Friday, October 24, 2014

Death (un) Ltd.

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What happens to your body after death? Probably what you expect – but then again, this is Arizona, so maybe not.

The pathologists wheel you out of the elevator and place you on the examination table. Respectfully, but not gently. One of them makes a steady, confident incision across the back of your skull. Another cuts a large Y-pattern over your torso, revealing subcutaneous fat of a creamy yellow tint you’ve never seen before. Soon, your body is a painter’s easel of vivid and alien colors and exposed organ structures. You begin emitting smells that offer no polite comparison. Your brain is removed, weighed, photographed and sliced into pathological cutlets that will be shipped to labs all across the world. Your other major organs are similarly broadcast. Going out into the world. To advance knowledge. To do good.  You died all of 67 minutes ago.


Dying in Arizona isn’t terribly different than dying anywhere else in America, circa 2012. If you’re a perfectly average Arizonan, you can expect to live 79.9 years, which is slightly longer than the national mean. Your chances of contracting some lethal form of cancer – even skin cancer, surprisingly – are somewhat lower across the board in sun-drenched Arizona than elsewhere in the United States; then again, your chances of being murdered are about 30 percent greater. Our heart disease rates are about average.

As elsewhere in the United States, your length and quality of life are largely predicated on your cultural background and area code; for example, if you live in Apache County, where inferior health services and widespread smoking and alcohol consumption conspire against longevity, your life expectancy is about six years less than the state mean. Again, this doesn’t make Arizona special. Every state has its Apache County, its Compton, its Ozarks.

The point being, you never know. All you do know is that we all die. It’s an inescapable, all-equalizing universal axiom that probably should give us comfort and perspective, but rarely does.

If dying in Arizona lacks singular quality, one cannot say the same about the fate of your corpse. The Valley, in particular, is an exceedingly interesting place for the dead. You could be rushed to the world’s biggest “brain bank,” a cutting-edge Alzheimer’s research facility in Sun City where your still-living neurons will facilitate a cure for a disease that afflicts 26 million people worldwide. Or you may choose to have your cryopreserved corpse packed into a stainless-steel tank at sub-zero temperatures; years later, given specific scientific advances, you’ll live once again.
To walk. To talk. To root for the Suns. You can’t do that in most places – even California.

Or, your cremated remains could be fashioned into a diamond ring. (This one’s not specific to Arizona, admittedly, but more of us do it than you think.)

To be sure: Death is different in Arizona. We’ve made it opaque and complex, and if you scrutinize it long enough, and focus your eyes beyond its black horizon, you’ll surely see possibilities.

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Cryopreservation or brain donation isn’t in the cards for most of us. We’ll die and embark on one of the more mundane, customary journeys of final rest: burial or cremation. But even as we do so, we make a choice that says something about us as a culture. And that fact hasn’t escaped Bill Gabriel.

For a guy who spent the morning cleaning a crematorium, Gabriel is eerily well-groomed: pressed slacks, white dress shirt, smartly-knotted necktie, and not even a whisper of ash. In fact, the only clue that Gabriel recently spent an hour sweeping pulverized human remains out of a bus-sized oven is the thin sheet of perspiration that never quite leaves his brow. “You learn how to stay clean in this line of work,” he says with a bashful grin.

Gabriel loves his work. And with his retiring temperament, reassuring smile and hyper-vigilant attention to detail, he’s quite good at it. The former cable TV installer enrolled in mortuary school in the late 1980s and ultimately hooked on with Sunwest Cemetery near the retiree sprawl of Sun City, rising to the position of funeral director for both the cemetery and its associated cremation service, the Cremation Society of Arizona. Gabriel is something of an outlier in the mortuary industry. For starters, he’s a self-described “hard-line liberal” in a field that tends to swing conservative. He’s also a maverick innovator, finding new ways to tap the end-of-life market in a part of Arizona where the end of life is a way of life.

There are several avenues for a dead body to find its way to Gabriel’s care. A person could pass away from “natural” – i.e. unsuspicious – causes and come directly to the funeral home via hearse. Gabriel gets a lot of those, often freshly trucked in from the many hospitals and hospice-care facilities in the Sun City area. Other corpses take a more circuitous route. Any suspicious or unwitnessed death, especially in individuals 65 years and younger, is referred to the Maricopa County Medical Examiner (ME) and its team of investigators. About 5,000 bodies pass through the ME’s Forensic Science Center in Downtown Phoenix annually; of those, roughly 60 to 70 percent receive a full autopsy, according to sources familiar with the ME. For the remaining 30 to 40 percent, the ME performs an “external examination” in which investigators look for evidence of physical trauma and withdraw blood for toxicology panels. If your spouse poisons you with nerium oleander from your backyard, presumably this is where the crime would be exposed.

Suffice to say, most bodies that come to Gabriel from the ME perish under less exotic circumstances – a drug overdose, perhaps, or a congenital heart defect that went undetected. If the corpse has been autopsied, and the family wants an open-casket burial, it can be problematic for Gabriel; any arteries or cardiovascular structures damaged during the autopsy will curtail the effectiveness of the machine he uses to bilge blood from the corpse and replace it with embalming fluid. In such cases, Gabriel must painstakingly stitch the arteries back together, as if repairing a doll.

Gabriel has no particular preference for the expensive, chemically-intensive process of preparing a corpse for an open-casket service; in fact, he was the first funeral director in the Valley to offer a “green” burial option, a cheaper (about $6,000) and more environmentally-neutral disposition in which the decedent is laid to rest in a four-foot hand-dug grave, sans embalming fluid or any other toxic agent. “No shoes, and the clothing is biodegradable,” he says, toeing a piece of the remote, gravel-strewn plot at Sunwest that he reserves strictly for green burials. There are no headstones or obvious grave markers here. The burials are marked solely by small steel ID tags hidden in the grass. The bodies themselves are placed in simple, instantly compostable cardboard boxes.

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Gabriel says green burials haven’t caught on in Arizona, but “they’re really popular in Washington and Canada and other places with a tradition of eco-mindedness.” The main objection people have, he says, is the impossibility of an open-casket service. Arizona law stipulates that corpses must be embalmed for open viewings.

The human desire to gaze one last time upon a departed loved one led to another Gabriel innovation – the Valley’s first mourner-friendly crematorium. Located in a nondescript freestanding building behind the main funeral home, the Cremation Society of Arizona sounds like a social club, and it smells like one, too – strawberry air freshener greets mourners as they pass through the main entrance into a cozy foyer lined with tasteful urns of various sizes and price-points. A double-paned, curtained display window dominates the far wall. With the click of a button, the curtain retreats on a mechanized track to reveal a foundry-like chamber. In the center of the chamber rests the five-ton cremator oven that will incinerate your corpse after your survivors bid farewell to your body from behind the reinforced window.


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“The crematorium was always this anonymous place in back of the cemetery in the old days,” Gabriel explains. “Now we’re taking it out of the shadows and giving people a way to make it a personal experience. More and more people choose cremation. It’s what people want.” The advantages of cremation over burial are manifest. It’s cheaper – about $900 compared to $9,000 for a standard burial package. And it’s more mobile – Gabriel cites the example of a family that wanted to hold a funeral in Rocky Point. Good luck trying to ferry a corpse over the border; a 10-pound urn, not so hard.

Cremation has never been more common or popular in the United States. Back in the 1950s, embalming was the norm, followed by a traditional burial. Today, the majority of deceased Arizonans – about 65 percent, according to the Arizona Board of Embalmers – are blasted with flames in excess of 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit and atomized into a fine, gray ash. According to a national study, Arizona ranks fifth in per-capita cremations, a figure that Gabriel attributes to our large population of non-native transplants. He says that people are much less likely to choose burial in a place where they lack family roots. He also theorizes that cremation might be better suited for the frequent-flier transience of modern times. “We live in such a mobile culture,” Gabriel observes. “You like to leave flowers on your grandmother’s grave, but what if you bury somebody and move across the country? I don’t think the connection between family and land is as strong as it used to be.”

Though modern cremators shifted from coal to natural gas and oil fuels in the 1960s, the basic science of cremation has remained unchanged for decades. First, in the funeral home’s morgue, Gabriel will remove your pacemaker or internal fibrillation device, owing to the tendency of these devices to explode in the oven. If you weigh more than 420 pounds, he’ll refer your corpse to a facility with a larger crematory, as vast amounts of burning fat tend to create out-of-control burns and excessive smoke.

He will then place your body in the facility’s dedicated cold storage area at 32 degrees Fahrenheit and double-check your family authorization forms. If you have adult children, Gabriel will want all of them to sign off, either in person or by proxy. (If, while living, you had the foresight to sign an “immunity document” mandating cremation, it will also suffice.) By and by, he will place your chilled-over body in a simple cardboard box atop a gurney. After rigorously cross-documenting your name and tag number on both a clipboard and dry erase board to avoid any possibility of a mix-up, he wheels your gurney up to the window so your family can get one last look. When the time comes, he will slide you into the “retort,” or main chamber, of the crematory, and dial up the furnace to 1,600 degrees. A secondary furnace will burn off the smoke created by your body, eliminating particle emissions, but if you’re Hindu or Buddhist, your family will want and expect to see a bit of smoke escape from the chimney outside, per their custom.

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In roughly two hours, it will be over. Gabriel will open the retort and sweep your ashes into a tray with a long push-broom. He will pick out the blackened pieces of metal – the box hinges, or the artificial hip joint, if you had one – and toss them into a trash can filled with similar leftovers. Your ashes will be run through a processor to grind up the stubborn bits of bone and, finally, placed in a simple urn with the metal ID tag that has accompanied you through the entire process. After that, the fate of your remains is entirely up to your family and survivors. Maybe they’ll divide the ashes, and maybe your son will keep a little of you in a small keepsake urn on his dashboard. “My mom rode with me like that for a few months,” Gabriel recalls. “She also yelled at me not to text when I was driving. Having that little urn there reminded me.”

People are sometimes surprised to learn that Arizona is demographically one of the youngest states in the Union; the fifth-youngest, in fact, with a median age of 34.1. That places us just below Georgia (34) on the U.S. youngness index. With our warm, dry, joint-soothing climate and robust population of seasonal snowbirds, Arizona just seems like an “old” state. In fact, the state’s high immigrant population and many young families are more statistically effectual.

However, there is one place in Arizona where the golden-oldie stereotype proves spectacularly correct: Sun City, developer Del Webb’s master-planned retirement refuge in northwest Maricopa County. The population is 38,309, and the median age is 75 years, which makes Sun City far and away the oldest Census-designated place (CDP) in the United States. (Scottsdale is also worthy of distinction; its 45.4 median age is the highest of any U.S. city with a population over 100,000.)

More than any other single factor, Sun City’s unique age-profile is the reason I’m spending a Thursday afternoon watching a Banner Sun Health pathology assistant dissect a bladder.

Nearly three decades ago, Sun Health Research Institute President Joseph Rogers and his colleagues found themselves manning the front lines against a malady that was widely diagnosed but little-understood: Alzheimer’s disease. Named after the German psychiatrist who first identified its cognition-eroding effects in 1906, Alzheimer’s proved an elusive quarry for brain researchers throughout much of the 20th century. Until the late 1970s, an Alzheimer’s diagnosis could be applied only to patients between the ages 45 and 65 – it was thought to be a form of early-onset dementia and distinct from the classical dementia that afflicted elderly patients. When this distinction was erased, the number of diagnoses exploded, and Alzheimer’s research enjoyed a fresh gust of primacy.

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At Sun Health, Rogers – like brain researchers everywhere – felt outmatched. There were so many questions to be answered, and so few fresh, viable brain specimens to answer them. And then Rogers had his “lightbulb” moment. He looked at Sun City and saw it for what it was: A gold mine for degenerative brain-disease research. The Sun Health Brain and Tissue Bank was born.

Sustained by Valley donors who bequeath their brains – and sometimes bodies – to medical research, the program is widely regarded as the most prolific and effective of its kind. “We have the fastest post-mortem autopsy program in the world,” Banner Sun Health spokesman Brian Browne says. “On average, a donor is on our pathology table less than two hours after he or she dies.” The program’s lightning-fast response time is borne of necessity, not brio. Brain cells are particularly prone to decomposition; within 90 minutes of a donor’s death, glucose-hungry cells deep in the brain’s subventricular zone begin to starve. Thus, harvesting the brains quickly preserves their diagnostic purity. Says Browne: “It’s tantamount to a brain biopsy – which is, of course, the analysis of live tissue. It’s the closest you can get.”

Banner Sun Health averages about 100 brain autopsies a year, each of which is plugged into an ever-expanding catalogue of useful data-points like age, gender, medications taken, side effects and brain deterioration. From these data points, researchers attempt to perfect a predictive hologram of brain pathology – one that can help them surmise which trial medications are effective, which patients are most at risk and how to best prevent the onset of diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The program’s first autopsy was performed in a World War II-style Quonset hut on the Sun Health campus in the mid-1980s; since then, the brain bank has amassed more than 3,000 specimens.

The swift, time-sensitive procurement of the brain bank’s favored currency is itself something of an art. If you choose to enter the program, you must live in the Valley – not because your brain is better, but due to your favorable proximity to the third-floor morgue at the Banner Sun Health Research Institute in Sun City. When you pass away, a call is immediately placed to Banner Sun Health administrators, who in turn mobilize a team of on-call pathologists. Within minutes of your death, a licensed mortuary service arrives to take possession of your body. Releases are signed. Your body is covered. You are loaded into a hearse. Anywhere from five minutes to an hour later, depending on traffic, the hearse arrives at Banner Sun Health and your corpse is wheeled into an elevator – just as this 60-year-old white male from Avondale is being wheeled into the elevator now.


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He’s younger than the typical brain bank donor, with a robust build and a full head of neatly-trimmed gray hair, and he wasn’t an Alzheimer’s patient. “Brain cancer,” neuropathologist Geidy Serrano says, sliding a disposable visor over her face to block errant bits of bone or spraying blood. “And very advanced. Hopefully we can get it out intact.” The donor is placed on a slab in the middle of a room filled with tubs, scales, charts, sanitation masks and autopsy equipment. It’s less sterile and fussy than an operating room but more formal than, say, a medical supply closet. A Steve Miller Band song plays on a portable radio in the corner, and yellowed Far Side cartoon panels decorate a locker. They’re all brain-themed, naturally.

Back near the slab, an assistant pathologist measures the donor’s limbs for the full-body autopsy while Serrano oversees the extraction of the brain. First, her assistant uses a scalpel to make a “pillow cut” from ear to ear along the bottom of the skull. With visible effort, she then works the scalp forward, exposing the skull and concealing his face, which has the immediate effect of dehumanizing him. He’s no longer a distinguished-looking cancer victim in a benign slumber but an anatomy lesson.

While the full-body pathologists make precise, devastating incisions over his torso, Serrano’s assistant executes a cranial “cap cut” with a bone saw that reveals the donor’s brutalized brain. A jarring splash of watery cerebrospinal fluid leaks onto the slab, and soon we see why: The entire left half of his prefrontal cortex was removed during his cancer surgery. “Usually, there isn’t that much fluid,” Serrano says. “It must have filled in the cavity after his surgery.”

Aesthetically, the autopsy is a grim and not-particularly-idyllic end to a long life. Could the donor have possibly imagined, 40 years ago, long before brain cancer started feasting on his personality, that this would be his body’s condition not two hours after its last heartbeat? Probably not, but such are the mortal realities one must face near life’s end. In return for signing the 13-page consent form that gives Banner Sun Health posthumous ownership of their brains – and the rest of their bodies, if they opt to be a “full-body donor” – volunteers receive health care services, participate in clinical trials and receive a free cremation, if they chose that route. And they get something else, arguably. “They get to contribute to something bigger than themselves,” Browne says. “When I talk to our donor partners, that’s always their main motivation for joining the program: To aid science and help generations of people after them.”

Within an hour of extraction, the donor’s brain is segmented. The slices are placed in a nutrient-rich agar to slow decomposition. Half the brain is frozen for posterity. The rest is thin-sliced and disseminated among Banner Sun Health’s 10 affiliated labs. Portions will also be shipped to research projects across the globe – mostly nonprofits that would otherwise struggle to meet the estimated $30,000 price tag for a research donor-brain. The rest of the body is pricy, too – by some accounts, $36,000 for skin, $80,000 for bones, and so on, placing the three-decade Sun Health haul well into eight-figures in gross market value. The Brain and Tissue Bank provides samples to most research efforts for free, but does charge certain well-funded pharmaceutical companies for tissue samples, the proceeds from which are used to fund the program.

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Photos - Clock-wise from top left: A Banner lab assistant prepares brain tissue for testing • thin-sliced tissue submitted to a “silver stain” that reveals Alzheimer’s-causing plaques • fresh brain tissue • cold storage


Shortly after placing the donor’s brain on a scale and photographing it from a variety of angles, the neuropathologists pull his scalp back into place and stitch it shut. He actually looks human again, and here’s the bittersweet truth about his brain: He won’t miss it.

As human beings, we innately crave permanence and continuity – an indemnity of some sort against oblivion. It’s the reason we get married and have children, and choose to place our faith in things we can’t necessarily see or touch. Some social scientists, like Edward Burnett Tylor, trace the very origins of religion to primitive man’s desire for continuity after death.

When physical permanence fails us – say, when a loved one dies – sometimes we embrace reassuring totems. A Chicago, Illinois company called LifeGem specializes in creating synthetic diamonds from the carbonized (read: cremated) remains of deceased relatives or pets. For a price tag ranging from $3,500 to $20,000, you can turn your dead husband into a fashionable pendant, or your Rottweiler into a pinky ring. And that can be comforting for the bereaved. Though hardly a replacement for the genuine article, a half-carat cushion cut diamond serves as a reminder of timeless concepts like devotion and love.

For some, the “fatal hunger for permanence” described by author Evelyn Waugh assumes a more literal manifestation. Real permanence. Real immortality. Right here in a Scottsdale, Arizona airpark.

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“It’s the ultimate life insurance – true life insurance,” Max More says, his blue eyes burning with conviction. He’s not delivering a sales pitch. Rather, the CEO of the Alcor Life Extension Foundation is discussing the existential benefits of cryonics – i.e. the preservation of clinically-dead human beings at super-cold temperatures for the purpose of resuscitating them, presumably far in the future. Founded in 1972 by California couple Fred and Linda Chamberlain, Alcor relocated to Arizona in 1994 and currently hosts 110 cryopreserved patients in its hangar-like headquarters near the Scottsdale Airport, but is more colloquially known as “the place where they keep Ted Williams’ head.”

A fit, fair-skinned 48-year-old from south England with the cultivated airs of a professor and the cosmic intensity of a priest, More is unperturbed by the mention of the late Boston Red Sox slugger, whose 2002 death and cryopreservation at Alcor dragged the company into a sustained media furor. Gamely, he shows a visitor the insulated warehouse where Williams – along with 109 other patients, whose preservations date back as far as 1967 – are encased in tall, stainless-steel containers called Dewar tanks. Each tank can simultaneously hold up to four full-body patients and five “neuropatients,” which means that only the head is preserved. Inside the tanks, the bodies are immersed in liquid nitrogen at a shattering -196 degrees Celsius – only slightly warmer than the surface temperature of Pluto.

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Photos - from left: The Alcor surgery center in Scottsdale • Alcor CEO Max More holds a portrait of Dr. James Bedford, the University of California professor who became the world’s first cryonically-preserved patient in 1967. Bedford is one of 110 patients currently stored at Alcor.


Aside from a small plaque commemorating Alcor’s original patient, nothing in the warehouse implicitly suggests that human beings are encased there. More than anything, it looks like a high-tech  distillery. “Usually in TV and movies, they depict [the tanks] with viewing windows so you can look inside,” More says good-naturedly. “It’s not as sensational as that. They never get it right.”

To paraphrase the old Hair Club for Men commercial, More isn’t just the CEO of Alcor – he’s also a longtime member. Known and respected as an advocate of transhumanist principles – a movement that proposes to eliminate aging and elevate the human condition to near godly heights – More first became hooked on cryonics as a 22-year-old undergraduate at the University of Oxford. At the time, Alcor was enjoying a surge in membership and positive international publicity. More, a young deep-thinker steeped in the science fiction classics of Philip K. Dick and Robert Heinlein, was intrigued. So he took out a life-insurance policy on himself (“At that age, it cost nothing...”) to pay for his eventual one-time Alcor cryopreservation fee, which runs $200,000 for full-body patients and $80,000 for neuropatients.

More chose the neuropatient option. “To revive a cryopreserved patient, science and technology would have to advance to the point where minute repairs could be made to a hundred billion neurons. It seems to me that regenerating or cloning a new body would be relatively easy by comparison,” he says reasonably. “No reason to preserve my broken down old body.”


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More went on to found Britain’s first cryonics society, earn his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Southern California and embark on a career as a futurist and lecturer. But he remained close with the Alcor brain trust. When his predecessor left in 2009, Alcor’s nonprofit Board of Directors recruited him to take the job.

Now More’s main focus is to bolster Alcor’s membership rolls, which he concedes have stagnated in recent years, due both to the flagging economy and lax public-outreach efforts by previous CEOs. As of February 2012, Alcor had 957 members – still-living future “patients” who had paid the one-time cryonics fee or taken out life insurance and made Alcor the beneficiary. The members sustain the nonprofit’s day-to-day operations by paying $800 yearly dues until their legal deaths. (More is careful not to use the word “death” without a qualifier; the foundation’s entire doctrine is predicated on the idea that its patients aren’t dead in the absolute sense.)

If you become one of the dozen or so new members to join Alcor every year, More and his associates have disclaimers. First, the big one: Joining Alcor is not a guarantee of extended life. The world could end tomorrow. Cryonic revival may prove scientifically impossible. Inexplicably, the worldwide supply of liquid nitrogen could vanish, leaving your tenders without a way to keep you frozen. Or you could be incinerated in a house fire the day after signing your Alcor membership papers, rendering your corpse truly “dead,” even by Alcor’s definition. And so on.

If you still choose to give Alcor power-of-attorney over your remains – by authority of the federal Uniform Anatomical Gift Act – it becomes a waiting game. Live your life, enjoy it, but if at all possible stay in Arizona, because the swift post-mortem disposition of your body will be essential to this mission, just as it is for a brain donor. If you have a pet, by all means bring it; Alcor has 36 cryopreserved pets on premises. “We basically perform the preservation at cost,” More says. “But only for members. We couldn’t have a bunch of ownerless pets running around in the future, could we?”

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When you do finally die – hopefully from natural causes, and not from brain disease, which would render the revival effort more or less moot – Alcor Medical Response Director Aaron Drake will be close by. A former paramedic firefighter, Drake’s sole purpose is to transport patients to Alcor headquarters as quickly as possible to preserve your now-starving brain cells. His personal best post-mortem retrieval time is just under 50 minutes. (Alcor has a medically-equipped box truck at the ready for out-of-state retrievals, but if you die in the Valley, a typical hearse will suffice.)

At Alcor, you’re rushed to a surgery room not unlike Banner Sun Health’s pathology center. Your body is placed in an ice bath to slow decomposition – a technique sometimes referred to as “protective hypothermia.” More cites case studies of near-death drowning victims pulled from icy water after 20 minutes or more and revived with no long-term brain impairments, including the famous case of Swedish radiologist Anna Bagenholm, who survived a 40-minute episode of cardiac arrest. “At most junctures in human history, those people would have been considered dead,” he says. “But CPR, defibrillators, and other advances changed that. Which just demonstrates that death isn’t an event, but a process, and how far along in that process is too far to recover a person depends on the level of medical technology of the day.”

To further slow cell death, your body is injected with a cocktail of 16 pharmaceutical drugs – including the sedative Propofol and several anti-coagulants – and artificially respirated to circulate them throughout your body. When your body reaches 20 degrees Celsius, you’re removed from the water and placed on a table next to a blood-pump apparatus very much like the one Bill Gabriel uses to embalm his wards at Sunwest Mortuary across town. Through arterial incisions, Alcor’s on-call pathologist begins to painstakingly remove your blood, which he replaces with a proprietary cryoprotective fluid called M22 – essentially “medical-grade antifreeze,” More says. The M22 will prevent crystallization and liquid expansion during the freezing process and is critical to the Alcor doctrine of “information theoretical death,” which is the idea that your personality, knowledge, temperament – essentially, everything that makes you “alive” – is inscribed in the architecture of your brain cells and neural pathways. Theoretically, the M22 will keep them pristine.

Over the next week, your anti-freeze-filled body is steadily frozen to the point that it would shatter like a glass vase if dropped from a building – a process known as vitrification. Once the target temperature is reached, your vitrified body or head is bundled into a sleeping bag – a “very nice sleeping bag,” More says – and placed in a metal sarcophagus molded to fit inside the Dewar. Like a grand piano, you are lowered via winch through the top of the Dewar into your hopefully-not-final resting place.

You probably have questions, like, “How will they unfreeze me?” More can’t say exactly, any more than Leonardo da Vinci could describe the combustion motor that would power his helicopter-like “flying screw.” You might also ask “Who will unfreeze me?” Again unclear, though More anticipates future anthropologists would be motivated to unfreeze an early 21st century person if they could. He says Alcor is working on a legal protocol for reviving patients, funded by an independent trust in the patients’ names.

You might also want to know what happens to your soul. Will they thaw that? More doesn’t believe that the body harbors an incorporeal essence, but if it did, he doesn’t see the conflict. “Say they bring you back in a brain made of non-biological hardware,” he says. “Why couldn’t your soul inhabit such a machine? Your body is a biological machine. Or when they freeze and unfreeze an embryo, does that negate the soul?”

Though hardly a religious organization, Alcor does trade in its own brand of faith – faith in science, faith in human curiosity. Again, More sees no conflict with traditional faith. “We have Jews, as well as Mormons and other Christian dominations among our membership. The idea of transhumanism appeals to a lot of faiths.”

You have more questions, probably. Objections, clarifications. But it’s getting quite cold, and your vitrified neurons have long since stopped firing. Just remember what More told you the day you first expressed curiosity in being frozen solid and reawakened in another century: “It’s only the second-worst thing that can happen to you.”

 

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