Common Myths about Cryonics
Cryonics has attracted a huge amount of attention since the concept was first promoted in the late 1960s. Unfortunately, much of the news coverage has been based on misconceptions and statements from "authorities" who lack basic information about the field.
Cryonics patients are frozen
The process of cryonics is quite different than what most people assume to be "straight freezing" like putting something in your freezer at home. The primary difference is a process called vitrification, where over 60% of the water inside cells is replaced with protective chemicals which prevent freezing and ice crystal formation even at cryonic temperatures (approximately -124°C). The objective of cryonics is to slow molecular movement to a practical standstill, effectively preserving cells and tissues indefinitely in their original state.
The chief issue with "straight freezing" is the damage associated with freezing where ice crystal formation could damage tissues, especially sensitive tissues in the brain and nervous system. Vitrification attempts to prevent freezing during deep cooling. Vitrification combined with a carefully controlled cooling sequence has been shown to significantly reduce and even eliminate the structural damage that would occur with a straight freezing process. Scientists have reversibly vitrified blood vessels and a whole kidney has been recovered and transplanted using vitrification.
Cryonics is freezing dead people
Cryonics is about preserving patients until science can revive them to health using what we predict will be a combination of advanced medical procedures and nanotechnology. The distinction is the definition of clinical death. A critical care expert writing for the American College of Surgeons stated "In this era of critical care, death is more a process than an event … a prognosis of death … cannot serve as a diagnosis."
Even after what conventional medicine diagnoses as "death" (the heartbeat stops) normal life processes continue in the brain, cells and tissues of a body. These cells and tissues slowly cease to function and eventually begin the process of decay due to a lack of oxygenated blood from the heart. Cryonics seeks to stop this process immediately after the heart stops beating in order to maintain and preserve these still-viable cells, tissues and organs, particularly the brain, (which many cryonicists believe is the key to a person's individuality) in the hopes of restoring full functionality in the future.
CI uses medical life support equipment to continue blood circulation and oxygenating the lungs in order to maintain the viability of the tissues and organs during the initial cooldown process. Many people are surprised to see the initial cooldown (or "standby") process in cryonics is remarkably similar to standard emergency procedures for a cardiac arrest, including assisted breathing apparatus and heart compression equipment. We don't put in this effort for a "dead person," but for a patient we feel is in the first stages of the dying process who can be stabilized indefinitely and eventually saved.
In our opinion, death is a process that isn't inevitable or irreversible if it can be stopped in time and the patient stabilized at cryonic temperatures until science can revive them.
Cryonics is the belief that dead people can be revived
Cryonics is in no way advocating that long-dead individuals can be miraculously restored to life. A cryonics patient is someone who has been given very specialized care and procedures immediately after their heartbeat stops, which is the modern definition of clinical death.
In every century, death has been more or less defined as a state where current medical technology can no longer help the patient. In many instances, patients today are successfully revived from states we consider "critical" but not "dead" that were hopelessly untreatable in the past. People's hearts are started again with defibrillators. People who are unconscious and have stopped breathing can be revived by accurately diagnosing their condition and applying techniques and equipment to rectify it. There are also blood transfusions, organ transplants, corrective surgery and uncountable other procedures undreamt of even 100 years ago.
It seems logical 100 or more years from now medical professionals will have access to techniques and equipment we can only dream about today.
Timing is the essential element for cryonics, as we aim to preserve the person in the initial stages of the dying process while there is still time to reverse their condition. In our opinion, cryonics patients are considered "dead" only by the definition of current medicine's inability to help them. In our opinion, many conditions that are beyond the help of today’s medical knowledge and technology will, in fact, be overcome in the future. Therefore, our goal is to preserve that patient in as perfect a state as possible so that future doctors can get to work on a patient put into suspension decades ago as if he or she had just been admitted to the ER that moment.
Thus, a cryonics patient is exactly that - a patient suffering a critical condition in immediate need of medical attention to be saved. Timing is only difference between a cryonics patient waiting in indefinite suspension to be seen by the doctors of the future and a person admitted into the ER for a terminal condition today.
Experts say cryonics can’t work
The typical case against cryonics is a Burden of Proof argument that "it can’t work because you haven't successfully revived a patient yet." We may not have the technology to revive patients today, but we do believe future science will be able to overcome the limitations of today’s understanding and technology. Our premise is not that successful cryonics revivals are now an indisputable fact, but rather that current evidence and technology strongly suggests revival will be possible in the foreseeable future. We fully recognize that if society had the technology to reverse many of the conditions our patients are in today, most of them would never have had to be placed in cryostasis to begin with.
In fact, very few people have the necessary expertise across a range of disciplines to properly assess the viability of cryonics. For example, very few scientists even know what vitrification is. Fewer still know that vitrification can preserve cell structure of whole organs or whole brains. Certainly, the average physician knows little or nothing about the scientific basis for cryonics. And "experts" have no advantage in predicting future technological advances. The "experts" have undersold the future time and time again. The leading "experts" of their time predicted that heavier than air flight, and even widespread use of computers would never happen.
Until a theory is proven as irrefutable fact , (i.e. it is hard to dispute heavier-than-air flight from the passenger seat of an airplane) there will be proponents for and against any argument. Many respected scientists and cryobiologists agree with the theory, and many do not. However, no one has proven indisputably that the theory will not work, so despite statements to the contrary, the viability of cryonics remains an open debate and not a settled question.
Reputable scientists and physicians don't support cryonics
Many reputable scientists and physicians do support cryonics - and many don't. However, the lack of an active and public endorsement of cryonics is not the same thing as rejecting the theory. Many scientists simply aren't willing to take the time and energy to research the subject in great enough detail to form an educated opinion, much less make public announcements endorsing or disputing the theory.
Like any theory, there will be credible and respected proponents on both sides of the argument. However, in the case of cryonics, there is also hesitation on the part of some scientists, especially cryobiologists, to publicly endorse the subject, in part, because of sensationalist reporting on cryonics in the past. Another fear is that cryonics reporting will overshadow their more mainstream achievements and goals like organ preservation and reproductive biology.
It is also worth noting that many scientists are ill-informed on the subject and reject the theory out of hand without taking the time to research the facts and scientific arguments in order to make an accurate and informed judgement. Scientists often focus on very specific fields of study, and as a theory covering many areas of specialization, cryonics can be difficult to assess from the limited viewpoint of a single discipline.
For an example of scientists and researchers who have publicly endorsed cryonics, please see the Scientist's Open Letter on Cryonics, signed by over 60 prominent scientists in fields including physics, physiology, neural cryobiology and more.
Cryonics preserves "Frozen Heads"
What is referred to as "Neuro,"or head-only suspensions are, in fact, available in the cryonics industry today, but you won't find that option at CI. CI is interested in preserving people and our policy is full-body preservations only so our patients can be revived whole and complete in the future.
The argument for head-only suspensions is that the brain is the only truly critical organ for preservation, as it is the source of a person's memories and identity. Following this reasoning, it is assumed that a head-only vitrification can be done more quickly and that long-term liquid nitrogen storage of a head is more efficient than a full body.
We agree that the brain is a critical organ, and our vitrification process perfuses the head and body simultaneously so there is no appreciable advantage to perfusing only the head and discarding the body in terms of time or effectiveness. We simply feel it is our duty to preserve the whole person, not just the head.
To argue against the economy-savings of head-only storage, CI’s prices for full-body suspensions are actually less than the neuro-only option at competing companies. This is because CI's philosophy from the beginning has been to offer the highest-quality cryonic suspension services to our members at affordable prices.
Cryonics is only for the super-wealthy
Good news: you heard wrong! With CI, the minimum fee for cryopreservation at CI (which includes vitrification perfusion and long term storage) is $28,000 — a one-time fee, due at time of death. And though the fee can be paid in cash, usually a member has a life insurance policy made that pays the amount to CI upon death. The availability of a cryonics team ("Standby") to perform rapid cooling and cardiopulmonary support upon pronouncement of death can sometimes be paid for by a larger life insurance policy.
You get what you pay for in Cryonics
Prices vary greatly. CI has by far the most affordable prices of any cryonics organization. Our procedures are very cost-conscious, but they are based on thorough experimentation and professional evaluation. In our judgment, we believe that the procedures and equipment we use give our patients the best chance of recovery at the best price in the industry. We don't cut corners on our procedures, vitrification solutions or equipment, but we do our best to insure we aren't overpaying for what we need to provide the highest-grade suspensions available. Our resources are focused on providing optimal cryopresevations and long-term storage, not on salaries, overly expensive facilities or other "frills" we consider secondary to our primary mission.
We think a prospective member should shop around. Prices with other organizations can be as much as $200,000 or more for whole body cryopreservation and $80,000 for the "neuro" (head-only) option, which we believe is unnecessary and much more costly than CI’s full-body suspension. See The CI Advantage for a more detailed comparison of cryonics companies.
Cryonics conflicts with religion
CI has members from many religious faiths all over the world, pointing out the life-affirming nature of cryonics.
We view cryonics as simply another life-saving medical procedure, which is consistent with pro-life principles espoused by both medicine and religion. Our goal is not to "bring the dead back to life," (see number 3 above) it is to preserve people in what we consider to be a critical condition until medical technology can cure them. People often die from reversible conditions like a heart attack, simply because they don't receive appropriate emergency care quickly enough. Cryonics seeks to extend that window of time indefinitely to insure our patients can eventually receive the care and attention they need no matter how long it takes science to "catch up."
Cryonics cools the patient to a point where molecular motion stops for all practical purposes, stopping the dying process of the individual cells and keeping the body in a state of indefinite preservation. Patients in this state could be considered as being in a deep coma - a condition we believe will be reversible by future technologies.
Cryonics is a scam or rip off
CI is non profit and as such its books are open to public scrutiny. Our organization is run by and for our members. Our Board and officers provide their often expert services on a volunteer basis. We do not make money from cryonics - and we don't want to. We want to improve the chances of revival for ourselves and our families.
The Cryonics Institute's mission is to keep patients in indefinite suspension until science can find a way to revive them, not to get rich. Our members and patients (including Robert Ettinger, the Father of Cryonics and members of his family) believe this will come to pass and that we will all get a second chance at life. However, science currently does not have the means to revive these patients, which gives rise to the accusation this is all a scam or ripoff. On the contrary, no one at CI profits from the organization or the members' dues. We have just two full-time employees and the rest of our Board of Directors and management team contribute their professional experience and time on a strictly volunteer basis. Monies collected are used to maintain operations and keep our patients in safe, stable and indefinite suspension until the time comes that they can be successfully revived. A bulk of those costs include the expense of liquid nitrogen, which needs to be replenished on a regular basis. Additionally, we keep our expenses to a minimum in order to make cryostasis as affordable as possible for our members and to maintain operations for as long into the future as it takes for successful revival.
As far as revival, our members and patients are fully aware there is no absolute guarantee or conclusive proof that this grand experiment will work - yet. This is what we are all counting on - that science will eventually find the means for revival and that we will all get a second chance at life.