Cryonics can be a costly process, and this is something you will have to take into account. Membership of a UK organisation who will attend your death and perform the first steps to cryopreserve your body costs £15-30 per month. There would then be a fee for transportation to an overseas cryonics facility, likely to cost several thousand pounds. The full cryonics process and long-term storage itself can cost from around $28,000 to over $200,000 depending on provider. These costs are accurate at the time of writing, but may vary.
Cryonics is scientifically unproven
There has not been a single case of a person who has undergone the cryonics process and been successfully resuscitated. While some tissues have been successfully cryopreserved (see cryopreservation section), it is generally thought that cryopreserving an entire body would be too complex for cryonics to be successful.
Freezing rates need to be carefully controlled in order to minimise the death and decay of cells. However, ice crystals can form during the freezing process, which can damage cells. The mixture of cryoprotectant chemicals pumped into the body are meant to allow tissues to freeze without ice crystals, but there are doubts that it could reach all the cells quickly enough.
Reviving your cryopreserved body would mean that tissues would need to be repaired from the damage of ice crystals, the harmful toxicity of cryoprotectants, the lack of oxygen and other factors that damage the cells. In many cases, revival would also require the successful treatment of whatever medical condition caused your death. Most importantly, you would have to be resuscitated, after previously being declared dead. Some people believe that improved technology in the future would allow these challenges to be overcome, and make revival possible.
There are several hurdles to successfully resuscitating a body in the future. Although it is sometimes possible to restart someone’s heart after it has stopped, this requires immediate action and has never been achieved after a long period of the heart being stopped. There are many other complex processes in the body that would also need to be restarted.
There may also be significant damage to tissues throughout your body, the impact of which is difficult to predict. In addition, the medical condition or incident that originally caused your death would have to be cured and reversed, to allow you to carry on living.
If resuscitation should ever become technologically possible, there are also a number of other issues to consider; psychological, legal, and cultural.
Cryonics volunteers and their equipment are not medically recognised
There are no cryonics facilities in the UK, but there is a group of volunteers who offer to perform initial cryonics procedures. The volunteers who prepare the body carry out procedures that could be considered clinical in nature, and which require intimate contact with the body; for example, cardiopulmonary support (CPS), which requires chest compressions. They are not doctors, nurses or other healthcare professionals and have no medical training.
These volunteers need immediate access to the body when a person is declared dead, so they will ask to be present during the final hours of your life. This may not be possible if, for instance, you are in a hospital or care home. Doctors and nurses present at your death may be unfamiliar with the cryonics procedure and the presence of the volunteer team. As a result, there is potential for disruption of the typical end of life process, which could affect the experience of yourself and your relatives.
The volunteer team has its own vehicle and equipment, which is not required to be of hospital standards. This is important because, if a piece of equipment were to fail, it may lead to your body not being preserved correctly, or an accident happening during the process, such as your body being dropped during transit.
Cryonics is not regulated
The HTA was established by the Human Tissue Act 2004, a piece of legislation under which the HTA regulates the removal, storage, use and disposal of human tissue. Cryonics is not covered under the Human Tissue Act 2004. In fact, there are no specific legal requirements relating to consent for cryonics, as there are for other activities regulated by the HTA. Cryonics organisations are not inspected or licensed by the HTA or any other health regulator. Therefore, there are currently no protections under human tissue legislation, or any other legal framework, in relation to consent or the handling of a body for the purpose of cryonics.
It is important to note, however, that there is regulation in place for other types of cryopreservation of tissue, which do not involve whole bodies, as covered in the cryopreservation of tissue section.
Although the HTA does not regulate cryonics, we would hope that cryonics organisations handle human bodies and tissue in a respectful and dignified way. For areas that we do regulate, these expectations are set out in Code A of our Codes of Practice. Applying principles from Code A to cryonics, we would hope to see proper consent given from a person before they are cryopreserved, and for their body to be treated with dignity and respect. These principles could be something to bear in mind when considering the cryonics process and may be something to question cryonics organisations regarding.