In this article, I’m sharing with you my reading notes.
This is the fourth article about the book. The other articles about it can be read here.
Cryonics: A tumultuous start
The book is meant to be exhaustive and transparent; it looks at the failures of cryonics.
What is it all about? The goal of cryonics is to preserve bodies at low temperatures; the first tests were conducted in the 60s. The pioneers of a field, often start almost clandestinely and endowed with minimal means. They must clear a new territory. The pioneers of cryonics remind me of the scientists who undertook the dissection of bodies in the Middle Ages; the macabre practice was frowned upon. Practitioners lacked tools and experience, but their attempts led to the establishment of a great deal of anatomical knowledge. Dissection is now common and almost systematic practice in developed countries in cases of death of unnatural cause.
Cryonics has had some failures, it is a fact acknowledged by cryonicists. There have been several cases where cryopreserved bodies have had to be thawed to finally be buried, because of technical but mostly financial problems. Indeed, how to secure the cryopreservation of a body for tens, if not hundreds of years to come?
The more innovative a domain, the less it can rely on standardized procedures and the more it will depend on the willingness and expertise of passionate individuals. Cryonics is no exception. As a field matures, it will develop standardizations and codified procedures that will take over improvisation. If cryonics is far from mature, the book ensures that the practice is much more robust than it was in the beginnings and has now accumulated decades of experience.
I still have more than 400 pages of the book to read; I am sure that the book will teach us more about the modern ways of the cryopreservation chain and future prospects for resuscitation.
Cryobiology / Cryonics conflict
The book continues the chapter on the History of cryonics with the antagonisms between cryonics and cryobiology.
Cryobiology is the branch of biology that studies the effects of low temperatures on living things within Earth’s cryosphere or in science. In practice, cryobiology is the study of biological material or systems at temperatures below normal. Materials or systems studied may include proteins, cells, tissues, organs, or whole organisms. Temperatures may range from moderately hypothermic conditions to cryogenic temperatures.
Cryonics is the low-temperature preservation (usually at −196°C) of people who cannot be sustained by contemporary medicine or services, with the hope that resuscitation and restoration to full health may be possible in the far future.
If cryobiology is an established science, it isn’t the case for cryonics yet. Cryobiology research has led to advances in organ preservation for transplantation.
Cryonicists are now more a support group for research than anything else. They need cryobiologists to carry out their project, and a spontaneous synergy should have developed between cryonicists and cryobiologists as was the case in other disciplines. The book cites the case of foundations, which like the “American Paralysis Cure Foundation” have been able to synergize with the scientific body to organize research fundraising.
This was not the case for cryonics, against which cryobiologists eventually entered in “war” – this is the term used in the book – in the late 70s, early 80s.
The reasons for this antagonism are many, and we can welcome the transparency and honesty of the author of the chapter Michael Darwin who draws a chronology of the deterioration of relations between cryonicists and cryobiologists. Cryobiologists have some reasons to distance themselves from cryonics; we can deplore their lack of audacity; some of these reasons are nonetheless understandable.
Among these reasons, here are the most notable:
- Death and the cooling process cause irreversible damages.
Cryonicists have many counter arguments about this. The resuscitation process should not be considered in the light of our current technological capabilities, but in the light of the technological capabilities of a future where molecular nanotechnology will be mastered. The book later explores these potential future means of reparation.
- The fear of being publicly associated with what some cryobiologists call pseudo-science.
- The fear that the tumultuous history of cryonics, has repercussions on the field of cryobiology.
- The fact that cryonics is not confined to research alone, but that it freezes patients with imperfect techniques that have not been proven.
This last point is crucial, the hostility of the scientific body would have been less if the cryonicists had restrained their experiments to research only.
But cryonics is not only a matter of science, it is also an extraordinary act of individual faith, a change of mental paradigm, a leap to the unknown. If cryonicists are interested in science and technology, if they are ardent champions of scientific research and have prominent scientists in their ranks, the unprovable nature of their objective clashes with the procedures of bona fide science. This is after all not surprising.
Cryonics has evolved since its inception. It has become more professional. The cryonicists do not hesitate to confront cryobiologists on the scientific basis of their own discipline. The stumbling block of the debate concerns the damage caused by the cooling process. Cryobiologists argue that this damage is irreversible, the cryonicists are more nuanced.
The book will come back in more detail on the vitrification process.
Is the current impossibility of performing the cryosuspension / resuscitation cycle sufficient reason for inaction? Cryonicists clearly don’t think so, especially since the risk for the volunteer is null! What can a deceased person lose? Its life has come to an end; between cremation and decay, it has everything to gain by betting on future resuscitation!
The war between cryonicists and cryobiologists does not ultimately benefit either party, this is the conclusion drawn by the book. For cryonicists, the consequence is the difficulty of access to the scientific apparatus. For cryobiologists, it is the self-amputation of the most epic dimension of their discipline: the suspension of human life, which results in a drop in visibility and capital from intrepid financiers looking for solutions that can change the world!
Note: This summary of the history of cryonics is based on an article published in the 90s. It does not specify if things have changed since.
How to finance decades or centuries of cryosuspension?
As mentioned above, one of the major factors in the failure of cryopreservation was often the financial aspect.
It was customary for the first cryonics patients to have their cryosuspension maintained by their loved ones still alive. This system simply could not work in the long run. How to ensure that the descendants would continue to maintain the preservation of a person they had never known? How to maintain motivation? How to ensure the sufficient disposal of funds?
Alcor, solved the problem by creating a dedicated trust to their patients.
A trust is a legal device in which property is held by one person (the trustee) for the benefit of another (the beneficiary). The person who sets up the trust is called the settlor. The property that is held in trust is known as the corpus or trust fund.- Brown , Byers, Lawler, Business Law (Macmillan /McGraw-Hill , Seventh Edition, 1989).
The patient wishing to be cryopreserved pays a certain amount to Alcor; this sum is not allocated to the preservation of the particular patient but placed in a common trust. It is the income generated by the investments of this trust that will then be used to take care of all Alcor patients.
This trust is a legal entity in its own right, which protects it from any claim and use other than that for which it was designed to: the cryo-patients’ preservation financing.
To give you an idea of the size of this trust, it had more than $ 16 million in December 2017, the majority of which is invested in the Morgan Stanley investment bank.
In 1999, the irrevocable definition of the Trust was approved: no member of Alcor can cancel the Trust until its mission is fulfilled: “Preserve all patients in a state of cryopreservation until they can be repaired and revived “…. which ensures the sustainability of the Trust for decades, even centuries to come.
We imagine the legal difficulties faced by the team of Alcor and their lawyers, to ensure the rights of legally deceased persons!
To learn more about the trust: http://alcor.org/AboutAlcor/patientcaretrustfund.html
The Alcor’s Trust montage to ensures the sustainability of its funds seems robust. Year after year the capital of the Trust is increasing and never, to this day, have they been forced to withdraw the funds placed in Morgan Stanley Bank.