What Happens to the Bodies if a Cryogenic Company Goes Bankrupt?
On the whole, even some of the largest and most successfully companies in the world eventually fail, with companies offering their services to make you a popsicle after your body decides to say “screw you in particular” being no exception. So what happens to the approximately 350 people (and rising fast) stored this way when a cryonic company goes the way of their customers?
Well, for starters, it turns out thanks to the fact that every single one of the earliest cryonic companies went belly up, the latest generation of cryonics companies have put in place some nearly surefire ways to keep that from ever happening to them, outside of some sort of WWIII nuclear holocaust type scenarios.
But as to the early cryonic companies, these were first started in the 1960s, initially just advertised as freezing bodies for “cosmetic reasons”, rather than the literal hope of reanimation. And, in fact, early efforts here didn’t even bother to try to stop damage to tissues from ice formation in the freezing process- simply freezing the bodies directly.
Patient zero- the guy first frozen using a method meant to preserve him in hope of future reanimation, however, had a basic cocktail of preservatives and chemicals meant to stop such ice crystal formation, with this man being former psychology professor Dr. James Bedford, who died of cancer in 1967.
As to what happened with these early companies, the big issue, beyond equipment failures and faulty procedures resulting in accidental thawing, was that they relied on friends and family of the deceased to make regular payments to keep the bodies nice and frozen. Should the deceased’s loved ones choose to cool on making such payments, which almost universally happened rather quickly, their “mostly dead” loved ones would then be allowed to warm and become all-dead. Although interestingly in at least one company’s case, they were found in 1979 to have thawed, some intentionally others accidentally, 17 of the 18 bodies they were storing without notifying anyone… Naturally, lawsuits ensued, but the company was bankrupt at that point.
In other cases, once the bodies were accidentally thawed or payments ceased, the companies simply notified the deceased’s next of kin, transferring the bodies to them for disposal like you would any other body.
That said the one and only patient to survive these early efforts, funny enough, was patient zero- James Bedford. His still frozen body was transferred to his son when the company storing him went under. His son then dutifully took steps to keep Bedford frozen for many years before handing the body over to Alcor, a more modern cryonics company. Noteworthy here was that, when his body was transferred to their facility, Alcor representatives noted upon inspecting Bedford, that his body was in excellent condition, at least externally.
Moving on to those more modern companies- should they fail, as they are technically not guaranteeing to eventually see the bodies stored at their facilities reanimated, presumably the same thing that happened with that first generation batch of companies will happen- transferring the bodies over to the relatives of the deceased for them to do with whatever they please.
That said, learning from the failures of their predecessors, as alluded to, these companies are generally setup a bit differently in terms of ensuring their long term viability. On top of that, the two biggest companies are setup as non-profit entities as well.
As for how they keep themselves funded. First, rather than relying on loved ones, payments, usually via a life insurance policy or portion of one’s estate, must be bequeathed to them (unless of course you die in such a way that they can’t preserve you or can’t do so fast enough). The cost for such storage ranges from about $28,000 to $200,000 depending on package chosen and company, with the only companies in existence doing this being in the United States and Russia.
Beyond that, they require a sort of annual fee before you die. For example, Alcor requires $700 per year and Cryonics Institute requires $120 annually, or a one time payment of $1250.
For reference here, it only costs about $150-$800 per year to maintain a body and the facilities for it. Thus, at least strictly when talking facilities and storage, so long as the companies always have more people alive waiting to be frozen than currently stored, there will always be at least a base level money needed to maintain the facilities, which don’t really require many people to keep going at all.
Also for reference, Alcor reports over 1,200 people on the waiting list to be stored (vs. only a little over 170 currently store) and CI has over 2,000 on their waiting list (vs about 160 currently stored). These numbers are also rising dramatically every year from the year before.
While those annual fees do provide some steady cash flow for the companies, the more viable long term plan comes in the form of a trust that, for example, Alcor requires be setup, with in their case the amount per person ranging from $25,000-$110,000 depending on storage type. (This is included as a part of the aforementioned cost of being stored.) Currently, Alcor’s public filings show they have a bit over $10 million in their trust fund.
As to why this can potentially be a bullet proof plan, Ben Franklin aptly demonstrates this when he left 1,000 pounds each to the cities of Philadelphia and Boston (146,000 pounds or $167,000 today when adjusting for inflation). The catch was that they couldn’t have the money until 100 years after his death, with the money held in a trust. Further, after that 100 years, the cities could only take a portion of it out and had to leave the rest for another 100 years.
So how did that work out? After one Civil War, several major stock market crashes, a slew of pandemics, and two world wars, among others, in 1990 when Philadelphia cashed out their second installment, it was worth a whopping $2 million (1.7 million pounds). Boston, on the other hand, which had opted to leave more of the fund in after the first withdrawal, had about $5 million (4.4 million pounds) at their disposal that year. The power of compounding interest and time, regardless of what outside catastrophes occasionally take place.
Going back to cryonics companies, to further make sure the investment boards are wisely investing these trusts, it is required, for example at Alcor, that a large percentage of the board have loved ones currently at the facility awaiting medical science to go full Star Trek the Next Generation: The Neutral Zone on them and/or themselves be slated to be frozen when their bodies cease to keep on keepin’ on.
Interestingly, if a person is eventually revived, the remainder of their percentage of the trust at that point will apparently be transferred back to the person to help them get started in the no doubt strange new world they’ll find themselves in. Of course, this could potentially be catastrophic for the companies if everyone is revived at once. But given at that time as reanimation would now be by definition fully possible, the viability of the company after this one way or another isn’t a concern.
This all brings us to the likelihood of reanimation given modern methods. To begin with, this in part depends on how quickly you can be frozen. To help ensure things are handled in a timely manner, beyond approximate known death times as in the case of late stage cancer patients making sure representatives from the companies are on hand to do their thing as soon as legally allowed (usually a couple minutes after death is declared), the companies also give out bracelets and necklaces for subscribers to wear so that those who find their body know to immediately contact the cryonic company. They also advise you tell your loved ones your wishes… Although, given the amount of money being transferred to these companies upon death… let’s just say living relatives don’t exactly always have the best track record of making sure these companies are notified quickly in some cases. Should the body no longer be viable, the money remains in the family after all.
From there, the modern methods of freezing and propriety cocktails of chemicals have improved markedly from the early efforts. For example, in 2016 researchers at 21st Century Medicine managed to successfully use a cocktail of vitrification solution of their own making to lower the temperature of a rabbit and pig brain to -135 degrees C (-211 degrees F). They then later slowly warmed the brains back up, flushed the chemicals out, and analyzed them for damage. The results? They’d successfully kept the cell membranes, intracellular structures, and synapses seemingly intact. To quote the paper on the subject, “Preservation was uniformly excellent: processes were easily traceable and synapses were crisp in both species.”
All that said, given the toxicity level of the cocktails being used here and dehydration damage to cells and the like during the processes involved, many medical professionals think even if the tissues and neurons are all extremely well preserved overall, the damage from all this is enough that even if the chemicals are all flushed upon revival and blood reintroduced, etc., this will all still result in the impossibility of full reanimation of the tissues. Excellent condition is not perfect.
That said, even if the tissue itself can’t be reanimated, some speculate it’s always possible if well preserved enough, technology may either be able to repair the damage, or someday allow for mapping the neurons and connections and the like and then transferring that to a computer system, allowing your consciousness of a sort, or at the least memories, to potentially live on in cybernetic form.
Further advancements in cryonic technology are also being looked at in the form of not necessarily freezing people at all and, instead, simply removing the brain and keeping it alive in an unconscious state. While that may sound like complete science fiction, it turns out researchers at Yale have already managed it, albeit only for a short time.
In this case, they took over 100 pig brains and hooked them up to a system of pumps that circulated warmed artificial blood to provide oxygen and nutrients. With their method, they were able to successfully keep the brains alive and functioning normally for 36 hours. At the end, the brains were analyzed and found to, by all appearances, be in great condition.
If one could eventually advance that technology for indefinite storage, there’s potential to keep the brain alive and perfectly functional until head transplant technology is perfected. And while that also seems like something needing many decades of advancements, it turns out that too actually isn’t as futuristic as you might think.
For example, one Dr. Ren Xiaoping and his team in China have successfully transplanted literally hundreds heads of rats and other animals onto new host bodies, including transplanting monkey heads. For the curious, Dr. Xioaping reports that a monkey head transplant takes approximately 20 hours to complete and he expects a human head transplant to take an additional 10-20 hours on top of that once they reach a suitable success rate on monkeys, which are very similar to humans, to make that an ethically viable option for people.
Should these two methods of keeping a brain alive outside a body and eventual transplant be perfected, people using this method of preservation may have a much sooner fix than reviving cryonically frozen individuals. Although, one can only imagine the living nightmare if the brains remain conscious during such a stasis… No longer being hooked up to any sensory input or any means of output at all, and simply existing for years in that state… Needless to say, should that occur, one would assume nearly everyone would have gone fully mad by the time of any revival in a new body. Although it should be noted here that the researchers in the pig brain study note given the brain activity at the time, they are reasonably sure the pig brains weren’t conscious, for whatever that is worth.
All this said, seemingly everyone, including cryonic companies, concede the likelihood of eventual reanimation is low with the mantra within the industry that “Being cryonically frozen is the second worst thing that can happen to you.”
But given the odds of reanimation are definitely zero if you’re buried or cremated, and given that you can’t take your money with you after you’ve gone, more and more people are taking a flier on this particular lottery ticket, especially as all it takes to enter the game is having a reasonable estate upon your death or a decent life insurance policy. Although, if you were ever revived, that begs the question- would you have to pay that life insurance policy back? If you’re wondering, we have a likely answer to this question in our article, Do You Get Your Stuff Back If You Go Missing, are Declared Dead, Then Turn Up Alive like a Certain Shire Hobbit?
But in the end, should the cryonics process fail, which is probably likely… well, you were dead anyway. But if it succeeds- hey, you get to find yourself in the far future with all those you cared about dead and our future robot overlords having long since enslaved humanity, presumably reviving you for a bit of extra slave labor.
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