Normally stealthy, the Detroit-based Cryonics
Institute was in the news world-wide last month. A controversy regarding the
remains of a London teenager crossed international lines in a dispute that
combined high-profile custody litigation with the cryopreservation debate.
The teenager, unidentified because of her age,
suffered terminal cancer and expressed her wishes to be cryonically preserved
after her death. She hoped that a cure would someday be discovered for her
cancer. Her divorced parents were unable to agree on the process and the matter
was resolved in the family division of the British High Court.
So long as the custody dispute raged-on between the teenager's parents, the child's preference regarding cryonic preservation was also a contested issue. Finally, when her cancer became terminal, the child's preference was honored by both of her parents.
Cryopreservation on this scale is not supported
by the mainstream scientific community. While scientific advances have perfected
the cryogenic preservation of human embryos, there is no evidence that the
technology is viable for a human body.
Despite the lack of scientific basis, the
Cryonics Institute has 145 human "patients" as well as 125 "pet
patients". The cost of freezing starts at $28,000 for humans and $5,800 or
more for pets.
Stanford University law professor and bioethicist Hank Greely is not
comfortable with the sales pitch of bringing a frozen person back to life.
"If you think about this as a health intervention, I think it's ethically
problematic," Greely stated. He added that the ethical dilemma could
be lessened by treating the process as an alternative to the traditional preservation
practice of embalming.
Cryopreservation is not the only example of the pseudoscience
of cryonics duping consumers to part with a chunk of cash. Beginning in
the 1970s, and finally becoming popular in the US over the last several years,
cryotherapy is a controversial procedure that involves standing in a chamber
filled with nitrogen gas chilled to between -319 and -166 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cryotherapy reached Michigan
in 2015, with a whole-body cryotherapy treatment center opening in Birmingham last year. With its proponents touting benefits
that include increased athletic performance, weight loss, speeding up surgical
recovery, improving skin conditions, and even treating rheumatoid arthritis, it
is hard to not take a closer look at these impressive, although unsubstantiated
Alas, there is no mainstream
medical support for cryotherapy. A recent scholarly review of scientific studies was unable to find any data that supported whole-body
cryotherapy over more traditional methods such as cold water immersion or ice
The 2015 death of ChelseaAke-Salvacion increased the scrutiny of this controversial spa procedure. Ms. Salvacion did not freeze to death, but
asphyxiated due to the lack of oxygen in the air during her cryotherapy
There is no scientific evidence that exposing the human body to extreme
sub-zero temperatures has any likelihood of preserving the body in a state of
suspended animation, waiting for technology to catch up with the forward
thinking Cryonics Institute members. The custody case of the UK teenager further complicates the ethical considerations of this dubious proceedure.
Likewise, there is no evidence that
cryotherapy is any more effective than sitting in a bathtub full of ice water.
Nevertheless, people continue to be fascinated by the mysteries of the sub-zero
and they continue to be willing to pay to satisfy this fascination.
Labels: child custody, cryonics, Cryonics Institute, ethics