At this facility, the Alcor Life Extension Foundation has cryopreserved the heads and bodies of 224 people in the hopes of being revived at a later time. On their website, the non-profit organization Alcor states that their mission is to “restore good health with medical technology in the future” through the preservation of bodies at temperatures below freezing. Liliana Salgado of Reuters
writes that the heads and bodies of approximately 100 preserved pets as well as the so-called “patients” of humanity are crammed into cylindrical tanks filled with liquid nitrogen by the foundation.
Some of the patients had terminal illnesses like cancer or ALS, for which there is currently no treatment. According to Reuters, Max More, a former CEO of Alcor and current ambassador and president emeritus of the foundation, advances in medical science and technology cannot prolong the lives of individuals who are close to death.
“We’re saying give them to us instead of just disposing of the patient,” More says to Reuters. “We’re going to keep them stable, prevent them from getting worse, and keep them in place for however long it takes for technology to catch up so they can recover and live on.”
Peter Wilson reported for the New York Times last year that a number of medical and legal professionals have long been dubious about—or even hostile toward—human cryopreservation. Neuroscientist Clive Coen of King’s College London, England, describes cryonics as “a hopeless aspiration that reveals an appalling ignorance of biology” to Laurie Clarke of the MIT Technology Review.
However, according to Alcor’s website, for those who take part, the cryopreservation procedure starts as soon as a person is pronounced legally dead. Their organs are still viable as of right now. Reacting swiftly, the patient is transferred to an ice bath and their blood is replaced with an organ-preserving solution by a cryonics team that has typically been on standby, waiting for their death for up to a week.
However, according to Alcor’s website, for those who take part, the cryopreservation procedure starts as soon as a person is pronounced legally dead. Their organs are still viable as of right now. Reacting swiftly, the patient is transferred to an ice bath and their blood is replaced with an organ-preserving solution by a cryonics team that has typically been on standby, waiting for their death for up to a week. The team injects cryoprotectants—chemicals that stop ice crystals from forming and damaging organs—into the patient’s circulation as soon as they get to Alcor’s Arizona facility. Alcor uses liquid nitrogen to store the body’s heat after it has been cooled to minus 320.8 degrees Fahrenheit.
The catch is that no cryonics organization is aware of how to restore life to its patients who have been preserved. On its website, Alcor states that a non-profit “confidence revival may be possible.”
Alcor was established in 1972, and in 1976 it successfully cryopreserved a human being. However, nearly ten years earlier, in 1967, psychologist James H. Bedford, then 73 years old, passed away from kidney cancer, making him the first person to ever be frozen in this manner. According to a 1997 article in The New York Times Magazine, Bedford’s body was placed on ice and processed by “experts from the Cryonics Society of California.” Since then, Bedford’s body has been frozen, and it is currently resting in one of Alcor’s tanks.
According to Reuters, two-year-old Matheryn Naovaratpong, a Thai girl with brain cancer, is the youngest patient at Alcor. She was cryopreserved in 2015.
More tells the publication, “She had multiple brain surgeries, and both of her parents were doctors.” Unfortunately, nothing was successful. They thus got in touch with us.
Among the other patients at the facility are baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams, who passed away in 2002 from complications related to heart disease, and software developer and Bitcoin pioneer Hal Finney, who passed away in 2014 from ALS. According to Reuters, the cost of cryopreservation at Alcor for a full body is at least $200,000, and the cost to preserve a single brain is $80,000.
Cryonics proponents are optimistic despite the lack of evidence supporting the efficacy of human cryopreservation, pointing to scientific advancements that allow for the successful cryopreservation and thawing of sperm, embryo, and stem cells, according to the MIT Technology Review. In 2016, researchers at 21st Century Medicine cryopreserved and thawed a rabbit brain without causing structural damage, Aaron Frank wrote for Vice
at the time.
However, Coen tells MIT Technology Review that it is “disingenuous” to suggest that these findings could be applied to human cryonics because the structures of the human brain are too complicated for this to be feasible.
According to Reuters, Arthur Caplan, the director of the medical ethics department at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, has not seen any mainstream medical experts support cryonics.
Caplan tells Reuters, “This idea of freezing ourselves into the future is pretty science-fiction, and it’s naive.” “Those who specialize in studying the distant future or those with a vested interest in having you pay the money to do it are the only groups… getting excited about the possibility.”