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  • Will Sun

Cryopreservation: The Solution to Aging or a Way to Buy More Time?



It's a familiar story that any avid science fiction fan has read: a person freezes their body and wakes up thousands or even millions of years in the future, stranded in an alien and frightening world. While this is far from happening any time soon, the roots of the technology to make cryopreservation a possibility are slowly becoming a reality.


Today, for a fee of 200,000 euros and a monthly membership fee of 25 euros, the biotech company Tomorrow Bio will transport one’s body in dry ice insulation to a facility in Switzerland, where they will freeze the body in liquid nitrogen under temperatures of -196°C [1]. As preservation technology and anatomical knowledge continue to advance, hundreds of new biotech companies are attempting to make cryopreservation, the science of cooling and preserving biological tissue, a reality.


However, as with any new medical technology, there are significant ethical implications raised by the ambiguous and mysterious nature of cryopreservation.


The most obvious questions pertain to the accessibility and costs of cryopreservation. As one company marketed cryopreservation as the chance to “save lives and greatly extend lifespan,” cryopreservation is portrayed as a second chance at life [2]. However, with costs reaching upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars (and even just 80,000 dollars for brain preservation — like a head in a jar), cryopreservation is likely only an option for around 15% of Americans [3].


What gives only wealthy people the right to access potential life-saving technology while the rest are left without? At the same time, even for those who can afford such services, the potential for damages, accidents, and company bankruptcies decreases the stability of cryopreservation, introducing the question of who will pay reparations to whom in those cases. Known cases of body mistreatment and cutting corners further exemplify the uncertain nature of cryopreservation. In fact, one former employee of a cryonics center told a story of how workers used a tuna can to make a cryopreserved head sit upright in a container. When the tuna case froze onto the head, a worker “grabbed a monkey wrench, took a swing at the can . . . [and] sent it flying across the room.” [4]


Surprisingly, one of the biggest qualms about cryopreservation is the simple fact that it is not proven to work. Dr. Channa Jayasena, from Imperial College London, labeled cryopreservation as “science fiction” technology with “risks for the patient” and “no proven benefit.” [5] While current medical technology has succeeded in preserving cells and smaller structures such as embryos, using cooling to preserve an entire human body is impossible.


As such, the devotion of hundreds of gallons of liquid nitrogen, energy, and money to a practice that is not even confirmed raises questions about whether such resources could be put to more pressing issues.


Finally, if cryopreservation becomes a reality, it would fundamentally change the definition of death. Current cryopreservation scientists often refer to dead individuals as being in “a state of deamination.” [6] The concept of preserving a body until possible revival brings up the question of whether death is the cessation of one’s heartbeat, brain activity, and breathing or the destruction of one’s body. Changing the definition of death would create massive ripples in religious groups, scientific communities, and general society.


As companies and scientists continue to advance the science of cryopreservation, there will be increasing questions about its validity, legality, and morality.


Reviewed by Jack Ringel

Design by Heiley Tai


Citations:

  1. Home - tomorrow bio. Home - Tomorrow Bio. (n.d.). https://www.tomorrow.bio/

  2. The Cryonics Institute. (2023, March 19). FAQ. The Cryonics Institute. https://cryonics.org/faq/#:~:text=With%20CI%2C%20the%20minimum%20fee,amount%20to%20CI%20upon%20death.

  3. How many people make over 100K per year?. Zippia. (2023, May 12). https://www.zippia.com/advice/how-many-people-make-over-100k/

  4. CBS Interactive. (2009, October 8). Ted Williams’ Frozen Head abused? CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/ted-williams-frozen-head-abused/

  5. Senthilingam, M. (2016, November 18). What is cryogenic preservation?. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2016/11/18/health/how-cryopreservation-and-cryonics-works/index.html

  6. Cohen, C. (2012). Bioethicists must rethink the concept of death: The idea of brain death is not appropriate for cryopreservation. Clinics, 67(2), 93–94. https://doi.org/10.6061/clinics/2012(02)01

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