Weird health

9th October 1998 at 01:00
Cold comfort for those who lament life's brevity.

Do you want to live for ever? Immortality may be an impossibility for the time being but some optimistic souls say it won't always be so. Cryonics - putting corpses in a deep freeze until such time as medicine finds a way of thawing them back to life - is a favourite plot of science fiction movies.

But growing numbers of people are pinning their hopes on this life after life, even though scientists put the chance of success - like the thermometer readings on their coffins - at considerably less than zero.

Eternity doesn't come cheap either. If you thought funerals were expensive consider this: a full body freeze costs around Pounds 100,000, while the budget conscious can opt for the head-only option, a snip at Pounds 40,000. Life assurance is the most popular way of paying for the procedure, and several dozen Britons have signed up with cryonics companies, opting for refrigeration over cremation.

Here's how it works. As soon as possible after death, your blood is replaced with "cryoprotective" chemicals - a kind of human anti-freeze - and your body temperature slowly lowered until you are ready to be stored in a sealed container of liquid nitrogen at -196xC.

That's the easy part. The difficult bit is the defrosting. Freezing ruptures the body's cells, and even experiments to thaw and restart the organs of previously healthy animals have failed. But one way forward might involve development of microscopic robots that travel through the body repairing the damage. Cloning and body part replication have also given cryonicists hope that one day they may have the last laugh.

But would they remember it? The most precious human commodity - the mind - can't be put in a box and frozen. So anyone waking up in 2098 with a headache and a bit of a chill might find any memory of their previous existence, like the ice in last night's GT, has simply melted away.

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