One of the more interesting areas of scientific study today is known as cryopreservation, or cryonics. This field of scientific research involves using technological means to cool living tissue, organs, and organisms to the point where physical decay stops indefinitely, in the hope that resuscitation may be possible in the future.
Recently, the Manitoban had the opportunity to delve further into this topic, via an interview with Christine Gaspar, president of the Cryonics Society of Canada.
The Manitoban: What are the main organizations that specialize in cryopreservation?
Christine Gaspar: The Alcor (acronym closely related to “Allopathic Cryogenic Rescue”) Life Extension Foundation, and the Cryonics Institute are the two main organizations in North America that offer cryopreservation and long-term storage. They have different business structures and very different prices.
Alcor is the world leader in cryonics, cryonics research, and cryonics technology. It was founded in Scottsdale, Arizona, in 1972.
The Cryonics Institute is a non-profit, membership-based organization, founded in 1976, by Robert Ettinger (also known as “the father of cryonics”). The institute owns and operates a fully-operational cryonics facility, located in Clinton Township, Michigan.
KrioRus in Russia is a third option. It is the first, and currently only, cryonics company in Europe or Asia.
M: What is the process for signing up, and how many members are there currently?
CG: Each organization has a process for membership that includes the requisite paperwork. Most people that sign up opt to have their services funded through a life insurance policy, the kind where you can get a no exam plan for age 40 and over, which is a standard in corporate settings. The organizations can best advise you on which insurance companies are most ideal for this purpose.
You will likely pay a small amount in membership dues, and then upon pronouncement, your insurance policy (or alternate means of funding) will be applied to your immediate needs. Alcor currently has 1,058 members, and 121 patients in its care according to its web page. [The Cryonics Institute] has a very similar number.
M: What is the legal status of cryonics in Canada?
CG: Cryonics is not illegal in Canada. It is regarded as an end-of-life choice, and there are no legal barriers to performing this service. The only exception is in British Columbia, which passed a law several years ago forbidding the marketing of cryonics services. Members in B.C. have been successfully cryopreserved, though, within full observation of the law.
M: What is cryopreservation’s relationship with the law, since it deals with the disposal of dead bodies?
CG: Cryonics patients are legally dead, so although there are no specific laws which deal with cryopreservation, cryonics organizations handle patients while observing the laws governing anatomical donations of a body to science and the laws that govern the funeral service. Transportation of patients is done in collaboration with a licensed funeral director, after a person has been legally pronounced and certified as deceased by the appropriate medical provider.
By keeping the wishes of the patient known, and the process transparent, legal authorities generally do not take issue with the practice.
M: What does mainstream science think of cryopreservation?
CG: Mainstream science has historically been skeptical of cryonics, as it is a process that cannot yet be reversed by modern technology. There has been a shift, though, in recent years, in the mainstream, where cryonics has been viewed less and less like science fiction and more like a plausible near-future advancement.
How cryonicists respond is quite varied. The Cryonics Society of Canada exists to try to educate the public about cryonics and to advocate for its members. Some members are very vocal and positive about their involvement. Others prefer to keep the matter private.