In a plot straight out of science fiction, some people are opting to cryopreserve their bodies in hopes of being revived in the future. A company in the United States is offering this service to people for a fees. Currently, 199 humans and 100 pets are being cryopreserved at the Alcor Life Extension Foundation facility in Arizona. These "patients", as Alcor calls them, were terminally ill with cancer, ALS or other diseases with no present-day cure. They want to be revived in the future when science has advanced beyond what it is capable of today.
At the Alcor facility, rows of stainless steel tanks filled with liquid nitrogen hold the bodies (and heads) of these people who want to reawaken in the future. Temperature in these vessels will stay for decades at minus 196 degrees Cesius. The branch of science that deals with this is called cryonics.
Matheryn Naovaratpong, a Thai girl with brain cancer, is the youngest person to be cryopreserved, at the age of 2 in 2015.
"Both her parents were doctors and she had multiple brain surgeries and nothing worked, unfortunately. So they contacted us," Max More, the chief executive of Alcor, told news agency Reuters.
Alcor was founded by Linda and Fred Chamberlain in 1972. They wanted to create an organisation that could offer people a second chance at life.
Bitcoin pioneer Hal Finney, another Alcor patient, had his body cryopreserved after death from ALS in 2014.
The cryopreservation process begins after a person is declared legally dead. The process that Alcor uses to preserve the bodies is vitrification. In this, blood and other fluids are removed from the patient's body and replaced with chemicals designed to prevent the formation of damaging ice crystals. Vitrified at extremely cold temperatures, Alcor patients are then placed in tanks at the Arizona facility "for as long as it takes for technology to catch up," according to More.
The minimum cost is $200,000 for a body and $80,000 for the brain alone. Worldwide, the number of people who have chosen to cryopreserve their bodies stands at 500.
However, cryonics has given rise to debate around how ethical the practice is.
"This notion of freezing ourselves into the future is pretty science fiction and it's naive," according to Arthur Caplan, who heads the medical ethics division at New York University's Grossman School of Medicine. "The only group... getting excited about the possibility are people who specialise in studying the distant future or people who have a stake in wanting you to pay the money to do it."
Others say a person who is cryopreserved at a certain age will reawaken at that same age, but his surrounding will be completely different decades later. This will turn that person into an "alien" for that world.