Friday 9 December 2016

Cryogenics boss admits frozen clients might never be revived

David Lawler

Published 21/11/2016 | 02:30

The terminally ill 14-year-old girl who wanted her body to be frozen in the hope that she could be brought back to life won a historic legal fight at the High Court shortly before dying. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire
The terminally ill 14-year-old girl who wanted her body to be frozen in the hope that she could be brought back to life won a historic legal fight at the High Court shortly before dying. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

The president of a cryogenic facility where a 14-year-old British girl was taken to be frozen has admitted patients may be left with no memories even if they are successfully woken up.

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Dennis Kowalski, of the Cryonics Institute in Michigan, said he did not believe memories would necessarily survive after the brain had been frozen for decades.

He said patients could awake as "clones" of themselves, with no sense of their former lives.

And he added that he only had a "50-50" belief that people enclosed in the freezing chambers would ever be revived.

Last week it emerged that a teenage cancer patient in Britain had her wish to be frozen after her death granted by a judge following a bitter legal dispute that divided her parents.

A team of UK-based volunteers prepared her body, packed it in dry ice and transported it to the Cryonics Institute in Michigan, one of just three such facilities in the world. The others are in Arizona and the outskirts of Moscow.

Mr Kowalski said the cryogenic process would damage the brain, and could wipe memories completely.

"The question is whether we are saving the person's identity or their mind. Everything in between is a degree. The analogy would be a stroke," he said.

"Most people that have strokes are happy to be alive. Some people have big strokes, some have small strokes.

"You won't have 100pc of your mind. You could be just like you but without your memory, without the same mind. Like a clone of you."

The parents of the girl - identified only as JS - had disagreed over whether her wish to be frozen should be followed, so she asked a High Court judge to intervene.

In a letter to the court, she said: "I don't want to die but I know I am going to... I want to live longer... I want to have this chance."

The girl asked Mr Justice Peter Jackson to rule that her mother, who supported her desire to be cryogenically preserved, should be the only person allowed to make decisions about the disposal of her body. Her wish was granted.

Without commenting on the specifics of the case, Mr Kowalski said: "How can you deny a dying girl's last wish and take away her last hope?"

But he added that most of the institute's patients have made their wishes known far in advance.

The scientific community is divided over whether cryonics, which was pioneered by Dr Robert Ettinger, the institute's founder and - as of 2011 - one of its patients, will actually work.

After the decision emerged, experts said cryogenic companies were irresponsible for implying there is a realistic hope that a dead human could be unfrozen, brought back to life and cured of a fatal disease in the future.

They said the High Court had made "no assessment of the plausibility of the science" and warned the ruling could encourage vulnerable people to pursue unrealistic hopes.

Clive Coen, Professor of Neuroscience at King's College London, said: "Irreversible damage is caused during the process of taking the mammalian brain into sub-zero temperatures. The wishful thinking engendered by cryogenics companies is irresponsible." (© Sunday Telegraph)

Telegraph.co.uk

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