When talking about cryonics, one question that inevitably comes up is, “Can I be cryopreserved alive?” It seems like an odd question, though it is somehow understandable. Perhaps some people would rather live in a different time or place compared to our modern world. Maybe they don’t like living through global pandemics, climate change or wars. They might think that things in the future will be different, more exciting, and maybe less chaotic. After all, cryonics is built on the premise that future technology will not only assist in the revival process, but will generally make life much better.
But does that mean that the living, not just the dead, can undergo human cryopreservation? Let’s take a closer look.
Before we answer that question, we need to understand what cryopreservation entails. Simply put, it’s a procedure where patients are placed into biostasis at sub-freezing temperatures through the aid of cryonics. The purpose is to halt the degradation process in order to treat the cause of death, and with the aid of future technologies, revive the patient. It is a life saving emergency medical intervention.
How this procedure works is when a patient is declared legally dead, a standby team (SST) will come to them and begin the process of cryopreservation. It is absolutely essential that a patient who is signed up for this service is first declared legally dead. Otherwise, the standby team cannot perform cryopreservation on them.
It is currently illegal in any country across the globe to start the procedure on a living patient. After all, when you sign a Biostasis contract, you donate your body to scientific research - after death. Cryopreserving someone alive would go against what they signed in the contract. But if, technically speaking, the client wanted to do it anyway... could we?
During the procedure, the team works to cool the patient’s body to low temperatures and reduce ischemic damage to the brain. This is carried out using different interventions such as cardiopulmonary support (CPS), inducing hypothermia as well as administering specific medications. Ischemia is caused by a lack of oxygen following the cessation of the heartbeat. If we did the procedure on a living patient, the risk of ischaemic damage would be greatly reduced - since the heart hasn’t stopped beating.
To lower the core temperature, blood in the body must be replaced with cryoprotectant solutions. These are medical-grade antifreeze designed to prevent the formation of ice crystals by shielding the cell. Ice crystals damage the cell structure, which is why cryopreservation vitrifies patients rather than freezes them. This puts patients in a glass-like state until future revival is possible. In order to achieve this, cryoprotectant solutions are key to cooling the body internally, pausing cellular decay.
Now, these cryoprotectant solutions are toxic in warm temperatures. However, at cryogenic temperatures, they aren’t. This is why when the patient’s body is cooled down, the standby team will administer these cryoprotectant solutions slowly in low quantities, and gradually increase the concentration as the temperature lowers. Imagine then if this was done to a patient who was still alive. By lowering the temperature and replacing the blood with cryoprotectants, metabolic activity is halted completely. The patient would go from being alive to practically dead.
All the while, the patient is being transported to the European Biostasis Foundation (EBF) long-term care storage facility in Rafz, Switzerland. Once there, a patient undergoes cryogenic cool down so that they can be stored indefinitely until future revival. This involves storing patients at a temperature of -196 degrees Celsius.
So, back to our main question, can you actually be cryopreserved while still alive?
Apart from the fact that legally a standby team is not allowed to perform this procedure on the living, the process to vitrify your body would basically kill you in the process! If we were to do this before legal death, that would be considered homicide!
Cryoprotectant solutions at warm temperatures are toxic to the human body. Only at cryogenic temperatures are they not harmful. Despite the toxicity, scientists are working to reduce, counteract and even remove it altogether from cryoprotectant solutions. However, this process will take time, as rewarming is one of the key challenges of cryopreservation.
Although members of cryonics organizations expect to be revived in the future, this is not yet possible. Perhaps, maybe once medical technologies have advanced in the future, cryopreserving the living may be a possibility. However, until revival technology is developed, cryopreserving a living patient would mean certain death.
Cryopreserving the living is a common misconception about cryonics and biostasis. Our services are only meant for the dead so that they might have a chance for a second life in the future. Whatever happens in this lifetime, with cryopreservation comes the possibility of having your diseases treated, and experience the future. But for now, it’s important to continue to live and enjoy your life. You too can benefit from this opportunity. Consider scheduling a call with us to discuss our sign up services and any questions you may have about cryonics. Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram, Discord, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Youtube for updates on Tomorrow Bio.