Can we cheat death? Cryonics: the elixir of life

By Emma GARNIER, Victoire HERBEAU, Alix MARTIN-DIT-NEUVILLE, Max ROQUIGNY

What is after death? This is a question that many people ask themselves … A question that is frightening, intriguing and disruptive. But ultimately, many do not want to know the answer. And this is why humans have long been trying to conquer death, to circumvent it, to go beyond physical rules and to reach immortality. But how? Cryogenization? For what purposes? These are the questions that the article tries to address.

The idea is to think about cryogenization but to approach an ethical angle. Indeed, the question that has arisen is: how will we accept and perceive this method of « conservation of the body »? It is true that the prospect of living forever can seem exciting and pleasant. But it raises a number of questions.

         First of all, who will be entitled to cryogenisation? Although the technology is advancing rapidly, cryopreservation remains something that could be very expensive, so it will not be within the reach of everyone. And this could even widen the gap between social classes in our society.

It could create a eugenic movement in our society.

                 Another question that comes to us is: what about the soul? Indeed, the body pauses, but the soul what does it do? This is something that can be disturbing and that we would like to develop.

                  Also, the question of responsibility. Nowadays we have to recognize that there are many controversies about global warming: men are killing the planet. But what if we stop human activity to give a second wind to the planet? It could then regain strength.

It is clear that cryogenization, although complex technology, is also not easy from an ethical point of view. It challenges a lot of values and traditions that humans have acquired over many years. Some are for this scientific revolution, others are not. We do not want, in our article, to give an answer to this question because we understand that the opinions can diverge (and it is even difficult to make a choice personally between yes or no). We want to put the pros and the cons, and show the real ethical issues of cryogenization, that is to say go beyond science. What interests us here is not really the body, but the soul.

First things first, what is cryogenisation?

Cryogenisation refers to the process that allows a deceased  person to be preserved at a very low temperature, in order to consider resuscitation at a later stage, when scientific progress permits. Today companies have specialised in this activity, and people seduced by this method are multiplying. There are three companies that propose a cryogenisation: Alcor with 148 cases, Cryonics Institute with 145 cases, Kriorus with 51 cases. The aim being to preserve a body in order to bring it back to life later, the operation must take place immediately after clinical death, within minutes and on a body in relatively good condition. The body is placed in an ice bath, and its cardiac functions are artificially maintained, in order to preserve the brain irrigation time to cool it. Vital fluids (blood and water) are gradually replaced by synthetic cryoprotective fluid to prevent the formation of crystals that could damage organs, tissues and cells. The body temperature is then gradually lowered to -196° while it is cooled in nitrogen. Subsequently, the body is placed in a metal cylinder container, about 3 meters high.

Will humans still consider themselves as responsible?

Then, humans would have no more responsibility, they would be content to use the cryoperation to give time to our dear earth … Cryogenization in the case of the late dead people is something that challenges us. Indeed, many believe that it would be possible to cryogenize a person who has just died in order to « preserve » him until we have the necessary science to bring him back to life. This subject raises two questions: immortality and respect for the dead. Indeed, if we find a way to stop death, people will live forever, and life will be worthless. Moreover, there will be no longer any religious or moral rituals that accompany the loss of a loved one and the respect of dead people.

Can we be cryogenized in the absence of legislation?

Emmanuel Auvergne, lawyer and law teacher at GEM explained how the law works after death. There are only three ways to manage a corpse legally in France: incinerate, bury or give to science. All other cases are illegal. It also shows limits in contracts law: « It will be very complicated to set up a contract with a decimated person, we should also think about the heritage of this contract: implementation of the descent is also debatable. On this point, United States is far more open and freer than France”.

In Auvergne’s point of view, France would modify article 720 of the civil code so that it specifies that « the succession opens by the death and the cryogenisation, with the last home of the deceased ». We could appoint an administrator responsible for managing its assets. But for what period, and against what remuneration?

It would also be possible to ensure a certain legal and patrimonial security to the cryogenised, by offering it the possibility of subscribing, with the cryopreservation contract, a trust (a transfer of property conditioned) cryonic, which should be created on the model of the Cryonic Trust proposed by some American companies.

It also brings to light that the decision to be cryogenized can be a burden for the inheritors of this person since they will have to decide whether they keep on paying for the body to be conserved or not.

How will we accept and perceive this method of « conservation of the body »?

Nowadays, 350 people are waiting for their resuscitation. Alexia Rougier, a young caregiver at Edouard Herriot Hospital in Lyon, has a rather negative vision of cryogenisation. Indeed, for her it is against nature. It is an attempt to circumvent death that can attract but that would be only harmful. First of all, for the cryogenised, indeed we do not have the necessary perspective to ensure that this technique has no dramatic consequences for the body. But also harmful to humanity in general. If every living thing is brought to die it is to give place to a birth, it is the order of things, the circle of life. But if we persist in wanting to suppress death, there will not be enough room and resources for everyone. Madame Rougier raised a number of other questions. How do you feed everyone if the population increases? Where to house all these people? Who will have the right to that? Should we regulate births? So, she is not frankly for the development of such a technique even if from a scientific point of view it is simply incredible.

Many States forbid cryonics. The manipulation of corpses necessary for cryonics runs counter to important values of many societies such as respect for the dead in the name of which cryonics is prohibited in France for example. Moreover, for many religions, resuscitation is forbidden. For other, the future will offer nothing good so cryonics is useless. Moreover, the movie “Realive” raised an interesting question. This movie depicts the life of the first revived man. His new life is not happy since he is haunted by the death of his close relations. This movie shows that Cryonics has a huge problem. The life of a human depends on his experiences, his memories but also on his close relations. So being resuscitated alone is quite alienating.

Who will be entitled to cryonics?


The second issue around cryogenisation is the economic question. In fact, who says precision technology, says price to increase. For the moment, it is estimated that the cost of cryopreservation is $ 200,000, or $ 80,000 for the head alone. This is not within the reach of everyone. Cryogenization will therefore be a technique for a small part of the population who has the means. But is it ethical? Can we say that it is ethical to allow a small part of the population to freeze, to keep his body? While the other part of the population cannot enjoy this new technique?

This would only have the effect of separating the population in two: the rich and the poor.

Moreover, since cryogenization would suggest that human responsibility for the planet would be reduced (giving us the possibility of « pausing » human activity), the injustice would be all the greater because some people would suffer the irresponsibility of the richest. There would certainly be more conflicts, and therefore anarchy.

The idea would be to find a way to make this technique accessible to everyone, or at least out of this economic and financial character. But how? By developing this science for years and years, until the required technology is « cheap ». Or by having this not “compulsory” but required and therefore taken into account by the state, as a simple stage in life.

In any case, the economic question is perhaps not the first question that arises regarding cryogenisation, yet it is an important and crucial point. And finally, an idea emerges from the reasoning around this economic aspect: it will take time for this technology to be viable from a financial point of view.

Let’s go further: what if we could partially cryogenize?


The basic argument for cryonics is that memory, personality, and identity are stored in the chemical structure of the brain. But although this hypothesis is widely accepted in medicine, and we know that brain activity may remain a moment at a standstill and then resume, the idea of being able to keep a brain with current methods sufficiently satisfactorily to allow his resurrection remains poorly accepted. Proponents of cryonics, however, point to studies that suggest that high concentrations of cryopreservatives circulating in the brain before cooling can prevent its damage and preserve the fine structure of cells that would be the supposed seat of memory and of identity. The job of scientists and doctors is to ensure life even after the separation of the head and body to freeze some.


Sergio Canavero, an Italian neurosurgeon known for his claims about his ability to perform head transplants, said about that: « In a few months, we will separate a body from a head in an unprecedented medical procedure. During this phase, there is no vital activity, either in the brain or elsewhere in the body. If we bring this patient back to life, we will have the first true account of what really happens after death. The transplantation of a head will give us a first vision of a life after death, a sky, a beyond. If we can prove that our brain does not create consciousness, religions will be swept away forever. We will not need it anymore, because human beings will no longer need to be afraid of death. We will no longer need a Catholic Church, Judaism or Islam because religions in general will be obsolete. It will be a decisive moment in the history of humanity.” As we can see, cryogenization, which would divert death, raises even more questions and would even overthrow the social order and beliefs inked for thousands of years.

        To conclude, at first sight, cryonics seems to bring many hopes for people and for earth: indeed, people can no longer fear death and cryonics can be a way to protect the earth against pollution (we could for example cryogenized the entire population for 20 years in order to let the earth regenerates itself). However, cryonics has many impediments to surrender. Indeed, in many countries, cryonics is not legal. Moreover, it raises many ethical questions such as who will be entitled to it. Finally, today nobody has been revived and no one has proved the efficiency and safety of a cutting-edge technology such as cryopreservation. However almost 400 people has put their faith in Alcor, Cryonics Institute or Kriorus. Will we find a solution to revive these bodies? Do we want it?

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