am concerned,” he said, pointing to his sandy-blond crop of hair in a Zoom call. “That is where my personality lives and my memories are … all the rest is replaceable.”

“Something like Covid brings home the fact that they are not immortal,” said Mr. Yount, 78, during a recent stint working in the organization’s office in Silicon Valley.

The American Cryonics Society has been offering support services since 1969 but stores its 30 cryopreserved members at another organization, the Cryonics Institute, near Detroit.

Alcor, the most expensive and best-known cryonics company in the United States, said the pandemic forced it to cancel public tours of its Scottsdale operation. It has also been harder to reach clients quickly, both because of travel restrictions and limitations on hospital access.

“Usually we like to get to the hospital beforehand if we have advance notice that the patient is terminal so we can talk to the staff, get to know the layout and how we are going to get the patient out of there as quickly as possible,” said Mr. More, who is now a spokesman for Alcor.

In China, the newest major player in cryonics, the Yinfeng Life Science Research Institute had to stop public visits to its facility in Jinan, the capital of Shandong province, which has made it difficult to recruit clients.

More than 50 years after the first cryopreservations, there are now about 500 people stored in vats around the world, the great majority of them in the United States.

The Cryonics Institute, for instance, holds 206 bodies while Alcor has 182 bodies or neuros of people aged 2 to 101. KrioRus has 80, and there are a handful of others held by smaller operations.

The Chinese performed their first cryopreservation in 2017, and Yinfeng’s storage vats hold only a dozen clients. But Aaron Drake, the clinical director of the company, who moved to China after seven years as head of Alcor’s medical response team, noted that it took Alcor more than three times as long to reach that number of preserved bodies.

Yinfeng has priced itself at the top of the market alongside Alcor, which charges $200,000 to handle a whole body and $80,000 for a neuro.

Alcor has the largest number of people who have committed to paying its fees: 1,385, from 34 countries. (Fees are often funded with life insurance policies.) The Chinese have about 60 customers who have committed, while KrioRus said it has recruited 400 customers from 20 countries.

The Cryonics Institute has a different business model, charging basic fees as low as $28,000 with up to $60,000 more required if the members want transport and rapid “standby” teams like Alcor’s.

KrioRus is even cheaper, although it plans to raise its fees when it completes its current move from a corrugated metal warehouse 30 miles northeast of Moscow to a much larger facility being built in Tver, 105 miles northwest of the capital.

Alcor’s fees are so much higher mostly because the company places $115,000 of its “whole body” fee in a trust to guarantee future care of its patients, such as topping up the liquid nitrogen. That trust is managed by Morgan Stanley and is now worth more than $15 million.

Mr. Drake said he believes the Chinese are “hopeful that they will be able to outpace the American companies and they have built a program capable of doing that.”

The strongest reason for believing China will come to dominate the field is not just its population of 1.4 billion people but its domestic attitude toward cryopreservation. Far from being confined to the scientific fringe, Yinfeng is the only cryonics group that is supported by government and embraced by mainstream researchers.

The society’s past president Arthur Rowe wrote that “believing cryonics could reanimate somebody who has been frozen is like believing you can turn hamburger back into a cow,” while another past president said the work of cadaver freezers edged more toward “fraud than either faith or science.”

The society has since eased off, and while its formal position is that cryonics “is an act of speculation or hope, not science,” it no longer bans its members from the practice.

Mr. More at Alcor said there is much less hostility from the medical and scientific establishments now than just five years ago, when there was often tension between rapid response teams and hospitals.

“It was quite common for us to show up at a hospital, try to explain what we’re doing and they would say, ‘You want to do what? Not in my hospital you don’t!’” he said.

“They wouldn’t let us in, so we would have to wait outside and it would slow things down, but that just doesn’t happen anymore. Usually the staff have seen one of the documentaries on science channels and they know something about what we do.”

“Typically the reaction now is: ‘Oh, this is fascinating, I’ve never seen this happen.’”

Peter Tsolakides, 71, a former marketing executive for Exxon Mobil and a founder of the Australian start-up Southern Cryonics, said he is grateful that people in the country “tend to have an open mind about new things.”

“I don’t think any public resistance will crop up here, and the state department of health has been really positive and helpful,” he said.

An important difference between Yinfeng and most other operators is the Chinese firm’s greater willingness to preserve people who die without having expressed any interest in being put on ice.

This is seen as an important ethical question in the West, given that it could come as quite a shock for somebody to die, perhaps after coming to peace with their fate, only to wake up blinking at the ceiling lights of a laboratory a few decades or centuries later.

“We don’t like to take third-party cases,” Mr. More said. “If someone phones up and says, ‘Uncle Fred is dying, I want to get him cryopreserved,’ we need to ask a bunch of questions before we even consider accepting that case.”

“Is there any evidence that Uncle Fred actually was interested in being cryopreserved? Because if not, we don’t want to do it. Are there any family members who are really opposed to it? Because we don’t want to have to go into a legal battle.”

The litigious bent in the United States make its cryonics firms especially twitchy. There have been many lawsuits by relatives of the deceased trying to stop the expensive cryonics procedure.

“You have relatives who think, ‘Now you’re dead, I can overrule your wishes and just take your money,’” Mr. More said. “It’s amazing how often people try to do that.”

Men outnumber women by almost three to one among Alcor’s clients, and the imbalance is even greater among people registered with the Australian start-up. But there is an almost even gender balance among KrioRus’s 80 patients.

“That is because of a cultural situation here in Russia,” Ms. Udalova said from her office in northern Moscow.

“Our clients are mostly men, but they often cryopreserve their mothers first, because Russian men are brought up only by their mothers.”

When those male clients eventually join their mothers in the firm’s metal vats, the gender balance will likely tip toward more men, she said.

The Chinese, like the Russian men who want to embark on any new life with their mothers by their side, are also baffled by the tendency of American men to plan a solo journey into the future.

“In the States you get some family members signing up together, but you get a lot more individuals signing themselves up and the Chinese don’t really get that,” Mr. Drake said.

“I think in almost all the cases in China so far, you’ve had a family member signing up their loved one who is near death.”

If waking up alone in the future does not appeal, there is a growing trend in the United States of people paying tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to cryopreserve their pets, with the cost based largely on the animal’s size.

“If you want us to do your horse it is going to be different from your cat’s brain,” Mr. More said. “We seem to be having more pets than humans at the moment, and that’s fine with dogs but it’s kind of tricky for cats and anything smaller because of their tiny blood vessels.”

“If you want to store a whole big dog, that’s going to cost about as much as a human because of its size. My wife and I had our dog Oscar cryopreserved. He was a large golden doodle, but we basically just had his brain stored to make it more affordable because I’m in neuro anyway.”

In Russia, KrioRus’s preserved cats and dogs have been joined by five hamsters, two rabbits and a chinchilla.

To smooth the jolt of trying to resume life in the future, most cryonics firms offer to store keepsakes, “memory books” and digital discs to help a revived patient rebuild memories or simply cope with nostalgia. Alcor uses a salt mine in Kansas for storage and is also working on options for putting money into a personal trust to finance a future life.

A final edge the Chinese cryonicists enjoy is a more accommodating cultural environment, as Western religions tend to be more focused on the concepts of heaven and hell, and the body and brains being merely the repositories of an eternal soul rather than machines that can be switched off and on.

Mr. More, for one, has little patience with religious critics of cryonics. “Where in the Bible or the Quran, or the Bhagavad Gita does it say, ‘Thou shalt not do cryonics’? It doesn’t. In fact in the Bible there are some people living for centuries.”

“Remember,” he added, “we are not talking about letting people live forever, just maybe a few hundred years more, and that’s nothing compared to eternity.”

When Christians complain that they would not like to be dragged back from heaven by having their body revived, Mr. More reminds them that they may be traveling from the other direction.

“Are you sure you’re not going downstairs?” he asks. “And if so, don’t you want an escape clause? Cryonics might give you a chance to come back and do some good works so you will have a better chance of getting to heaven.”

Ms. Udalova in Moscow said some of her clients cover their bases by opting for both cryonics and a church funeral.

“Russian priests always agree to do the religious service,” she said. “You just have dry ice in the coffin in the church.”

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