A teenager has won the right for her mother to freeze her body in the hope that she may be brought back to life.
The court made the ruling in October, before the girl, 14, died from a rare form of cancer. Her father had opposed the application. Going further, he has accused the firm concerned, the Cryonics Institute, based in Michigan USA, of ‘selling false hope’.
He told the Independent: ‘I believe they are selling false hope to those who are frightened of dying – taking advantage of vulnerable people.
‘When I asked if there was even a one in a million chance of my daughter being brought back to life, they could not say there was.
‘I think it would be doubly impossible to both bring her back from the dead and cure her cancer, and companies should not hold out some false hope.’
THE ETHICS OF CRYONICS
The story, reported here by the BBC, has opened up debate on the practice and ethics of ‘cryonics’, the freezing of people with the intention of future resuscitation when and if the technology becomes available. (Cryonics is not to be confused with cryogenics, the study of extremely low temperatures. Even the BBC got them muddled up.)
So does cryonics work, and what would be a Christian view of it? Is it ethical, and if not, why not?
Cryonics is not mentioned in the Bible – obviously. But wisdom certainly is. God has given us common sense and analytical minds. If we lack wisdom, we can pray for it. Moreover, fraud and theft are mentioned quite a few times and that might be useful to us here.
Before we approach the ethics of it, what are the problems with cryonics both in the present and in the future?
PRACTICAL PROBLEMS IN THE FUTURE
In the future, we are assuming not only that scientists will be able and willing to thaw people successfully but that doctors will also be able to revive what was, at the point of freezing, a dead person. Something killed him. It will still be there.
David H. Gorski is an American surgical oncologist, Professor of surgery at Wayne State University School of Medicine. He points out that anyone being revived centuries from now would hardly know how to function (even Adam Adamant had problems, and he had only been frozen for sixty-five years). But crucially, there is the ‘question of whether some future society and scientists would even want to revivify a bunch of decades- or centuries-old bodies. They might want to do a few to prove it could be done, but after that each succeeding body would just be another burden. Sooner or later, the scientific interest would wane, as would the desire to devote resources to it.’
Clarence Birdseye invented fast-freezing of vegetables and fish. But not all materials can be frozen without cell-wall damage.
PRACTICAL PROBLEMS IN THE PRESENT
In the present, the advocates and customers for cryonics are placing too much faith in the freezing process. Frozen food manufacturers can freeze peas, beans, spinach, broccoli, even baby carrots, but try freezing raw potatoes or courgettes. All you will end up with on thawing them out is a mush.
That is because the ice crystals break down the vegetable’s cell walls. The Library of Congress writes about Clarence Birdsey’s invention of the quick-freezing process: ‘Before quick-freezing came along, foods were frozen at a fairly slow rate. This caused large ice crystals to form, which ruptured the cell membranes of the food. When the food was defrosted, the ice crystals melted and water would leak out, taking with it the food’s flavor and texture.’
WATER IN THE BODY
The cryonics companies say they will remove the customer’s blood and replace it with a sort of anti-freeze, but the freezing of blood is the least of their problems.
The human body is 60% to 65% water. The average weight of a human being around the globe is around ten stone. That’s 140 lbs.
So that person’s water content is more or less ninety pounds. Two thirds of it, sixty pounds, is intracellular, one third, like the blood, is extracellular. Your 8 pints of blood weigh ten pounds, just 11% percent of your total water.
Freezing tanks full of liquid nitrogen and frozen bodies at Cryonics Institute
It’s the intracellular water which will do the main damage, reducing the body’s cells to thawed-potato-like mush.
Put simply, you cannot freeze a human body fast enough. No-one has even frozen and revived the smallest of mammals. Small roundworms (nematodes) and some insects can survive freezing but that’s about it.
DYING HEART AND BRAIN CELLS
And that is even before we look at what happens at death. Professor Gorski writes:
‘Within minutes, the heart muscle cells, deprived of oxygen-rich blood, start really dying … and the more of them that die, the less the chance of getting the heart started again. … The problem of the dead heart, however, is minor compared to the problem of the dead brain. The brain is highly metabolically active and is thus exquisitely sensitive to interruptions in blood flow. As soon as the blood flow stops from a cardiac arrest, the brain starts losing cells, and it only takes a few minutes before severe and permanent brain damage occurs that rapidly progresses to brain death; i.e., the death of the neurons controlling the “higher’ functions.’
Over a year ago, in June 2015, the Daily Mail reported a study under the typically dramatic headline ‘Memories can survive cryonic preservation‘. But the study was on the aforementioned nematode worms. A more realistic view comes from the President of the Cryonics Institute, Dennis Kowalski. Describing cryonics as ‘a roll of the dice’, he said he did not believe memories would necessarily survive after the brain had been frozen for decades. He said patients could awake as “clones” of themselves, with no sense of their former lives, and he added he only had a ’50-50′ belief that people enclosed in the freezing chambers would ever be revived.
RABBIT BRAIN THAWED OUT – PIG AWAITED
Will the technology ever arise to bring dead heart and brain cells back to life? And if it does, what will have happened to the memories, thoughts, impulses and daily body functioning which the brain controls? Even the heart has ‘brain’ cells. People are paying to freeze their bodies. Who will cough up the money to get their non-working heart and brain and their thawed-out squashy, pulpy body working again?
In February 2016, scientists froze and thawed out the brain of a rabbit. The team, led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate Robert McIntyre, filled the vascular system of the rabbit brain with chemicals that prevent decay and allow it to be cooled to -211 degrees Fahrenheit. When thawed, the brain was found to have all of its synapses, cell membranes, and intracellular structures intact.
The problems with the experiment, although described as a ‘success’, are that the rabbit died of something, and even if the brain looks intact, there is no way of seeing whether it would power a real live rabbit and retain memories and functionality. The team were said at the time to be awaiting the thawing out of a pig brain, whose size is closer to that of a human being. And what about all the other organs? Research costs money.
CRYONICS IS A BUSINESS
Remember, the cryonics companies want sales. The ‘Cryonics Institute‘, despite its ‘.org’ website address, is a business, albeit one claimed to be non-profit with only two paid employees, according to the Daily Telegraph. But even as a non-profit, it still has an emotional idea to defend and an empire to build. The Cryonics Institute even plays with language, not liking to call people ‘dead’ They are instead ‘deanimated’, to give the marketing-friendly impression they might at some future date be ‘reanimated’.
The firm invites potential customers to ‘imagine a world free of disease, death and aging.’ They go on:
‘At the Cryonics Institute, we believe that day is inevitably coming and cryonics is presently (sic – US usage) our best chance of getting there. Our mission is to extend human lifespans by preserving the body using existing cryogenic technologies – with the goal of revival by future science…
Fred and Linda Chamberlain founded Alcor
‘We provide long-term storage and security for members at our cryonics facility in Clinton Township, MI. We specialize in full-body cryo-preservation of humans and pets, DNA & tissue storage as well as cryonics outreach and public education about the cutting edge science we are engaged in. Members are afforded the opportunity to be preserved at cryogenic temperatures in hopes that future medical technology may be able to someday revive and restore them to full health.’
Another company, Alcor Life Extension Foundation, claimed in August this year to have frozen 148 ‘patients’. One of its founders, Fred Chamberlain, together with his father and mother, are among them. His wife Linda claims the company ‘is providing a realistic service that gives hope’.
HOPE OR WISHFUL THINKING?
But the ‘hope ‘of Alcor is just wishful thinking. There is no evidence that any dead person will ever be brought back to life and plenty of common sense and scientific reasoning against it.
Ethically, the companies are promoting a scam to the gullible. And that is fraudulent. It is theft. David Gorski says:
‘Perhaps what’s the worst about this is that people spend incredible amounts of money, which could be used to make their lives now better or be passed on to their heirs, chasing immortality. Cryonics is not, as its advocates say, an “ongoing medical trial”. Rather, those who choose to freeze themselves are more akin to the ancient Pharaohs, who spent enormous resources constructing elaborate tombs, so that they will one day rise from the grave and live again. Instead, they are found thousands of years later and end up in museums around the world.’
Cryonics is appealing to a human desire to live forever. The desire is good, indeed God-given. Nevertheless, there is only way to achieve it, and squandering your children’s inheritance on a false hope is not it.
The Christian life to come is not Alcor’s ‘might happen if you’re lucky’ type of hope. It rests on the promises of God Almighty. By Jesus Christ, says Paul:
Romans 5:2 … we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
The customers of the cryonics companies are chasing immortality, but they will have as much success as the pharaohs. Everlasting life is found only in Jesus:
John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
As to being brought back to life, resurrection is surer than resuscitation. Jesus brought Lazurus back to life, but he did it to make the point to his sister Martha that by believing in him, she would live forever in the resurrection:
John 11:24 Martha saith unto him, I know that he (Lazarus) shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. 25 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
A BETTER PLACE
One final thought. When a Christian dies, we very often say ‘he (or she) is in a better place now’. If they are in a better place, why do we sometimes struggle, often in prayer, often with medicine, to keep them here? The only reason the Apostle Paul wanted to hang around in this life was to continue preaching the Gospel of Christ and the Kingdom of Heaven:
Philippians 1:21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I know not. 23 For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: 24 Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.
Let us fix our hopes of eternal life on Jesus and on nothing and nobody else. And if the subject of cryonics comes up in conversation, the material here might just provide you with some arguments against it.
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