Over the years some cryonics proponents have expressed interest and support for offering an inexpensive form of cryonics. Before discussing what such a form of cryonics might entail I first would like to briefly address the question of whether the idea of low cost cryonics is a solution to a non-existent problem. After all, for low cost cryonics to make sense, there must be a substantial number of people being priced out of cryonics arrangements who would make arrangements if it were more affordable. For this to occur a person must not only not be able to afford Alcor’s services but also not be able to afford the Cryonics Institute’s either. As far as I am aware, this problem is mostly confined to people who are basically uninsurable due to a medical condition or advanced age, or who wish to cryopreserve someone else where funding is insufficient.
In some cases, however, people who have found themselves priced out of cryonics arrangements have been the beneficiary of fund raising campaigns within the cryonics community. While it may not be possible to provide funding for all such cases, this development does raise the question of how many people who had a strong public desire to be cryopreserved did not get their wishes honored. The major reason to advocate low cost cryonics is to bring the service within the reach of more people. Thus it is important to understand how many people are actually excluded from being cryopreserved due to financial challenges. If access to cryonics is mostly a non-issue one might argue that strategies to simply aim at more people making cryonics arrangements can be more effective than offering lower priced options.
There are roughly three areas where cost savings can be realized in cryonics: (a) long term care costs, (b) cryoprotection, and (c) standby and stabilization. It is not possible to do justice to all the potential cost savings in these areas so let me briefly discuss the major themes.
While it is reasonable to assume that some long term care costs can be reduced by reducing expenses associated with running a cryonics organization (staff, administrative costs, rent) the bulk of long-term care expenses arise from the need to keep patients in cryopreservation until resuscitation efforts will be possible. If there is one thing we have learned since the early days of cryonics it is that it is not wise to compromise on demanding pre-payment (life insurance or cash) or to use wildly optimistic growth assumptions for these funds. A pay-as-you-go system would not just subject many patients to premature thawing but also endanger the reputation of the cryonics field as a whole.
This mostly leaves cryoprotection and standby services as potential cost saving measures. Clearly, offering standby and stabilization without subsequent cryoprotection would be an incoherent approach because attempts to preserve the viability of the brain would be followed by straight freezing. Offering sophisticated cryoprotection procedures without standby is not particularly logical either because optimal cryopreservation requires rapid stabilization and cooling after clinical death. To really realize substantial cost savings a cryonics organization would need to exclude both standby and cryoprotection from its protocol and focus on the isolated brain. Is it responsible for a cryonics organization to offer such a form of low cost cryonics? It is hard to answer this question because it is difficult to predict how much damage is still compatible with inferring the original state of the brain. One research program, however, that could give us preliminary answers to such questions is reconstructive connectomics. We can model these low cost cryonics protocols and then see if we can recognize or reconstruct the original structure of the brain using either conventional electron microscopy or more recent 3D brain mapping technologies. If this project provides reasons for optimism there is a strong ethical argument for an organization to offer this service.
In short, the most credible realization of “low cost cryonics” would entail a financially conservative cryonics organization that offers secure, isolated-brain cryopreservation without standby and without the state-of-the-art
cryoprotection now done at Alcor with a trained team, though a less training-intensive, inexpensive, method of cryoprotection (immersion of the brain in cryoprotectant after chemical fixation) might still be possible.
Originally published as a column (Quod incepimus conficiemus) in Cryonics magazine, March, 2014