Revival from Cryopreservation

If you can afford it, it can seem like a tempting option: instead of facing inevitable death at the end of a long, lingering illness, simply freeze yourself in a state of cryonic preservation, and have a reputable corporation store your body in a fridge until such time as medical science has progressed to the point that it can cure your previously fatal illness. Certainly there are illnesses which were fatal even a few decades ago which are not so today. However, there is one fundamental step which is still missing: how to safely “thaw” or revive someone from cryopreservation.

Revival from cryopreservation is the one step which is potentially even more important than progress in disease research itself – which is unfortunate for the cryopreservation industry, because most medical research goes into developing new treatments, not into how to thaw out preserved bodies. Indeed, it may never be possible to reliably revive people from cryopreservation. For this reason, the law in many countries will not actually allow cryopreservation procedures to begin until after someone has already been declared legally dead (which can include brain death). 

Obviously, this protective measure makes revival from cryopreservation even more difficult – because, if it did become possible in the future, the doctors performing the procedure would instantly be faced with a new set of emergency medical problems which would have to be treated immediately. For this reason cryopreservation is currently quite different than the procedure typically imagined in popular science fiction, in which reasonably healthy individuals emerge from the process conscious and more or less functional.

Nevertheless, the revival component of cryopreservation will always remain the most speculative and idealistic component of the process. Advocates argue that in the future, currently unheard-of technologies will allow an unprecedented level of repair to traumatized body tissue, as well as allowing the transfer of consciousness “data” into and out of the brain via computer, a process known as mind uploading. This would mean that the additional damage done by the cryopreservation process, including from oxygen deprivation, the toxic effects of cryopreservation fluids themselves, and the freezing and thawing of body tissues could theoretically all be undone by a future hospital with sufficiently advanced medical technology. And since no one will be revived from cryopreservation until the medical technology is available to do so, in theory it is simply a matter of waiting. As they are preserved, it really matters little to them whether they must wait a century or a millennium, or longer, before revival occurs.

So, revival from cryopreservation is currently impossible with contemporary technology, but it might become possible at some point in the distant future, at which point those people who have been cryopreserved can be saved – provided, of course, that their bodies have been properly maintained in the meantime. There are several organizations today which provide cryopreservation services, such as the American Cryonics Society and Alcor, which generally charge about $150,000 for their services. Even this, however, might not be enough for companies to maintain preserved bodies if medical technology does not progress quickly enough. In the 1970s, the Cryonics Society of California director was found to have thawed out several preserved individuals in Chatsworth (the so-called Chatsworth scandal) after funds for their maintenance ran out. Today ethics and finance guidelines are in place in most cases in an attempt to prevent such scandals from recurring, but in the distant future it is not inconceivable that the organizations charged with cryopreservation would run out of funding and collapse, leaving preserved individuals with an uncertain future. People might never survive until revival from cryopreservation becomes possible.