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Desire for immortality: Head freezing and space funerals

31-Oct-17
Article By: Sue Learner

Humans have always hoped for life after death. The difference is that now our desire is becoming more achievable due to huge advances in science.

Cryogenics tanks for storing frozen bodies

In the past, Egyptian slaves were executed to accompany their dead Pharaoh into the afterlife. Now, thousands of years later, an equally bizarre after death procedure is being carried out and all for the price of £5,000 for 250 years.

Yes, head freezing will be available in Britain within the next five to 10 years, according to the UK’s stem cell bank.

Celebrities such as Simon Cowell and Paris Hilton have expressed an interest in being cryogenically frozen, which is when a body is ‘frozen’ in liquid nitrogen shortly after death. The hope is that advances in technology in the future will mean the body can be brought back to life.

An American psychology professor called James Bedford was the first to be frozen in 1967. Nearly 300 people in the US have joined him, suspended upside down in tanks full of liquid nitrogen.

However up till now cryogenics has only been possible for the very rich.

Advances in technology making cryogenics affordable

Mark Hall, spokesman for StemProtect.co.uk said: “We’re accustomed to making jokes about freezing heads when we die. But soon we could see this practice becoming commonplace because advances in technology have made it much more affordable.

“And of course, while we’re not at the point yet where we can bring someone back to life from this procedure, we believe it’s just around the corner.”

There are currently only three cryogenics centres in the world, two in the US and one in Russia. Bodies are stored upside in large steel tanks, for safety reasons, as if there was a leak, the head would be the last part affected.

Last year, a fourteen-year-old girl from London who had a rare form of cancer, was cryogenically preserved, after she asked to be frozen until a treatment could be found. She is currently one of only a handful of Britons who have been preserved in liquid nitrogen.

However this could soon change, according to StemProtect.co.uk, which predicts head freezing will soon be cheaper than some funerals.

Currently doctors do not know how to bring a frozen body back to life, but some advances in science are already mind-boggling so we may soon be dealing with the ethics of bringing someone back to life. These include, would they have any memories from their previous life and what kind of world would they be living in if they were brought back to life in the future. Is it selfish to try and preserve people’s bodies when the world is already over-populated?

Space funerals

If of course you don’t want to spend your money on being suspended upside down in a liquid nitrogen tank in the hope that you may be brought back to life in the future, you can always blast your ashes into space.

A pioneering British space firm, Ascension Flights, is offering space funerals. Flights are filmed, with footage of the ash dispersing against the curvature of the earth and the darkness of space at an altitude of 35 kilometres. Any residual moisture in the canister freezes instantly, which creates a plume of glitter.

Credit: Ascension Flights

Co-founder Dr Chris Rose said: “We’re at the edge of the next space age, with private industry in the US on the verge of making personal space flight a reality. With the six living remaining astronauts now in their eighties, a new chapter that builds on their incredible achievements is opening.

“Many of the first generation of space fans intoxicated by space flight will never experience the thrill of looking back at the Earth and fulfilling their dream of space flight. Our new service enables families the opportunity to fulfil their loved ones’ dreams. We feel it’s the ultimate send off for a life well lived.”

The space pioneers are already in talks with some funeral directors in the UK and internationally to offer the service. The first flight, aboard the purpose-built Ascension 1 craft, is scheduled to take place in November. The emptied canister returns safely to Earth after dispersal and is fitted with a multitude of specialised tracking systems for retrieval.

Dr Rose added: “Fundamentally, we are all stardust, so this feels like a fitting tribute to those of us who have lived through the prologue to the space age.”

Natural burials

Those with environmental concerns will probably prefer the simpler, natural burial which is growing in popularity in the UK. There are now nearly 300 natural burial sites in the UK, with natural alternatives to heavy wooden coffins, ranging from simple linen shrouds to hand-woven willow caskets.

Regrets of the dying

While for people more interested in living a good life, it may help to read ‘The Top Five Regrets of the Dying’ by Bronnie Ware, a palliative nurse.

She found a very common regret to be ‘I wish I hadn’t worked so hard’ as well as ‘I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends’.

The top regret was ‘I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me’.

‘This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.’

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Imhari Imhari

04 Nov 2017 6:59 AM

Thank you for covering cryonics without the unfortunately still common antagonistically inaccurate caricatures in some articles. As someone who has about a year ago become an Associate Member of a certain U.S. cryonics organization (not sure if it's ok to mention names..it's the one in Scottsdale..) you may think my only comment would be to urge more enthusiasm. Actually to the contrary, while still praising the tone of your article, I would urge caution on the issue of timing; the "right around the corner" quoted above almost certainly does not mean months and probably not a few years either, but some number of decades at least. However, cryonics is certainly not science fiction either, and yes, remarkable progress in science and medicine make it very likely in the long run (and very possibly, this century) to revive people who had a decent level cryopreservation.

The cautionary note on timing aside, I'll conclude with two positive notes. First, on the legitimate question, "would [those revived]have any memories from their previous life?" Here we do not have a definitive or final answer, but remarkable recent scientific research has been published giving us at least some reason for optimism. While worms are far more primitive than human beings, in 2015 we did get the first ever affirmative answer to the question, "does any organism revived from cryonics retain any memories?" by means of the paper "Persistence of Long-Term Memory in Vitrified and Revived Caenorhabditis elegans." by Vita-More and Barranco-- it can be found at none other than the U.S. National Institutes of Health's "hiv.gov" website (again I would include a link but not sure if those are allowed) But I thought your readers would appreciate knowing this :-)

Secondly, the good news is that the non-rich can afford cryonics even today, at least, most middle class people in developed countries can. While I am only an Associate and not a full member and still looking into the details, the vast majority of U.S. cryonics members pay by means of a Life Insurance policy which then covers the cryopreservation upon legal death. The price quotes I've seen on FAQ pages and videos are very affordable. Do your own research of course, I'm not an expert and other disclaimers, but again a useful FYI for readers who think, like me, that they might be interested. Thanks again for the intelligent article! While living in the U.S. and finding this article by keyword only, I may return to your site as other articles here seem thoughtful as well. Best wishes.