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Many Are Cold but Few Are Frozen: Cryonics Today
by Rudi Hoffman
(Magazine Excerpt from the October 2007 Free Inquiry Magazine)
What is Cryonics?
Cryonics is the science of cooling people immediately upon the pronouncement of legal death in the hope that, at some point, future technology may be able to resuscitate them. As such, it is a logical extension of the science of cryobiology, in which semen (which can be used almost indefinitely after cryopreservation), human eggs, human embryos, and other biological organisms and tissues are stored at very cold temperatures, typically in liquid nitrogen at -196 degrees Celsius.
The cryopreservation of human sperm and embryos is a mature technology to which thousands of men and women already owe their lives. Intestines, ovaries, blood vessels, and skin are among the many tissues that can be reversibly cryopreserved with current technology. Even brain slices are cryopreservable with normal function after rewarming. But the technology involved in cryogenically freezing and then successfully rewarming a complete, multicellular organism is much more complex. Cryonic suspension works today - if by "works" we mean "completely stops any further deterioration to the biological organism, whether for 30 or 300 years." Once a biological organism has been cooled to cryogenic temperatures, further deterioration stops. Still, as of this writing, there is no documented example of a large, multicellular animal like a dog, cat, rat, or human cooled to cryogenic temperatures then successfully rewarmed with all functions intact.
But the people signing up for cryonic preservation today are not deterred by the difficulties of cryopreserving whole people. There is scientific speculation that future technologies, like artificial general intelligence, biotechnology, and nanotechnology, may enable even imperfectly cryopreserved humans to be resuscitated with consciousness intact.
Just because this has yet to be done, it does not mean that it cannot be done. Legitimate cryonics protocols and concepts do not violate known laws of physics or biology, and there are many "proof of concept" examples, like reduced temperature surgery and operating-room resuscitation of people prematurely pronounced "dead."
Numerous modern medical procedures, including heart transplants, cloning, stem cell research, and even anesthesia, were once considered science fiction. (Interestingly, religious conservatives denounced each such advance as "playing God.")
How many people are signed up for cryonic preservation? The first successfully cryopreserved person who has remained at low temperature is Dr. James Bedford. He entered suspension on January 12, 1967, soon after the publication of Robert Ettinger's seminal book, The Prospect of Immortality. Though the practice of cryonics is over forty years old, the number of people signed up for suspension remains small. According to the Web sites of the two existing cryonics organizations, only about a thousand people have signed up, with about 150 already in liquid-nitrogen containers.
Why I Signed Up
In 1994, I read an article in Omni magazine about a cryonics organization, the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, now based in Scottsdale, Arizona. I was fascinated to find that there were at least two organizations providing human cryopreservation: Alcor and the Cryonics Institute, the latter based in Michigan. I had thought cryonics to be strictly science fiction, and I was thunderstruck to find that two real, solid organizations had been quietly cryopreserving people for decades.
At the time, Alcor's price for a full body suspension was $120,000. Due to inflation and improved protocols, it has now risen to $150,000. (The Cryonics Institute charges slightly less.) I was surprised to find that this entire cost can be paid by life insurance! By simply adding an extra policy naming Alcor as beneficiary, for a few bucks a day, I could be a part of this grand experiment.
As a Certified Financial Planner, part of my business is implementing life insurance solutions for my clients. I determined that an extra permanent universal life-insurance policy was quite affordable - even affordable enough to "cost justify" to my wife, whose enthusiasm for this experiment was initially less than overwhelming.
Like many people who eventually sign up for cryonics, I had multiple questions. The Alcor staff answered them straightforwardly. There was a clear understanding that cryonics is not a guaranteed ticket to the future, but is a "best efforts" proposal of dedicated and conscientious individuals. The multiple variables that could go wrong were clearly laid out for me, both in my conversations with Alcor staff and in the paperwork that they sent to me. I have since learned a great deal about the cryonics community. People who sign up for cryonics display interesting demographics. Not surprisingly, many tend to be skeptical of the claims of religions. They are generally scientific, analytical, and academic by orientation. Until recently, they have been disproportionately software engineers and computer professionals.
Most of us are extremely aware of the variables that could make resuscitation unlikely. The circumstances surrounding one's "legal death" are obviously critical. Many of us have taken steps to reduce our personal risks for unexpected clinical death in order to maximize the likelihood that a cryonics team will be present at the time our heart stops. Coming "out of the closet" as a cryonicist with friends and family can be difficult, but it is obviously helpful to reduce the chance of delays or legal action near the time of cryopreservation.
Still, not all variables are uncontrollable. Two individuals signed up for cryonic suspension died in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. In such instances, proceeds of the insurance policy meant to fund cryonic suspension go to a named secondary beneficiary such as a loved one or charity, just as with ordinary life insurance.
While I am not sanguine about the logistical and technological challenges that need to be met for cryonics to work, I am happy to say I feel very good about my cryonics arrangement. It is a rationalist's way of coping with medical problems for which there is no contemporary solution. While acknowledging that cryonics, like other medical procedures, is always a "best efforts" intervention, being a signed cryonicist makes me feel like I have at least taken advantage of the most recent developments in science and technology.
The ethics of cryonics are certainly relevant to humanists who seek to live with high integrity. Let me try to respond to some commonly expressed concerns.
In a world of scarce resources and overpopulation, should people try to preserve and extend their lives? We've already answered this question, every one of us: of course we should! Any persons seriously convinced that human individuals cause more human problems than they solve would be ethically constrained to kill themselves. Fortunately, most of us feel like we solve more problems than we create. While that may be self delusion on the part of some, I respectfully suggest that the world would be better if Albert Einstein, Robert G. Ingersoll, or Richard Feynman were still generating ideas - or might do so in the future - instead of being permanently and irretrievably dead.
What about the ethical aspects of paying for cryonics? Currently, society expends enormous resources to keep very old and frail people alive, though there may be no chance of improvement in the quality of their lives. In contrast, cryonics is easily paid for with an extra life insurance policy, is paid using only private as opposed to public funds, and has the potential to restore individuals to a quality of life that could be astounding. How should we as a society treat patients who have run out of medical options? Should they be stabilized against the day when radically advanced medicine might render a second opinion, or shall we destroy them in our arrogant conviction that present medicine has the last word on what is and isn't possible for all time?
While not for everyone, cryonics offers to some a reasonable, affordable, and ethical alternative when contemporary medicine fails. From the viewpoint of a person from 1907, only one hundred years ago, most Free Inquiry readers already lead science-fiction lifestyles. It is not a stretch of vision or imagination to understand that cryonics, like cloning or heart surgery, will be mainstream technology in the future. This is the chance to take an ambulance ride to that future.
Sincere thanks to Dr. Brian Wowk of 21st Century Medicine for assistance with this article.
Rudi Hoffman in front of Alcor liquid nitrogen dewars, 2006. Each container holds four or more "patients" at -196˚C.
An Interview With Rudi Hoffman
(Magazine Excerpt from the September 2006 Alcor Life Extension Foundation "CRYONICS" Magazine)
Rudi Hoffman, a long time Alcor member living in Florida, is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER ™ professional, accountant, and Insurance agent licensed in 23 states. He has written life insurance policies for the vast majority of Alcor's members and is actively involved in the cryonics community. He is married to Dawn Hoffman, who helps him run his insurance agency. Those interested in contacting Rudi can send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
CM: Rudi, tell us about your first exposure to the topic of cryonics.
RH: In 1994, I read an article in OMNI magazine about cryonic suspension. It was one of the most exciting concepts I had ever seen. In that same issue was an ad for Alcor. I called the 800 number and was thrilled to soon get a package from Alcor.
CM: When did you join Alcor and what motivated you to become a member?
RH: After reading the information Alcor sent me in 1994, I investigated and researched for about three months. To find that there was an organization doing this was tremendously exciting to me. I especially appreciated that my questions were answered with tremendous candor, including questions about the amount of damage caused by the cryonic process, the possibilities of multiple variables going wrong and resulting in suboptimal cryopreservations, and all the "dirty laundry". While cryonics remains a "best efforts" activity, I was very impressed by the integrity and dedication of the people I talked with at Alcor. I was in 1994, and remain today, greatly enthusiastic about the concept.
CM: How does your membership impact your life plans or lifestyle?
RH: I tend to take fewer "irretrievable" risks, such as hiking or trail riding alone. Even flying or leaving the U.S. is considered carefully in light of whether my brain and body would be available for optimal cryopreservation if something unlikely happened. My wife Dawn and I often laugh about the mechanics of getting an optimal cryopreservation. She does her part to remind me to avoid risks that have substantial chances of "permanent" death, in which there would be little or no chance of a timely cryopreservation.
CM: What do you consider the most challenging aspect(s) of cryonics?
RH: There are many. Probably in order, these would include:
- Lack of public awareness, understanding and support. Under this would fall the outrageous lack of funding and death of cryonics research, compared to how much money and effort is spent on other public risks. The United States is currently spending 80 billion a year to combat the risk of you being killed by terrorists. The odds of you being killed by terrorists, especially if you live in the United States, are miniscule. The odds of you dying of one of the diseases of aging are almost 100 percent. Does anyone else see the huge disconnect here? Yet there is no government initiative to research and stop the disease of aging. Instead of government helping solve the main issue facing every human on the planet, it tends to actively inhibit research which could save your life.
- Because we cryonicists are so few in number and this is still considered "leading, bleeding edge" activity, we face numerous challenges. While I understand this may be changing, where are the mainstream peer reviewed scientific journals, regular and systematic scientific conferences, or PhD career track devoted to cryonics? While the science of cryonics is legitimate and honest and Drs. Greg Fahy, Brian Wowk, Stephen Harris, Sergey Sheleg and Yuri Pichugin are doing some great work, we need hundreds of labs throughout the world working on the technological barriers to reversible vitrification. Regular conferences, breakthroughs announced in the mainstream press, repeatable and verifiable protocols leading to the resuscitation of various animals and humans...these are all still in the future.
- The ideological issues brought up by cryonics are obviously nontrivial and perhaps still remain among the most perplexing questions as to why there are less than 2000 signed "Cryonauts" in the world. While this is an extremely rational thing to do, we have a fraction of the participation of virtually any interest group you can name. I live in Daytona Beach. Each spring we get about 500,000 motorcycle enthusiasts for "Bike Week." Many of these people happily, gleefully, enthusiastically spend more on their motorcycles and the toys that go with them than it would cost to pay for cryonics dues and life insurance.
CM: What specific areas of Alcor's program would you like to see developed over the next 5-10 years?
RH: While I am a vocal and unabashed ideologue of the cryonics concept, I am certainly aware of the limitations of current cryonics technology. In one sense, cryonics already "works" in that it preserves most of the patterns that make up "you" from further deterioration upon "death." But in another sense it is a constant source of surprise to many that we don't have a single small animal successfully resuscitated from liquid nitrogen temperatures. I would like to see more research on reversible cryopreservation, along with full body vitrification, which would seem to me to give our technicians in the future as much as possible to work with.
CM: What kind of lasting contribution would you like to make to cryonics?
RH: Good question! For the last two years, as near as I can tell, it has been my privilege to write insurance policies for 80 percent of the folks who have signed up for cryonic suspension on the planet. While this is a gratifyingly high percentage, in total numbers it is still quite small. It is my passion to show and demonstrate to literally hundreds of thousands of people that cryonics is an affordable and practical option. I would also like to finish my book, "The Affordable Immortal", which is about how to sign up for cryonics and the details of why life insurance funding makes sense for most people. I would also like to continue to develop alternate funding methods, such as annuity funding, and to develop the field of cryonics estate planning, enabling you to (maybe) be resuscitated rich. Finally, as time goes by and I can afford to do so, I want to donate substantial sums towards both cryonics research and marketing.
CM: What could Alcor do that would benefit you as a member?
RH: Continue to promote the local "CryoFeasts" and gatherings. Most of those reading this belong to one of the most exclusive "clubs" in the world. It would be nice to have both local and large scale conferences, learn from each other, and develop networks that may save our lives down the road.
CM: What do your friends and family members think about your cryopreservation arrangements?
RH: Well, it varies. My wife, Dawn, is very supportive. My siblings are quite supportive and interested. My mom and extended family, who are wonderful people and tend to be quite religious in the Christian tradition, think I am a bit "nuts." It is ironic, in the extreme, that the scientific, rational choice of cryonic suspension is viewed as "kooky." If some of your relatives think you're "kooky," you have good company! Most of our friends are aware of my cryonics interest and that I am signed up with Alcor. They are respectful, if sometimes humorously so, of this choice.
CM: What are your hobbies or special interests?
RH: Bicycling, square and round dancing, racquetball, badminton, ping pong, and camping are all among my favorite things to do. One of the reasons I am signed up for cryonics is because I enjoy life, and I want to have more time to continue enjoying it. I read, perhaps two or three hours a day. I receive some sixteen monthly science, philosophy, and finance journals. Just reading "Cryonet" can take a lot of time!
CM: Finally, what would you like to say to other members reading this interview?
RH: In closing, may I share a story that is deeply meaningful to me? While I have been signed up with Alcor since 1994, my wonderful wife and administrator, Dawn, has not been. We were prescient enough to get her life insurance in place some five years ago, simply keeping her options open. Valentine's Day of 2005 will be memorable for me forever. As a gift, Dawn gave me a small sculpture, with the title, "Together for Eternity," along with a mysterious envelope. In this envelope were Dawn's Alcor papers! The reason I share this personal anecdote is to remind us all to be patient, loving, and constant with people we care about. The march of progress is on our side. Mind boggling advances and breakthroughs are going to happen in the future, adding to the joy and quality of your life. I want to be there to be a part of them. My deepest gratitude goes to those who are making this a realistic possibility, and my heartiest congratulations go to my fellow "Cryoneers."
Cryonics Video Transcripts
Welcome to part four of the educational series regarding cryonics funding. I am Rudi Hoffman, Certified Financial Planner and Cryonics Funding Specialist.
Monetary or price inflation seems to be built into the fabric of twentieth century economics as inexorably as inflation is built into the structure of the universe. Both seem to be simply part of the facts of life, and we as humans with ambitions beyond our current station need to find ways to deal with these facts.
As you hear these words, stars and galaxies are exploding away from us at enormous speeds. And, also as you hear these words, inflation may be causing the cost of specialty medical interventions like cryonics to rise.
For the purpose of this video, let's stay focused on the cost of cryonic suspension, a medical intervention with tremendous potential which can only be realized if a number of variables work well for us, including the financing piece.
PURPOSE OF THIS VIDEO, AN ANALYSIS OF INDEX UNIVERSAL LIFE
Compared to the fields of endeavor which comprise the current consumers of cryonics services are engaged in, such as artificial general intelligence, biotechnology, advanced physics, software engineering, and the (almost) intractable field of ending aging, life insurance and finance is relatively straightforward.
If you are watching this video, the odds are very good that you are both smart and highly educated, and can handle a reasonable amount of nuance without breaking a sweat. In fact, you may find learning about this to downright fun!
We will be analyzing a relatively new product offered by the life insurance industry called an "Index Universal Life."
You may be familiar with the basic concept of a Universal Life policy. Let's take a quick review.
UNIVERSAL LIFE: THE BUCKET OF CASH METAPHOR
We can think of putting money into a Universal Life (UL) policy as putting money into an bucket of money made available by the life insurance company. From this bucket the insurance company pulls a relatively tiny dipper, which is used to pay the internal "cost of insurance" each month. The actual "cost of insurance" is an internal risk cost and in the early years of a policy is generally quite low, enabling the cash in the bucket to grow and compound.
Guarantees are backed by the claims paying ability of the issuer.
The cash in this "bucket of money" grows due to the influx of money, and the interest or growth credited on this money.
So, the simple variables are 1. The amount going into the bucket, 2. The growth credited on this money, and 3. The cost of insurance being withdrawn from the bucket.
When UL illustrations are made, they generally, and in some cases by law, provide at least two illustrated scenarios of these variables.
Some UL policies also have a guarantee rider, that protects the death benefit even if the cash value falls to zero, which could be perceived as a helpful feature for cryonicists who want to know that their policy will pay the death benefit without fail regardless of market conditions.
One of these illustrations will be showing how the policy will work using several "worst case" assumptions.
The other, generally the rightmost three columns on the year by year illustrations page, assumes the CURRENT or actual interest rates and internal cost of insurance being charged by the insurance company.
Pretty straightforward so far, right? Here's where it gets a bit nuanced.
THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE OF UNIVERSAL LIFE POLICIES
Do you like history? Can you see yourself on a timeline stretching from the past to the present where you are reading these words and continuing to the future? On this timeline, if we put the OLD style Universal Life policies, we have some UL policies which could lapse...the policy could "die" before you do! These were often sold using HIGH INTEREST projections and did not have any underlying "guarantee riders." If you have an older life insurance policy, you should get it checked to see how it would compare to a newer life insurance product.
If you have a NEWER model of UL, it may have a guarantee rider to guaranteeing coverage to age 120. But, what if you live PAST age 120?
The future of Universal Life is what we move to now...a policy which can grow and help address the inflation question.
HOW INDEX UNIVERSAL LIFE WORKS, EVOLVING A NEW FINANCIAL CREATURE
What if you could participate in the "upside growth" of the stock market, without taking the risk of your account going down, the "downside risk" if the market turned south and plummeted?
The search for this "best of all possible worlds" and the evolutionary pressures of the financial industry has enabled the emergence of a new financial creature. This creature combines much of the upside growth of the market when times are good, but manages to avoid the downside risk of major market pullbacks. Instead, it simply takes a nap for a year, has zero growth, but zero loss, and waits for the market to start going up again.
This creature has evolved after decades and centuries of evolution of financial products, responding to enormous pressure in the reputation based free market system.
First introduced in 1998, this creature has been evolving nicely, with more and better consumer protections built in, multiple indices to utilize for growth options, and lower internal costs enabling streamlined growth of internal cash values in the policy. This new creature is called "INDEX UNIVERSAL LIFE INSURANCE."
The cash value inside the life insurance policy has options that the policyholder can decide on, with percentages of the cash value defined in each.
One or more of these investment options enables that section to have index related growth. This means that while the dollars are not invested directly in a stock market index like the Standard and Poor 500, the insurance company credits a growth to your account based on growth or change in this index.
Mortality, expense and administration charges and fees would continue to be deducted from the policy, which could negatively affect the cash reserves in a given year.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO ME AND MY POLICY?
In the case of at least one cryonics friendly insurance carrier, here is what this means to you and I as consumers. If the S and P 500 goes up in a given year, your account is credited with up to 12% of this growth.
If the Standard and Poor 500 index goes down, nothing is credited to your index account...but it does not go down either.
So, we are basically credited with something between zero and 12%, depending on what the S and P 500 does.
The obvious question, "How is this sustainable by the insurance company?" could fill a book length explanation. The short answer has to do with economy of scale that insurance companies have, as well as the ability to buy options on the S and P index that go up if the index goes up.
Plus there are some profits on the life insurance part of the program.
And, there are built in penalties that discourage people from pulling their money out in the early years of the program.
In short, it is a financially transparent product, in that we can see how the simple parts work, and also how the insurance company can rationally make it available.
We will show an example to see how this works. The example assumes a male 32 year old...let's call him Joe Visioneer...applies for and obtains an Index Universal Life policy at preferred non nicotine using rates. The policy is an Index Universal Life policy for a face amount of $300,000. Joe is paying 300 dollars a month into this plan. Using a realistic but technically not guaranteed interest rate obtained by using a hypothetical interest rate over a 25 year period, at age 65 the illustration shows a cash value of over 389,000, and a death benefit over 689,000.
Rates of return are hypothetical, are provided for illustrative purposes only, and do not reflect the performance of an actual investment.
WHAT IF YOU CAN'T AFFORD TO FUND A POLICY AT THE NECESSARY LEVEL NOW?
One of the enormous benefits...and dangers...of any universal life policies is that you can ADJUST the premium. While this does give people the right to shoot themselves in the foot and underfund a policy, this provision does something very positive. It gives people the right to establish a policy, pay less now, and more in the future when they can. So, Joe could start with 100 a month, and increase this after a few years to $300 a month or more.
SO, WHAT ARE THE TRADEOFFS?
We intuitively know that there must be tradeoffs in any decision. What are they with Index Universal Life? What are the risks?
Well, remember we talked about the "worst case scenario?" When you look at an IUL illustration, you will see a section that shows what happens in a worst case scenario. And, in Joe's case, this means that his policy shows zero value...cash value and death benefit of zero...at his age 75, some 43 years into the program. Should this worry us?
Probably not. Here is a simplified example of how the "guaranteed" side of an IUL is determined. It actually assumes FOUR worst case scenarios...occurring every year between now and the rest of your life. These four are 1. That the stock market goes straight down, decades in a row. AND 2. The insurance company goes to their maximum internal cost of insurance, which would only happen if all companies were doing this due to a worldwide pandemic or war AND 3. All internal costs of the policy go to the maximum AND 4. You and your broker see these things occurring year after year, decade after decade, and do nothing to adjust the policy so it delivers as needed, or redirect the premiums into a different policy or company.
It can be fairly observed that the likelihood of all four of these occurring is small. And, more importantly, if the stock market drops relentlessly for the next 43 years, and we have worldwide pandemic and/or wars, the odds of a good cryopreservation are certainly low.
Each individual's situation is unique. I will discuss all of the risks and benefits applicable to your specific situation.
WHAT IF YOU ARE 52 INSTEAD OF 32?
Joe's father John Visioneer is 52. He can invest $500 a month into a life insurance and savings plan. This gives him a death benefit of $300,000 which constantly rises each year, a reasonable expectation of over $339,000 in cash and a death benefit over $639,000 at his age 82.
There is no magic bullet that fixes every concern about proper cryonics funding. But a well funded Index Universal Life is certainly a program rationally minded and highly analytical cryonicists may want to consider.
I hope you find this video helpful and on point as you continue to do your homework.