April 17, 2017

Dayeon Hwang North Hollywood High School 11th Grade

More often than not, modern medicine cannot cure those suffering from terminal diseases such as cancer, AIDS, etc. The presence of a fatally ill or injured patient in the home can cause great distress among remaining family members. The fear of permanently losing a loved one may lead a minority of grief-stricken individuals able to afford the high expenses to allow cryonics procedures on their deceased kin. Otherwise, the dread of being forever dead can motivate a soon-to-be unresponsive person to do the same.

What is Cryonics?

Cryonics is the preservation of humans pronounced legally dead at extremely low temperatures (~-196°C) in the belief that full restoration of their health will be made possible by advanced medical technology, preferably in the near future. Cryoprotectants are substances used during this cryopreservation of biological tissue to prevent freezing and formation of ice. Cryonics stems from the idea of clinical death being a prognosis rather than a diagnosis of death.

In November of 2016 a 14-year-old girl, known under the alias “JS”, was granted the right to have her body cryogenically preserved following death. Her father, initially opposing the procedure, wrote, “Even if the treatment is successful and [JS] is brought back to life in let’ s say 200 years, she may not find any relative and she might not remember things and she may be left in a desperate situation given that she is only 14 years old and will be in the United States of America.” He has since changed his stance on the situation, stating he “respected the decisions” made by his daughter. JS’s strong will to live is seen in her letter to court: “I have been asked to explain why I want this unusual thing done. I’m only 14 years old and I don’t want to die, but I know I am going to. I think being cryo-preserved gives me a chance to be cured and woken up, even in hundreds of years’ time… I don’t want to be buried underground. I want to live and live longer and I think that in the future they might find a cure for my cancer and wake me up. I want to have this chance. This is my wish.” The emotions trapped in her words are likely shared among all individuals looking to be cryogenically preserved. According to data from 2014, an estimated 1,500 people have arranged for their corpses to be cryopreserved and 250 bodies have already been frozen. Prices normally range anywhere from $30,000 to $200,000, and various institutions, such as Alcor Life Extension Foundation, have been established to further research and offer cryonics procedures.

Michio Kaku, a leading theoretical physicist and and futurist, has shown skepticism on cryonics and its future on a video uploaded to Big Think. In response to an inquiry on the practical application of cryogenics and its potential improvements, Kaku says, “…First of all, if you suddenly freeze the human body, the problem is that ice crystals begin to form inside the cells. As the ice crystals expand they rupture the cells. So in other words, freezing the human body seems to work only superficially…” Kaku is not alone in his thoughts, as cryonics is generally looked on with doubt among the scientific community. Max More, the president of Alcor Life Extension Foundation, has since uploaded his own video criticizing Kaku’s “bogus” critique of cryonics. More says, “…it’s not cryogenics, it’s cryonics. Cryogenics is a much broader term to do with the engineering of low temperatures. Cryonics is the specific term dealing with the low temperature preservation of human beings for future possible revival…[Cells] are more like bags, and they can expand but in fact when we reduce temperature, ice does expand but only by 9% in volume or about 3% in length. That’s pretty much biologically insignificant… what actually happens is the cells would dehydrate. Water leaves the cells, and ice forms between the cells. So it’s true that there will be some ice formation and damage from that to the cells, but it’s not from expansion from within.”


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