Frequently Asked Questions

Index - 1. General - 2. Technical - 3. Ethical - 4. Spiritual
5. Financial - 6. Membership - 7. Misinformed
See also Scientists' Cryonics FAQ

Page 7 - Misinformed Questions


Q: Doesn't ice burst cells like water freezing in a bottle?

A: During freezing, water expands by only 9% in volume, and 3% in length. That is biologically insignificant. Cells are bags, not bottles. More importantly, unless tissue is cooled extremely rapidly, ice doesn't even form inside cells. Cells are damaged by the opposite effect: they are dehydrated and compressed by the ice that forms around cells. Freezing damages cells, but not by volume expansion.

It must also be noted that freezing damage is irrelevant when tissue is preserved by vitrification. Ice does not form during vitrification.

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Q: Don't ice crystals spear cells?

A: This idea continues to be promulgated by people who should know better. First, the question is moot for systems that are vitrified because they have no ice crystals. Second, when tissue is frozen, and when extracellular ice does penetrate cell membranes, it does so by either:  a) trans-pore ice growth, b) osmotic rupture, or c) surface-catalyzed nucleation (Cryobiology 45, 213-215). "Spearing" is not a recognized mode of cell damage in cryobiology.

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Q: What if the electric power fails?

A: Alcor uses liquid nitrogen to keep cryonics patients cold, and the laws of physics keep liquid nitrogen cold, not electricity. Liquid nitrogen refills are needed every few weeks, but electricity is not required for current patient care systems.

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Q: What if I want to grow old?

A: You would still be better off with medical control of aging. You could then choose what mix of fatigue, impotence, incontinence, arthritis, osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease, stroke, blindness, depression and dementia that you want as you grow old. But you want a healthy old age? That's oxymoronic, as any child with progeria (a disease of accelerated aging) will tell you.

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Q: What about overpopulation?

A: What about antibiotics, vaccinations, statin drugs and the population pressures they bring? It's silly to single out something as small and speculative as cryonics as a population issue. Life spans will continue increasing in developed parts of the world, cryonics or not, as they have done for the past century. Historically, as societies become more wealthy and long-lived, population takes care of itself. Couples have fewer children at later ages. This is happening in the world right now. The worst population problems are where people are poor and life spans short, not long.

Eventually, over centuries, civilization will expand far beyond Earth. So lengthening life spans need never cause either stagnation or overpopulation.

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Q: What would the future want with people from today?

A: If someone is still cryopreserved when technology becomes available to revive them, then they will be revived simply because there are people around who cared enough to maintain them until then. Cryonics is not like beaming messages into interstellar space, or putting messages in bottles, not knowing where they will land. Patients are continuously cared for by people who personally care about them -- friends and family in many cases. In time those people will also be cryopreserved, and their friends and families will remain concerned about their care, and so on. Since the progression of cryonics technology makes cryonics a last-in-first-out process, this scenario will eventually reverse itself. People will be motivated to recover their friends and family, and then those people will be motivated to recover their friends and family as recovery technology improves, and so on.

There is another reason for optimism about future motivation for revival. Long before it ever becomes possible to contemplate revival of today's patients, reversible suspended animation will be perfected as a mainstream medical technology. From that point forward, the whole tradition of caring for people who cannot immediately be fixed will be strongly reinforced in culture and law. By the time it becomes possible to revive patients preserved with the oldest and crudest technologies, revival from states of suspended animation will be something that has been done thousands, if not millions, of times before. The moral and cultural imperative for revival when possible will be as basic and strong as the obligation to render first aid and emergency medical care today.

Cryonics patients have nothing to fear from the future. Reaching an era when people actually debate whether it's time for revival is the best problem a cryonics patient can have. The real risk and uncertainty in cryonics comes not from the future, but from the present. Can cryonics patients outlast a primitive culture that still regards them as empty shells ("remains") to be disposed of?

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Q: Does Alcor collect "DNA samples" from patients?

No. Alcor collects fluid and tissue samples from cryonics patients during cryonics procedures for laboratory analysis, for purposes of quality control, but these are not "DNA samples." The defining attribute of a DNA sample is intent. Nobody calls blood drawn in a doctor's office a "DNA sample" because that is not the purpose of the sample.

Alcor has in the past collected DNA samples from living members (not patients) who desired and consented that such samples be stored. Such samples can be useful to verify the fate of members involved in disasters or disappearances. There is no reason to collect DNA from members after they are cryopreserved.

By failing to distinguish between an Alcor member and an Alcor cryopatient, some people have called Alcor's statements about "DNA samples" to be "contradictory" when in fact they are not. A more detailed explanation of this issue can be found here.

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Q: Does Alcor "mishandle remains"?

A: Alcor is composed of people who sincerely want cryonics for themselves and their families. It would make no sense for us to mistreat patients, because how we treat our patients is how we ourselves want to be treated someday. Moreover, our patients are not "remains," they are patients! In our view, they are sick people being stabilized using the most advanced technology available. All Alcor procedures are done with solid biomedical justification to support the primary objective of best possible brain preservation. The technical articles and case histories on this web site document the scientific seriousness and attention to medical detail that goes into real Alcor cases.

Unscrupulous journalists looking for sensational headlines sometimes target cryonics by focusing on specific procedures, such as neuropreservation, and spinning them into lurid tales of wrongdoing. In one recent example, two small openings routinely made in the cranium for monitoring purposes using standard neurosurgical techniques became the story, "Head drilled full of holes!" The same kind of yellow journalism would describe a traditional funeral with the headline: "Funeral Home Scandal: Bodies injected with poison, organs mutilated, remains stuffed into wood boxes and covered with dirt!" Needless to say, this is the worst kind of tabloid journalism. It is both unfair and profoundly disrespectful to patients and their families.

Like many extreme procedures done with the intent to save lives, the physical and aesthetic aspects of cryonics can be disturbing. However the effects of not proceeding with cryopreservation after legal death are much worse. All cryonics procedures must be understood in the context of the most important short-term objective of cryonics, which is the best possible preservation of memory and personality information encoded in the brain.

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