Alcor is the world’s largest cryonics company, and according its CEO Max More, they’re signing up customers from all over the world who want their bodies preserved when they die.
The premise for cryopreservation is pretty simple, says Rose Eveleth at the Atlantic. In the past when someone dropped dead on the footpath, that was that. Nowadays we do everything we can to revive the person, such as performing CPR or rushing them to the hospital for an emergency surgical procedure. Cryopreservation can be thought of as the natural progression of this desire to keep someone alive using whatever means possible. "Cryonics is the same thing,” says Eveleth, "we just have to stop them from getting worse and let a more advanced technology in the future fix that problem.”
While no one has actually tested if a cryopreserved person can be brought back to life many years after they've passed - because the technology to revive them does not exist yet - that's not stopping people from signing up to have the procedure done anyway. At $80,000 to preserve the brain and up to $200,000 to preserve the entire body, it’s an expensive risk to take, but Alcor isn’t struggling for business, with almost 1,000 people signed up so far.
According to More, staff at the US-based Alcor facility keep a careful eye on the health of their clients, and if death is predicted, they stand by their hospital bed until it’s time. Once their client has been officially declared dead, the staff can begin the preservation process. First they move the client’s body to an ice bed and cover them in a loose, slushy layer of ice. A device called a 'heart-lung resuscitator’ is used to get the blood pumping through the body again, and some 16 types of medication are applied to the body to prevent the cells from deteriorating. Then the client is prepped for surgery.
The next step includes draining as much blood and bodily fluids as possible from the person, replacing them with a solution that won’t form ice crystals - essentially the same kind of antifreeze solution used in organ preservation during transplants. Then a surgeon opens up the chest to get access to the major blood vessels, attaching them to a system that essentially flushes out the remaining blood and swaps it with medical grade antifreeze. Since the patient will be in a deep freeze, much of the preparatory work involves trying to ensure that ice crystals don’t form inside the cells of the body.
With veins full of antifreeze, the client's deceased body is now cooled down steadily - about 0.5 degrees Celsius (33 degrees Fahrenheit) every hour until it reaches a final temperature of -195 degrees Celsius (-320 degrees Fahrenheit) in about two weeks’ time. It will then be stored permanently in a freezer, upside-down, and next to three others like it.
"The science of tissue regeneration is steadily advancing. But nobody really knows when they’ll be able to wake these patients up, or if they’ll be able to at all,” says Eveleth at the Atlantic. "When forced to take a guess at how long we’ll have to wait for medicine to catch up to save Alcor’s members, More put the number between 50 and 100 years. “But it’s really impossible to say. We probably don’t even know what repair technology would be used.""