A groupd of British citizens have formed a major network aiming to respond as soon as another dies – and they are paying upwards of £40,000 for the chance of eternal life.
It comes weeks after scientists took a step closer to cryopreservation of humans when they announced that they successfully managed to cryogenically freeze a brain and then revive it.
Experts at US firm 21st Century Medicine (21CM) managed to preserve the brain of a rabbit using a technique known as Aldehyde-stabilized cryopreservation (ASC).
The team, led by recent Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate Robert McIntyre, said it astonishingly proved “near perfect, long-term structural preservation of an intact mammalian brain is achievable.”
What seems to be science fiction looks like it may soon become a reality, but for some it has already started.
Cryonics UK is a charity consisting of “thousands” of members across the UK who have signed up to have their bodies cryogenically preserved once they are dead, with the hope that in the future, when the technology has caught up with the idea, they will be resuscitated.
The organisation is run by its members, for its members.
A community of British cryonicists aid eachother by getting to the scene shortly after or hopefully even before a natural death to begin the process of freezing one of their dead members.
This explanation of what Cryonics UK does comes from its own website: “We are Britain”s volunteer emergency standby team.
“It”s said that a friend will help you move, but a true friend will help you move a body.
“That”s part of what we do.
“If you are dying, we will arrive on the scene with equipment ready to get started as soon as you are clinically dead.”
Once at the scene, the volunteers, who are not medical professionals, get to work.
After the person, who has paid upwards of £40,000 to be preserved after death, is deceased, the voluntary cryonicists face a race against time.
The aim is to cool them down as quickly as possible, as to minimise cell damage after death.
Tim Gibson – who is a student landlord by profession and whose medical history is limited to a stint in the water-sports industry – of the Cryonics UK group walked Express.co.uk through what typically happens once he and a small team have arrived on the scene of the death of a fellow cryonicist: “Once the patient dies, we have to get a pronouncement [from a medical professional] and then we drop them into an ice bath to cool them down, then we put them on life support which is cardiac support and a ventilator.
“Then they get fed with a cocktail of drugs which stabilises their biochemistry, preventing clotting and brain damage through cell destruction.
“Once we get them down to about five degrees celsius – with the basic principle being the colder they are, the less demand they have for metabolic support – we then take them off the ventilator where they will survive for two to three hours without oxygen without any significant effect whereas at room temperature the damage begins after 10 minutes.
“Then you open up the carotid arteries and the jugular veins, you flush all of the blood out the head and replace it with a solution which is best described as anti-freeze.
“You can then drop the temperature below freezing without the water that’s remaining in the body crystallising – so effectively you freeze them solid.
“Then you drop the temperature using dry ice, and it takes about a week to cool them down to proper dry ice temperature which is about minus 78 celsius, they’re then okay to go on a plane.
“So you pack them in a case with a bit of dry ice and semi-seal to let the gasses escape, and stick them on a plane to the US.”
Once in the US, where there are cryopreservation laboratories such as Alcor, the bodies are submerged in nitrogen vapour, where they remain until they are resuscitated – which Mr Gibson describes as “almost foolproof”.
Of their lack of training in the medical industry, Mr Gibson said they have been taught the techniques on how to drain people of their blood, and prep the dead bodies for shipment to the US.
He said: “It’s not that technically complicated. It’s a bit like any medical procedure, once you’ve been shown how to do it, it’s not that difficult.”
So is the aim to live forever?
Mr Gibson, who has signed up to by cryonically frozen, says: “I want to live until I decide not to,” and adds that accepting death is “just self protection,” and referred to dead people as “losers”.
He added: “Because you know that you’re going to die, it’s a bit like accepting defeat, people will say ‘it’s about taking part, not winning’.
“That’s a way of dealing with the fact that you’re a loser.
“Accepting that you’re going to die is dealing with the fact that you’re mortal.
“I don’t have to do that. I don’t have to be a good loser and I don’t have to be a good dyer.
“If you accept that you’re going to die, life becomes meaningless then what’s the point.”
Experts who are not part of the cryonics family are sceptical about the whole ordeal however, claiming that science hasn’t yet proven that these people who have been frozen can be brought back to life.
S. Mitchell Harman, MD and director of the Kronos Longevity Research Institute in Phoenix, is an expert in hormones and ageing, and in 2009 he said of cryonics: “As far as I”m concerned the whole thing is nonsense. It”s a scam.”
Other scientists are more open to the idea.
Dr Michael Fossel in 2009, when he was editor of the Journal of Anti-Aging Medicine, argued that scientists are often sceptical of the future.
Dr Fossel: “All of us agree: You can”t do it today. But we”ve been wrong about lots of things. In the “30s, most reliable scientists would say no if asked, ‘Can you go to the moon?’”
However, maybe in a move to protect itself from doubters, Cryonics UK admits that they too are uncertain about what the future holds.
Their website reads: “You have a choice: you can try it, and maybe live and maybe die. Or you can not try it, and definitely die.”
No one knows for sure when cryonics will become a reality, but with the work at 21CM, it is likely to be made possible before the middle of the century at the latest.
One thing is for sure though: if and when it does take off, it will be a booming business – something Mr Gibson has his reservations about.
He added: “Once you’re able to resuscitate, it’s going to go mental.
“You’ll be able to charge a lot more and it will become a proper industry then because you’ll have so many people.
“We’re not really interested in turning it into a mass market product.
“A lot of people come along and think that it can be and they can change the world, but we’re not really interested.
“We have our own lives to lead, we’re just doing what we’re doing.
“And to be honest, the more people get involved, the more complicated it gets, and the more it’s going to take over your life.
“It’s a bit like with religion which is treated with a certain amount of disrespect, what you really want is for people to understand the way you think, even if they don’t agree with you.
“Not that I want cryonics to sound like a religion.”