Australia’s only cryonics facility welcomes first frozen ‘patient’

A dimly lit room with several large steel vats.

A man who died in a Sydney hospital on May 12 has become the first person to be frozen and stored in Australia’s only cryonics facility. If and when the man in his 80s will one day be able to be revived is anyone’s guess.

Southern Cryonics opened in the regional NSW town of Holbrook last year. The facility is the first of its type in the southern hemisphere and dozens of people have already signed on as future ‘patients’. Each have paid an annual subscription fee of $350 and agreed to the $150,000 suspension costs plus the cost of preparation, anticipated to be between $20,000 and $50,000.

The first body has been stored at Southern Cryonics on the outskirts of Holbrook. (Facebook: Southern Cryonics)

How does cryonics work?

Once a person is legally dead, blood is replaced with a solution that preserves the organs. The body is gradually cooled to minus 196 degrees Celsius and then stored in a vacuum-sealed chamber cooled by liquid nitrogen.

As for thawing them out and bringing them back to life? Er… um … well… that bit still has to be worked out. The people who choose to be suspended in liquid nitrogen are taking a gamble on science being able to revive them in years to come.

The preparation of ‘Patient 1’

Preparation for this man to be suspended began a couple of weeks ago, while he was still alive but deteriorating in a Sydney hospital. The news of his decline started the ball rolling on a finely-tuned process. When the gentleman died, the suspension process started straight away. He was packed in ice and quickly moved to a funeral home in Leichhardt in Sydney’s inner west, receiving cardio-pulmonary support and anticoagulant medication on the way. That means he received chest compressions and ventilation via a machine. This was done to make sure the brain received oxygenated blood and (hopefully) wasn’t damaged. (This process also works to increase the body’s cooling rate.)

There’s actually a medical company called Australian Blood Management (ABM) whose expertise is just this, however their patients are usually alive. The process is called perfusion.

Once at the funeral director’s mortuary, the expert medicos performed the perfusion with cryoprotectant chemicals, designed to protect the organs when the body is frozen. Let’s call it an unproven anti-freeze.

“ABM’s team, consisting of four to six members including clinical perfusionists and a doctor, worked tirelessly for 10 hours,” said a statement from Southern Cryonics.

“The patient was securely wrapped in a special sleeping bag that stays intact in liquid nitrogen. Patient 1 was then cooled to dry ice temperature and transported to our Holbrook facility.”

It’s here that the man, minus his own blood and full of anti-freeze, was gradually brought to liquid nitrogen temperatures of minus 196 degrees Celcius. He was then transferred to what’s called a dewar which is an insulated container used for storing cryogens. Think of it as a tall stainless steel vat.

This whole process, from the man’s time of death to his suspension in liquid nitrogen, took five days.

Science or science fiction: What now?

That’s that big question. There are hundreds of prepared bodies suspended in a handful of cryonic chambers around the world. A man from Sydney has been suspended in a Russian facility since mid-2015. And it’s not only full bodies that are frozen in these cryonic chambers. Many people have just their heads suspended in what’s called neuropreservation. Those people hope that science will eventually be able to engineer them a new body.

As for the full bodies that are suspended in liquid nitrogen, the plan is to thaw them out when the technology to revive and restore them in good health is developed. But what if science doesn’t advance enough to ever permit their reanimation? (At this point in time there is absolutely no evidence that reanimation will be possible.)

A dimly lit room with several large steel vats.
North American cryonics company Alcor has suspended ‘patients’ for decades at its facility in Arizona.
(Facebook: Alcor Life Extension Foundation)

And while we ponder this dead man’s future, amid the hype, a family has lost a loved one. I hope the people who love and miss him find solace in the fact he had prepared for his death and made his wishes well known. That’s why I wrote The Bottom Drawer Book: the after death action plan. It’s a funeral planning guide and workbook that allows you to write your plans, wishes, and life’s reflections so that, at a time of confusion and grief, your family will have one less thing to worry about. They’ll be able to farewell you just how you wanted to be.

A HUGE ethical dilemma

For me, cryonics raises a whole range of ethical and practical concerns.

• Even if the science was forthcoming and people could be revived, who has the responsibility of caring for them if they don’t come back in ‘full working order’?

• Who is responsible for helping them adjust to a new world? Assuming their memory function wasn’t damaged while stored, everyone they knew and loved will be gone.

• In, say, 200 years, who will fund their life and resettlement into society? Their savings and life insurance may have been eaten up by fees, and the insurance, banking, or super companies they are relying on for their future funds could be non-existent. Their money in 2024 could be worthless in 2224.

• Attitudes towards this science may become divisive and the revived bodies could be considered burdens on society and targeted as such.

• What if future societies and governments see the ongoing storage of these prepared bodies as wasteful, unethical or immoral and force the facility’s closure?

I’ve contacted Southern Cyronics for further comment. It’s a fascinating concept and the worldwide interest and investment in cryopreservation techniques in recent decades shows that many don’t think it’s a whacky idea at all. Science or science fiction? Time will tell.

About the author

Author Lisa Herbert

Lisa Herbert is a death awareness advocate, a cemetery wanderer, journalist and audio producer, and author of The Bottom Drawer Book: the after death action plan – an informative, modern, and quirky workbook and funeral planning guide for those who want to prepare for the inevitable. The third edition is available in Australia for $29.95.  For international buyers, The Bottom Drawer eBook is AU$11.99 on Amazon, Apple Books, Kobo, Booktopia and Google Books. To purchase, click HERE.

6 Responses

  1. Hi Lisa,

    It is probably too late to add my voice, but I am not only signed up for cryonics, but my husband, Helmer, is already frozen. I don’t say it is the best thing that can happen to you. it’s just better than the alternative. Helmer had an inoperable pituitary brain tumour and he was not yet ready to die. After spending many years researching cryonics – and a whole heap of other alternatives – we settled for cryonics. There was not Australian facility at that time, so Helmer is now safe in liquid nitrogen in Detroit at the Cryonic Institute. I will join him there and – fingers crossed – in a hundred years, give or take half a century, we might be together again.

    BTW, I wish I had known about your book when Helmer became ill. Will you add a bit about new funerary practices, like cryonics or water ‘cremation’?

    1. Good to hear from you, Marta. Thank you for sharing Helmer’s ‘adventure’. It’s quite fascinating, isn’t it?! I really do hope you’ll be together again.
      As for additions to The Bottom Drawer Book, water cremation/alkaline hydrolysis was added a few years ago now.

  2. Wow, the mind boggles. At the rate we are progressing with technology I believe the world will be vastly different in another 200 years. Can you imagine bringing someone back from 1824 to now? They would definitely think they are on another alien planet. It would be terrifying to them.

    1. I agree, Joanne. It really will be a foreign world. But one would assume these people have thought seriously about the possible outcomes and have deemed the risk worthwhile. Personally, I could think of nothing worse! xLisa

  3. Think of everything that has changed in this world since our great-grandmother’s time. The language has changed. Technology has changed. So much is different these days. Do people who freeze themselves think it will be like an adventure when they thaw out? Do they think of it like The Time Machine movie or something? It’s a fascinating topic

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