Approximately 60% of people carry a life insurance policy. For most, it acts as a safety net their loved ones can use to pay off the mortgage, to cover the cost of college tuition or simply to pay for burial costs.
However, a small number of people are allocating their life insurance benefits to another purpose entirely — cryopreservation.
What is cryopreservation?
Cryopreservation — or cryonics — describes the science and process of freezing a person's brain or body for future reanimation. If this sounds like science fiction to you, you're not entirely wrong.
How it works
A cryopreservation team is dispatched to monitor your state once you're close to death. As soon as you're pronounced legally dead, the team races against the clock to transport your body back to the cryonics center. There they will drain it of blood and other fluids and replace them with medical-grade antifreeze, which will prevent destructive ice crystals from forming in your body during storage. Once your body is prepped, it's gradually cooled until it can be safely submerged into a tank of liquid nitrogen, which completely halts cell decomposition.
The preservation phase of cryopreservation is fairly straightforward, and it follows some of the same methods commonly used during organ transplants. However, the science necessary to bring a cryopreserved person back to consciousness hasn't been discovered yet, and the verdict is still out on whether it will ever be possible.
"I study the aging process and how we can manipulate it to fend off age-related diseases and improve human health," says Dr. João Pedro de Magalhães, who leads the Integrative Genomics of Ageing Group at the University of Liverpool. "I haven't signed up for cryonics because I think the chances of it working — that is, the probability of my mind being revived in the future — is very small."
While the medical community is divided on the viability of cryonics, that hasn't stopped cryonics hopefuls, such as legendary baseball player Ted Williams, from undergoing the procedure. Because if it works, it'll be like a scene out of "Star Trek" or, if you prefer, "Austin Powers." If it doesn't, well then there's nothing to lose — except a good deal of money.
The world's most expensive brain freeze
The Alcor Life Extension Foundation is one of several cryonics companies across the world. To have your brain preserved by Alcor, you'll need to pay a minimum of $80,000 in addition to annual membership dues up until the point you're legally pronounced dead. If you want your entire body preserved, the fees start at $200,000.
"I am a single dad with two young daughters," de Magalhães says. "Given the very low chance of success of cryonics, I don't think spending that amount of money at this stage in my life would be a wise decision."
Where life insurance comes into play
To make cryopreservation accessible to people of varying income levels, many cryonics companies accept life insurance policies as a form of guaranteed income. For example, Alcor encourages clients to designate the foundation as the beneficiary of their life insurance policies, so the clients' procedures will be funded at their death.
First, whole life insurance policies aren't cheap. Because they guarantee coverage up until death, they can cost up to 10 times more than their term-life counterparts. This cost would be added to the annual fee you'll already owe for your cryonics membership.
Second, the fine print of designating a cryonics company as the beneficiary of your life insurance policy is that your family won't be legally entitled to one cent of that payout. If you still owe money on your home or car, or if you carry credit card debt, you need to make sure your loved ones can cover these debts and cope with the loss of your income before changing the beneficiary of your policy.
"If I were a billionaire, I would sign up for cryonics," de Magalhães says. "Alternatively, and arguably much more likely than becoming a billionaire, I would like to see some progress in improving cryopreservation technologies and some evidence that they could work in larger human organs like the brain. … As for the chances of currently cryopreserved individuals being reanimated one day, I think it's very unlikely but it's not impossible."