Cryonics: Is Death No Longer Inescapable?

Humans have been looking for the Fountain of Youth in the hope of finding the secret to eternal life. Modern science is developing stem cell therapies that promise to treat diseases of aging. But cryonics promises life after death.

Cryonics involves deep-freezing the bodies of people who have just died. The idea is to bring them to life in the future when scientific advances can revive them.

The “father of cryonics” was physicist Robert Ettinger. He wrote The Prospect of Immortality, which became publicly available in 1964. Three years later, James Bedford, a psychology professor from California, became the first person to be cryopreserved.

Cryonics institutes hope that scientists will find treatments for the diseases that caused the deaths of cryopreserved people.

Dennis Kowalski, president of the Cryonics Institute in Michigan, said “There’s no guarantee we can bring you back. But there is a guarantee if they bury or cremate you, that you’ll never find out.”

To date, around 1,250 people have registered their wish to be cryopreserved with cryonics institutes. So far, about 350 people have been pushed into a deep-freeze slumber within minutes of their hearts stopping in three facilities: Cryonics Institute Michigan and Alcor Life Extension Foundation in the US, in addition to KrioRus in Moscow, Russia. Alcor, in Arizona, is the largest of the three.

Cryonics Applications

(A)Non-cryopreserved (control) tomato shoot tip with leaves; (B) Cryopreserved shoot tip with regrowing leaves; (C) Tomato plants grown from cryopreserved shoot tips.

How Cryonics Done?

Cryopreservation begins immediately after a person dies. Their head is placed under cold water to ensure that their brain cells don’t die due to lack of oxygen. Then scientists equalize the body temperature to that of the head with ice cooling or an ice bath.

Scientists also inject the body with anticoagulants to prevent the blood from clotting. Then, similar to mummification in ancient Egypt, scientists drain the blood and the body’s fluids.

The blood is replaced with a cryo-protectant fluid to avoid the formation of ice crystals inside cells, veins and capillaries. Then scientists place the body in a bag and lower it into a giant tank. Afterwards, they bring the temperature down slowly till it reaches -196°C.

Alcor Life Extension Foundation claims on its website that, “clearly the brain doesn’t die after only a few minutes without oxygen. The primary obstacle to resuscitation after a few minutes of cardiac arrest is not cell death, but something called reperfusion injury.”

Memory & Brain

“Short-term memory depends on electrical activity,” they add. “However long-term memory depends on durable molecular and structural changes within the brain… We inactivate the brain by cooling, via general anesthesia, hypoxia, ischemia, or any method, and yet we can retain the secondary memories which we’ve initially stored.”

Human body stores the Long-term memory in cell structures and molecules within the brain. Cryonics goes further than the mainstream consensus that the brain doesn’t have to be continuously active to survive or retain memory.

To retain memory in the future, brain repair requires analysis at the molecular level. Scientists assume that this far-future technology depends on nanomedicine and molecular nanotechnology.

Islamic Perspective on Life & Death

Allah states in the Holy Qur’an in unequivocal terms that our bodies belong to Him: “Who say, when afflicted with calamity: ‘To Allah We belong, and to Him is our return’” (Surat Al-Baqarah 2:156).

According to some interpretations, the Arabic word for died, tuwuffeya, means seizing a thing in its entirety. Thus, Allah orders that which belongs to Him seizes again. He commissions angels to take the soul and remove it from the captivity of the body. They only leave a mere skeleton.

Allah also declares that this world is temporary, while the hereafter is enduring and is payback for our worldly deeds.

“Every soul shall have a taste of death: And only on the Day of Judgment shall you be paid your full recompense…” (Surat Al ‘imran 3:185).

Islam vehemently rejects the idea of immortality: “We granted not to any man before thee permanent life (here): if then thou shouldst die, would they live permanently” (Surat Al-Anbiya’ 21:34).

Allah also challenges people to bring back the soul: “Then why do ye not (intervene) when (the soul of the dying man) reaches the throat… Call back the soul, if ye are true (in the claim of independence)?” (Surat Al-Waqiaa 56:83-87).

“Faith in life after death is one of the six fundamental beliefs required of a Muslim to complete his faith,” writes Imam Kamil Mufti in his article Belief In Life After Death. “Rejecting it renders all other beliefs meaningless.”

“The Islamic principles and beliefs tell us that God is the only one able to resurrect the dead,” says Mohammed Salamah, assistant professor of Islamic Sciences at Al-Madinah International University in Malaysia to AboutIslam.

Reviving Dead

Cryonics isn’t a belief that we can revive the dead. Cryonics is a belief that no one is really dead until losing the information content of the brain, and that low temperatures can prevent this loss.

The goal of cryonics is to overcome serious illness by preserving and protecting life. Cryonics is therefore consistent with pro-life principles of both medicine and religion since Islam takes well care of every living organism’s life; Usamah ibn Shuraik narrated: “… ‘O Allah’s Messenger! Should we seek medical treatment for our illnesses?’ He replied: ‘Yes, you should seek medical treatment, because Allah, the Exalted, has let no disease exist without providing for its cure, except for one ailment, namely, old age’.” Tirmidhi.