Parents hope ‘frozen’ child will live again

Future hope: Einz became the 134th ‘patient’ to be preserved by Alcor. © Naovaratpong family

The UK courts have allowed the body of a teenage girl to be frozen, in case she can live again one day. There is no minimum age for the process — and the youngest ever patient was just two.

From the day she was born, Einz’s parents knew that she was special. She had ‘striking’ large eyes and ‘loved to get our attention.’ Her mother had her uterus removed after her first child, so Matheryn Naovaratpong (nicknamed Einz) was conceived through IVF and a surrogate. But soon after her second birthday, she developed a rare form of brain cancer. Almost a year later, she died at her home in Thailand.

Her family were devastated. But they had a plan — they had decided to have her cryogenically frozen, in the hope that future medicine could cure her. Her parents, who are medical engineers, say that this could be in 30 years or 500. But they are ‘100% confident’ that she will live again.

Cryonics have entered the spotlight again after a high-profile court case in the UK. There is no age limit — and Einz is currently the youngest person to undergo the process.

Within moments of her death, a team from the US-based company Alcor began to preserve her body for the future. She was placed on artificial life support. Her blood was replaced with anti-freeze preservatives. Chemicals cooled her cells to minus 120C without ice damaging any tissue. Her brain was removed, and frozen at minus 196C for storage in liquid nitrogen at the Alcor headquarters in Arizona.

Alcor is a non-profit organisation formed in the 1970s. It does not, in fact, believe that the dead can be ‘revived’ — rather, that the ‘line between life and death is unclear’. It argues that future medicine will not only be able to ‘repair’ the brain of patients like Einz, but ‘regrow a new body’ for them.

The brain, Alcor says, is ‘essential to personhood’. Einz’s parents believe that her thoughts, personality and memories have been preserved. They have been collecting pictures and recordings to help reintroduce her to her life. At the end of their own lives, they too plan to be frozen, although they admit that they may not see Einz again.

‘It was our love for her that pushed us towards this dream of science,’ her father said. Surely, he asked, society can accept it?

Soul searching

Alcor believes that the brain is the centre of consciousness and personality. By preserving Einz’s for the future, she will not be lost. She will look different, and the world she arrives in will have changed dramatically. But the thing that made her special — her essence — will remain.

But others argue that consciousness is more than a complex system of nerves and hormones — it is a person’s feelings and memories, an intangible force that cannot ever be pinned down. It is what the spiritual among us call the ‘soul’. When Einz was declared clinically dead, this essence was gone. Her brain may be reanimated one day — but she will not return.

You Decide

  1. Would you choose to be cryogenically frozen?
  2. When does life end — with the body or the mind?

Activities

  1. Imagine a two-year-old was cryogenically frozen 100 years ago and has now been brought back to life. What are the five most exciting things you want to tell her?
  2. Using the links under Become An Expert, create a timeline of cryonics.

Some People Say...

“There is no such thing as a soul — only neurons.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Could I be cryogenically frozen one day?
You could join a cryonics company if you were interested, though the process is expensive. Membership of Alcor costs $120,000 for your brain to be preserved, and $250,000 for your whole body. For applicants outside of the US or Canada, there is an extra charge of $10,000. This is followed by annual payments of a few hundred dollars. Many members use life insurance to cover the costs.
But do I want to?
That is the real question. The science is difficult to predict, and the ethical questions are even hazier. People can have very strong opinions about when life begins or ends: it is the same question which lies behind the ethics of abortion, stem cell research, and life support machines. It is a personal matter, and one that you must decide yourself.

Word Watch

IVF
In vitro fertilisation is the process of fertilising an egg in a lab (in a test tube, hence ‘in vitro’ — in glass), and placing the embryo inside a womb. In Einz’s case, her parents used a ‘surrogate’: another woman who carried her during the pregnancy.
Cryogenically frozen
It is illegal to freeze someone while they are alive, but a person is legally dead when the heart stops beating. However, for a few minutes while oxygen is used up, some form of brain activity can remain. Reducing the body to low temperatures is an attempt to preserve this brain activity.
High-profile
A 14-year-old girl who was dying of cancer said she wished to be frozen after death. Her father objected, but the court ruled in her favour. This weekend, the charity Cryonics UK said its youngest patient was seven years old.
1970s
Robert Ettinger wrote a book in 1964 called The Prospect Of Immortality, which argued the case for cryonics. This inspired several cryonics organisations, including Alcor.
Personhood
When a human being starts — or stops — being a ‘person’ is a centuries-old ethical debate.

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