In an unassuming business park in Arizona, the cryopreserved remains of 181 people can be found submerged in tanks of liquid nitrogen at a temperature of -196°C, waiting for science to grant their wish of restored life.
The facility is home to the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, a nonprofit organization that sits in the desert city of Scottsdale, part of the great Phoenix area in Arizona. Since the early 1970s, they have set out on a mission to be the world leader in cryonics – the art of preserving human bodies and brains at subzero temperatures, in the speculative hope that future developments in science and technology might someday make resurrection a possibility.
Currently, no human has ever been revived from death after being preserved in sub-zero temperatures, and the technology doesn't appear to be on the horizon. As such, many scientists have dispelled cryonics as pseudoscience, untenable nonsense, and quackery. Alcor has also been subject to a number of controversies and sensational allegations, all of which they deny.
Nevertheless, Alcor argues that the sheer possibility of the technology alone is enough to warrant their services.
“No cryonics organization can currently revive a cryopreserved patient, but we at Alcor have confidence revival may be possible. Nanotechnology and other future medical technologies are expected to have very broad capabilities,” Alcor says on their website.
Alcor publishes a full list of their 181 cryopreservations on their website, containing a short description of each "patient." For instance, the 181st person to undergo this process was a 67-year-old male whose brain was cryopreserved after he died of kidney failure in August 2020. The vast majority of people who have undergone this process were from the US, but there are also patients from Australia, Canada, France, Portugal, Spain, the UK, Israel, Japan, China, and Thailand.
The oldest cryopreserved body at Alcor belongs to Dr James Hiram Bedford, a former University of California psychology professor who died of kidney cancer in 1967. The facility also holds the cryopreserved head of baseball legend Ted Williams, and venture capitalist Peter Thiel has acknowledged being a member of Alcor, according to the New York Times.
To take part in this curious experiment, people (living, at this point) must sign up to become a member. As of 2020, the cost of whole-body cryopreservation is $200,000 and neuropreservation (brain only) is $80,000. In the ideal circumstances, the cryonics standby team is waiting near a dying person up to a week before death.
Once the person is declared legally dead, they will undergo a stabilization process that involves placing them in an ice bath and their blood being replaced with an “organ preservation solution.” Blood circulation and breathing are then artificially restored to protect the brain and allow the administering of “protective medications.” The chilled body will then be transported to the Alcor facility. The website notes: “Many Alcor members choose to retire and/or enter hospice near Alcor for shorter transport time and better procedural outcome.”
At the facility, they will be given further cryoprotectants to help preserve blood vessels, the brain, and other organs. After five to seven days, once the preparation is complete, the body is placed into an aluminum tank containing liquid nitrogen. Here, their body will be held at a temperature of -196°C waiting for any developments that could potentially "revive" them back to life.
If all of this wishful thinking? Most scientists would say so. However, perhaps we should never say never.