November 1, 2009
POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: Dream of Suspended Animation, Nightmare of Cryonics
Since I started reading books and watching science fiction movies, I have dreamed of going into a suspended animation tube like the Robinson’s did in LOST IN SPACE and sleeping in my starship as it crossed incredible distances – then waking in orbit around a new world.
Even as I grew older, the idea of suspended animation or human hibernation has remained a profound hope. There are hints and clues that this might be possible: dogs have been frozen for brief periods and most of them resuscitated without brain damage. Pigs with profound blood loss from an induced bleed had the volume replaced with frigid saline, the vessels repaired and were wakened. Mice breathing hydrogen sulfide gas had their metabolism reduced ten-fold – though the experiment did not work with larger mammals, it may be a matter of finding the right combination to work for humans. Chemical induction of hibernation holds some possibilities as well. Clearly, animals sleep for extended periods of time; some amphibians are frozen solid and then thaw unharmed. There is a clear movement to growing this technology that will end with procedures that have applications in human and animal medicine, emergency medical services as well as my own dream of long-term space travel.
Enter the nightmare of cryonics. While I’d heard rumors about this decades ago as well as rumors that Gene Rodenberry of STAR TREK fame had been cryopreserved (he wasn’t – a small portion of his ashes were put into orbit in 1997. That orbit decayed by 2004 and those remains were incinerated on reentry), I didn’t actually find any facts until reading the book, GREAT MAMBO CHICKEN AND THE TRANSHUMAN CONDITION (Ed Regis, 1991). There, cryonics was portrayed, if not in shining light then in a favorable light. For years, while gently mocking the concept of freezing bodies and brains for later healing and revival as it occurred in the STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION episode, “The Neutral Zone”; I held little hope that such a process might become feasible.
Now even that faint hope is smashed like a pumpkin on Halloween night. In his new book, FROZEN A True Story: My Journey Into the World of Cryonics, Deception and Death, Larry Johnson (with Scott Baldyga), the author brings to light truly horrific details perpetrated by the California company, Alcor. The very last hope that ANYONE might die and then be revived by future “magical medicine”, has been permanently dashed when shown the conditions under which the cryopatients were processed. The only way anyone might ever be recovered from Alcor is by finding a cell and cloning an entire new person. Then the purpose of cryopreservation would be defeated – the memories and personality of the patient would be entirely lost.
Worst of all though, now that the charade is revealed and doubtless about to collapse, any chance that current scientists might advance any real discoveries leading to breakthroughs or the development of a real science of cryopreservation are gone, perhaps forever. And THAT makes me mad. How about you?
One last question: if someone were cryopreserved and then resuscitated, would their soul come back from heaven, hell, paradise, limbo or nirvana?