China Focus: Frozen mother waits for science to resurrect her

Source: Xinhua| 2017-08-17 21:49:37|Editor: Mengjie
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JINAN, Aug. 17 (Xinhua) -- Zhan Wenlian's husband and son did not discuss whether to bury her ashes in a cemetery or scatter them at sea. Instead, they had her body frozen, hoping future technology will someday return her to them.

Zhan, 49, died from lung cancer on May 8. Two minutes after she was declared legally dead at Shandong University's Qilu Hospital, scientists and doctors injected various chemicals into her body in an attempt to reduce blood clotting and damage to her brain.

Then her body was quickly transferred to a laboratory at Shandong Yinfeng Life Sciences Research Institute, where her body temperature was lowered and her blood was replaced with a mixture of anti-freeze and organ-preserving chemicals.

The temperature of her body was further lowered before she was wrapped in a "sleeping bag" and put in a metal capsule. The capsule was stored in a liquid nitrogen container at a temperature of minus 196 degrees Celsius.

"The device will monitor the temperature and volume changes of the liquid nitrogen. Approximately every ten days, staff will add liquid nitrogen," said Zang Chuanbao, director of the institute's cryo-medicine research center.

"I thought she was just lazy and fell asleep. She just pressed the pause button on her life," said Gui Junmin, Zhan's husband. He said Zhan wished to donate her organs and body for scientific research.

The expensive procedure was funded by the Jinan-based research institute, which was established by Yinfeng Biological Group in 2015. Its research fields include gene engineering, stem cell technology, human cell and organ storage and resurrection.

"Theoretically, her metabolism and cellular activity are stagnated. There is no issue with keeping her body like this for centuries. Perhaps, one day when technology advances, she can be resurrected," said Zang.

The institute extracted stem cells from Zhan's blood, which could potentially be beneficial for her revival or for her family members.

Zhan was the first Chinese national to have her entire body cryogenically frozen. In 2015, Chinese science fiction editor Du Hong, 61, died of pancreatic cancer and had her head cryogenically frozen and stored at the headquarters of Alcor Life Extension Foundation in the United States.

In 1967, American scientist James Bedford became the first cryogenically frozen human. Around 300 individuals have had either their whole body, head or brain frozen in liquid nitrogen, and many more prospective candidates signed up.

There are only a handful of facilities around the world dedicated to cryo-preservation, such as U.S.-based Alcor Life Extension Foundation and KrioRus in Russia.

"I have peace of mind knowing that no matter what happens in the future... I am signed up [for cryonics] and there is that possibility I could wake up in the future," Alcor member, Dr. Kathleen Cotter, commented on the company's website.

However, such options are not without controversy, as many scientists see the difficulties in the process.

"The procedure has been done, but it is too early to call it successful," said Ouyang Xilin, a doctor at First Affiliated Hospital of Chinese PLA General Hospital.

"We are not sure about the vitality of organs, tissues and cells," he said.

"Avoiding damage to the body during the temperature changes is key to the procedure," said Xu Yi, a biology professor at University of Shanghai for Science and Technology.

"Freezing human bodies has been discussed worldwide for decades. It is not possible now to resurrect them, but the procedure is a period of experimentation," Xu said.

In addition to skepticism on the feasibility of resurrection, critics are concerned that it may pose challenges for medical ethics and legal systems as there are no laws or regulations on cryonics in China.

Some people worry that if future technology allows immortality, the rich and powerful may monopolize the benefits of prolonging life.

"The technology may lead to the most terrible cases of injustice," said Tian Fu, associate law professor at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

"If some time in the future, you passed away but your mother was still in the world, what would you do?" Gui asked his son, who supported the decision to freeze his mother.

"I would tell my children why we made this decision today and where their grandmother was so they can tell their children," his son answered.

Gui believes advances in medical technology will one day allow his wife to wake up, but he may be unable to live long enough to see that day. He said when he dies, he wants to be frozen to allow the chance for a reunion.

Now, the family is collecting photographs and recording what is happening in the family, in China and beyond. They will store the information in her files at the institute.

"One day when she wakes up, she can learn what happened when she was absent," Gui said.