What it’s really like to freeze yourself when you die

The concept of living ‘forever’ probably isn’t something you’ve spent much time considering – if at all – but for those in Silicon Valley, the business of immortality is steadily booming, with people dedicating their lives to perfecting the process of living a second one (or at least, extending the one they are currently living).

Getting frozen after death is no longer a wild idea depicted in the movies, but a real process and procedure that is being practiced right now in state of the art facilities in the United States.

At the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Scottsdale, Arizona, the team there have performed 166 cryonic preservations to date.

The first successful cryonic preservation was performed in 1967, but still to this day scientists do not know if there will ever be a way to bring those who have been frozen ‘back to life’ or, to use the term in the cryonic preservation business, ‘reanimate them’.

Despite the unknown fate of those who decide to freeze themselves, 1,200 people are currently signed up to be preserved next by Alcor, when their time comes.

“The purpose of cryonics is to intercept and stop this dying process within the window of time that it may be reversible in the future,” Alcor’s website states.

“Cryonics is a belief that no one is really dead until the information content of the brain is lost, and that low temperatures can prevent this loss.”

So, what happens if you decide to freeze yourself after death?

Firstly, it’s worth noting that Alcor uses the term vitrification, not freezing, for the process patients undergo after death. “Vitrification is an ice-free process in which more than 60% of the water inside cells is replaced with protective chemicals,” Alcor’s website explain.

“Alcor encourages patients who know that they’re close to death to relocate to a hospice near Alcor’s headquarters in Scottsdale, Arizona. This will allow a cryonics team to set up in the room and be ready to snap into action when the moment comes,” Linda Chamberlain, a co-founder of Alcor, told Quartz.

“No cryonics organization can start its procedure on a living person (since the process isn’t reversible, it would be considered murder). Therefore, a nurse or doctor must first pronounce the subject to be legally dead.”

Once pronounced legally dead, the subject is then moved into an ice bath and a process is started to induce hypothermia. Following this, the scientists restart the lungs and heart.

“This means that the subject could be alive, but unconscious, during this part of the process,” Chamberlain explained.

Antibiotics, vasopressors, and anticoagulants are then injected with a variety of additional medications. Conserving the patient’s brain is a priority, in case ‘reanimation’ becomes possible in the future.

“Although it is not expected that cryonics patients can be resuscitated by contemporary medical technology, attempting to maintain viability of the brain as far as possible into the cryopreservation procedure is regarded as a conservative approach for maximizing preservation of brain structural and chemical information that might be necessary for future revival,” Alcor’s website explains.

Once the patient is stable, a process called cryoprotective perfusion begins, where blood vessels are connected to a perfusion circuit by a surgeon and the patient’s blood is replaced with a preservation liquid.

Scientists and doctors monitor the patient’s brain during the process.

Alcor’s website describes the next stage of the process: “After cryoprotective perfusion, patients are cooled under computer control by fans circulating nitrogen gas at a temperature near -125°C.”

After three hours, the patient is said to be in a stable, ‘vitrified’ state. They will be cooled again to a further-196°C over the following weeks and stored at this temperature in liquid nitrogen long-term.

For more information and a detailed, in-depth description of Human Cryopreservation Protocol, visit Alcor’s website alcor.org.