On the walls of Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Scottsdale, dozens of framed pictures show off the people who are frozen in the company's 9-foot stainless steel preservation tanks. Soon, those pictures will be joined by family portraits.
In addition to former celebrities like baseball player Ted Williams, more average-income people are placing their hope for immortality in cryonics by using life insurance to pay for the process. And an increasing number of Alcor's 800 living members are signing up to have their entire families frozen in liquid nitrogen soon after their deaths.
Last year alone, six couples signed themselves and their children up on the slim chance they could be brought back to share another lifetime together.
“We’re seeing all of a sudden, as the science is catching up with what we hope to see happen," said Tanya Jones, chief operating officer for Alcor. "More people are taking it seriously as a means of protection for their entire families."
It's a recent trend in cryonics, which previously appealed mostly to young, educated single men, she said.
"We had one girl who was signed up on the very day she was born," Jones said. "Her mother had all of the paperwork ready to go, and the day that child was born, she was a member."
Because of the increase in clientele, Alcor, a nonprofit organization, has recently had to expand the "patient bay" that now holds 28 frozen bodies and 46 heads.
The patients range from a 21-year-old woman who died of a mysterious illness to a 99-year-old man who died of old age. They will remain in long-term storage until the thawing process is perfected and cures are found for old age, cancer and other diseases, Jones said.
While the odds of reanimation are questionable, Jones said amazing medical advancements such as cloning and stem cell research are making the possibility of cryonics not so far-fetched. “Science fiction is becoming science fact on a daily basis," she said. "Why is it such a stretch for this to be along that path?"
Upon the death of an Alcor member, a medical team is deployed to pick up the body and deliver it to a hospital-like room. Once there, blood is drained and replaced with cryopreservation fluid, which prevents ice crystals from forming and destroying the tissue. The body is then strapped in a stainless steel tube of liquid nitrogen and cooled at a rate of 1 degree an hour until it reaches minus-196 degrees.
"We’re a lot closer to the preservation process being reversible," Jones said. "And we’re optimistic that it will work but even if it doesn’t, I think that the experiment itself has value both for us and for the rest of society."
With the preservation of either the body or brain, Alcor's theory is that medical advancements will be able to clone a new young body around the brain, which would retain the memories and personality of the patient.
In the meantime, the same freezing technology is being studied in mainstream medicine for the preservation of organs, and might one day be used to keep hearts, lungs and kidneys — or organ donors — in good shape until a suitable match is found.
Alcor's cryonics process costs $150,000 for the whole body and $80,000 for the head. “The cost of cryonics are normally handled through life insurance,” said Rudi Hoffman, a certified financial planner in Florida who has handled the financial arrangement of 85 percent of members for Alcor and a cryonics company in Michigan. “The actual monthly investment to that insurance can be less than a daily cup of coffee at Starbucks.”
The majority of Hoffman's clients are not wealthy, and about three-fourths have incomes of $50,000 a year or less, he said. Young, healthy people who get life insurance can end up paying premiums of $28 a month or less. “It’s a small price to pay for even a chance at immortality," he said. “I have a number of folks, because it is affordable through life insurance, they can fund the entire family suspension.”
And because they don't want to start their new lives poor, Hoffman is also arranging for his clients to put funds into a trust, which will earn interest.
Scottsdale residents Trudy and David Pizer plan to have their whole bodies frozen. And because they don't want to come back broke, David, who has no heirs, has arranged to make himself the beneficiary for part of his $10 million fortune, his family's car upholstery company, when he returns.
“Dead is a lot more horrible than people credit it with being. So it needs to be avoided. It’s not a greedy or selfish thing, that’s what you should do," said David Pizer, 65. “You should go on living, enjoying life, being comfortable.” In his next life, he plans to go back to school and travel.
While many medical professionals said the practice is little more than a pipe dream, the Pizers' say it's worth trying. “If it doesn’t work, you’re not out anything, you’re haven’t given up anything,” Trudy Pizer said.