Cryogenic Estate Planning: Planning for the Deep Freeze

Cryogenics

Remember Ted Williams? Possibly the greatest hitter in baseball history, who played as a left fielder for the Boston Red Sox for 19 years?

When he died in 2002, his body was cryogenically frozen. According to news reports at the time, Ted Williams was decapitated by surgeons at the cryonics company; his head is stored in a steel can filled with liquid nitrogen. Williams' body stands upright in a 9-foot tall cylindrical steel tank, also filled with liquid nitrogen.

The thought is that, some time in the future he can be unfrozen and live again.

Sound like science fiction? Maybe not. The field of cryogenics, which is the study of what happens to things at really low temperatures, has given rise to an industry where human bodies are stored at really low temperatures in the hope of reviving them in the future when medical science has made advances. The hope is to revive lives by using temperatures so cold that a person’s body could be preserved for decades or centuries until a future medical technology could bring that person back to life and health.

Larry King plans to be cryogenically frozen. So does Simon Cowell.

There certainly are dissenters. Michael Hendricks, in his article, The False Science of Cryonics says that,

“Science tells us that a map of connections is not sufficient to simulate, let alone replicate, a nervous system, and that there are enormous barriers to achieving immortality in silico. First, what information is required to replicate a human mind? Second, do current or foreseeable freezing methods preserve the necessary information, and how will this information be recovered? Third, and most confounding to our intuition, would a simulation really be ‘you’?”

He goes on: “But what is this replica? Is it subjectively ‘you’ or is it a new, separate being?" The idea that you can be conscious in two places at the same time defies our intuition. Parsimony suggests that replication will result in two different conscious entities. Simulation, if it were to occur, would result in a new person who is like you, but whose conscious experience you don’t have access to.

That means that any suggestion that you can come back to life is simply snake oil.

On the other hand, the Cryonics Institute website says: “dying is a process rather than an event. A majority of the body's tissues remain intact at a cellular level even after the heart stops beating. The goal of cryonics is to halt that process as quickly as possible after legal death, giving future physicians the best possible chance of reviving the patient. This may include repairing or replacing damaged tissues and even entire organs using advanced computer, nanotechology and medical equipment and procedures.”

So there you have it. Battle lines have been drawn.

The fact is that whatever the probability of success, and what a success that would be, is unknown. But, what we do know is that there are organizations that provide the service for a fee.  We also know that there are people who are willing to pay for the service on the chance that it might work.

It is important to remember that 200 years ago no one would have believed in a smallpox vaccine or a polio vaccine, heart transplants, and bone marrow transplants. That’s the thing about the future. No one knows.

For those who want to take the chance, the service is available.

The procedure can only be performed if you are legally dead. The procedure is not really considered “freezing.” It is a process called vitrification. Water in the body’s cells is replaced by a cryoprotectant. Then, the body is cooled, placed in a container (called a cryostat), and immersed in a liquid nitrogen bath to maintain a temperature of -196 Celsius.

Costs range from $30,000 to $150,000. Many folks interested in the procedure purchase a life insurance policy to fund these costs. The cryonics process is a new option available to individuals. It is important to understand how to develop a proper estate plan that will address your future needs if you do choose to be cryogenically frozen.