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Cryonics: The Transhumanist Technology to Expand Lifespan

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Published: Fri, 15 Sep 2017

Olivia Ilono

Abstract

Cryonics is a transhumanist technology that rests on the principle that in the future the lethal diseases that causes most modern deaths would be curable and that the effects of long-term freezing would be reversed. The ‘deceased’ are contained in low-temperature capsules of liquid nitrogen where they will remain until future technology is able to revive them. Some outstanding discovery has occurred that suggests that aldehyde-stabilised cryopreservation (ASC) is the way forward (especially for neuropreservation-conservation of the brain) although it would take some difficulty adapting this method to human brains. There are many ethical issues surrounding cryonics such as concerns of harming the environment, prohibiting donation of organs, being a tool that is against the belief of God and possible risks in the technology leading to the members (awaiting cryopreservation at death) no waiting for a natural death. Although it is unlikely for the technology to be a success, there are still hopes.

Introduction

In the last few decades, there has been an exponential increase in the development and creation of new technology which leaves many optimistic that one day in the near future the power of “revival” could be possible. This idea falls under the concept of the transhumanism movement which connects the different branches of the STEM subjects. The main aim of the transhumanism movement is advancing the human lifestyle and body through incorporating modern and future technologies. One important technology involved in this movement is cryonics.

Cryonics is preserving human bodies (other wised legally dead) at very low temperatures. This technology rests o[DS1] the principle that in the future that the diseases that caused these deaths would be curable and reversing the affects of freezing would be possible.

Overview of subject

How Does Cryonics Work?

Scientists, that involved in carrying out cryopreservation, state that although the person may be pronounced as “legally dead” due to their heart no longer carrying out its main function of pumping blood around the body some of the brains cellular functions last shortly after death.

When the ‘hopeful’ is pronounced as “legally dead”, an emergency team quickly reaches the deceased in order to preserve sufficient function  whilst being taken to the cryopreservation facility the person must be supplied with enough oxygen and blood which is especially necessary for the brain. During transportation, the chemical heparin is injected into the deceased that is stored in ice which stop the blood from clotting. When the ‘decease’ arrive at the cryonics facility, the team must remove all the water from their cells and restore the unbalance with a cryoprotectant. After this they are then able to place the ‘deceased’ in a vessel containing liquid nitrogen (at -195⁰C) without the cells bursting. In order to preserve the ultrastructure, the organs of the must go through a process of vitrification which involves a placing the body in an area of dry ice so that the body can be chilled.

Many scientists that carry out cryopreservation believe that nanotechnology would be able to fix the damage of the brain due to long-term freezing and possibly cure their lethal disease that killed them. Many predict that attempts of unfreezing the cryonauts for revival could happen in the next three decades.

Ethics[DS2]

As one may expect with a technology that essential “revives the dead”, there are many ethical constraints against the technology. One argument against the progress of cryonic storage is that it prohibits the deceased from donating their organs. Some may think that they deprive people in hospitals that are on the long waiting list of receiving these vital organs. Although this is a valid argument it doesn’t address the fact that many people that are legally dead don’t donate their organs even without taking the cryopreservation route. Therefore this argument holds no grounds by which people that opt to be stored under cryonic storage should be scrutinised, as the vast majority of the public which are capable of donating their organs that would definitely be put to no use after their death choose not to donate their organs. In addition, if cryonics will be a success, the “revived” would require these organs for their later life therefore extending the life span and increasing their quality of life which are the reasons many of these patients require these organs.

Another point against cryonics is that is can cause more harm to the environment than common processes of disposing a dead body. Cryonics requires a vast amount of resources (i.e liquid nitrogen) over the future decades which will not be cheap. However, this rests on the failure of cryonics as if it is successful the cryonaut would be revived rather than disposed of therefore cryopreservation is very different to these methods.

If cryonics offers the hope of some day being revived back to life in the distant future, would it be worth suffering pain in this lifetime? This conception is notably the most prevalent ethical issue as it suggests that premature or assisted suicides could be carried out in order to prevent long term suffering from a painful deadly disease as they may view cryonics as a hope or the future. In addition, as collecting and freezing the brain as soon as possible gives rise to higher probability of cryopreservation being successful due to there being less damage to the brain it may be tempting to many to have an early and more organised death in order to increase chances of being revived in the future. This is a very dangerous precaution as the idea that cryonics would be able to ‘bring back the dead’ is very much conditional and it would be morally wrong to end one’s life sooner than anticipated.

Whilst discussing morals, it would be wrong not to address the elephant in the room.  It is unquestionable to state that if the cryonics technology does turn out to be successful it may make many question what death means. As the cryonauts would have been ‘legally dead’ but returned back to life, it clashes with the belief that there is a God and heaven. This therefore would make people less accepting to the concept of God and leaves the question to be asked if it is possible to live forever through the repeated use of this process. However, it may not actually question religious belief as who is s to know if the spirit of the deceased will return as the ‘newly revived’ may retain the memories of cryonaut but a different soul. It would also leave many to wonder where the spirits of the deceased would have been whilst under storage which would make human kind a step closer into answering one of the 4 fundamental questions of life- ‘What happens when I die?’.

The Future of Cryonics

Scientists of the 21st century medicine have been able to recover a rabbit’s brain that was placed under cryopreservation with minimal damage to the brain. Through aldehyde-stabilised cryopreservation (ASC) they were able to preserve the neurones and synapses in the brain which led to the researcher being awarded the Small Mammal Brain Preservation prize. The researchers believe that this technology could be implemented in larger brains as through perfusion the chemicals were able to reach and go through the brains of the rabbit and it is thought that this process could easily be carried out in brains as large as the human brain. Furthermore, by turning the brain into a glassy solid matter they were able to maintain the brains ultrastructure after long-term storage.

However, the team does express that it is less applicable and effective in human brains as the brain banks would only receive these chemicals hours after death which by then there would have been significant damage to the brain making revival less likely. Nevertheless, there is still optimism in carrying this technique in other parts of the human body.

Will cryonics be successful?

This is the important question to answer as observed from what has been written so far it is a prominent aspect when discussing the cryonic technology. Kaufman ,a software engineer at Google, was able to quantitatively estimate the success of cryonics by surveying members of the Cambridge LessWrong meetup for their estimates (probabilities) in response to each question he created that would determine if cryonic was possible. Unfortunately, only one member of the meetup had a success rate of more than 50% therefore suggesting that it is a very small chance in cryonics. [DS3]However, Kaufman only surveyed 6 members (including himself) therefore the sample size is insufficient so reliable conclusions can’t be made from these results. Furthermore, majority of questions were external factors which the member has no control over, for example, the probability that the cryonics facility that the member chose would become bankrupt and have to close down. This therefore means that there is a degree of irrationality of each individual member estimating probabilities of events happening as they don’t have enough insight to produce a probability.

According to Kaufman’s results, the average chance of success for cryonics is 7.4% (excluding the anomaly) which lies between Harris’s probability of 15% (when optimistic) and 0.23% (when pessimistic) (Harris,1998) . This therefore makes Kaufman results more reliable as the average chance of success is within the range that a physician at Alcor Life Extension Foundation (a cryonic facility) was able to achieve after forming ‘The Warren Equation’ and inputting probabilities from his insight and knowledge. On the other hand, this raises a concern as it shows in the best of cases it shows that cryonics has a small chance of being successful therefore suggesting that it is more likely to fail than succeed.

Research Methodology[DS4]

The main form of research used in this paper was secondary research. Many of the resources were accessed from the World Wide Web and qualitative, as well as, quantitative research was able to be collected. Majority of the research that was collected was not fairly recent due to the cryonic facilities still using methods that were used decades before therefore many of the sources were not primarily from the last 2 years.

Conclusion[DS5]

The main aims of this research paper was to bring forth background knowledge on cryonics and investigate whether it would be possible to use this technology as a means of expanding the human lifespan whilst also discussing the ethical issues concerning the technology as it is very important when evaluating if the technology would be used in the future. Although, it is abundantly clear that the technology will most likely not have the capacity to “revive the dead” in the near future, there is still a small chance that this technology could be used in the future. There could discover that it is better most efficient to focus on neuropreservation rather than whole-body cryopreservation as the most expressed in this paper the main difficulty lies in preserving the brain whilst also maintaining the owner’s memories. Even though the odds are against this technology from being successful, there is limit to know what future technology is capable of.

References[DS6]

Bostron, N. (2003). Transhumanist values. [online] nickbostrom.com Available at:http://www.nickbostrom.com/ethics/values.html [Accessed 24/08/16]

Harris, S. (1989) Will Cryonics work? [online] alcor.org Available at: http://www.alcor.org/Library/html/WillCryonicsWork.html [Accessed 3/09/16]

Kaufman, J. (2012) More Cryonics Probability Estimates. [online] jefftk.com/index. Available at:https://www.jefftk.com/p/more-cryonics-probability-estimates [Accessed 26/08/16]

Mathewson, S. (2016) Cryogenics: Entire Rabbit Brain Successfully Frozen and Revived For First Time [online] natureworldnews.com Available at: http://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/19877/20160211/cryogenics-entire-rabbit-brain-successfully-frozen-revived-first-time.htm [Accessed 24/08/16]

Shaw, D. (2009). Cryoethics: seeking life after death. Bioethics,[online] Volume 23(9), p.515-521. Available at: http://eprints.gla.ac.uk/18452/1/18452.pdf [Accessed 24/08/16]

Van Riper, A. (2002). Science in Popular Culture: A Reference Guide City Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, p.35

Watson, S. (2005). How Cryonics Works. [online] HowStuffWorks.com. Available at: http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/genetic/cryonics.htm [Accessed 26/08/16]

 
 

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