According to her wishes, after dying of pancreatic cancer in May, a 61-year-old Chonqing author’s brain was frozen with the hope that with more advanced technology in the future she will one day be brought back to life.
The head of Du Hong, a writer of children’s literature and a science fiction editor is currently frozen and preserved in a minus 196 degrees Celsius chamber at a US-based cryonics service provider named Alcor Life Extension Foundation, Caijing reports, citing Chongqing Evening News.
“My mom’s condition deteriorated in March, but she still appeared very calm,” said Du’s daughter Zhang Siyao. “After she read some news about a Thai couple that chose to freeze their daughter’s body, after she had died from a brain tumor, in the hope that she may live a second life in the future with the help of advanced science. My mom began to joke about freezing her body after she died.”
To fulfill her mother’s wish, Zhang and her husband Lu Chen initially contacted a Chinese company, but found the costs too high. The couple later reached out to Alcor around April through the help of their old classmates in America.
Zhang and Lu had been told that the cost of preserving Du’s entire body could be as much as 2 million yuan (US$314,205), a sum far beyond the reach of the Chinese family.
With the consent of Du, Zhang and Lu chose instead to freeze just the brain, at a cost of 750,000 yuan, which they were able to round up by selling one of the family’s apartments in Beijing.
Du Hong and her daughter Zhang Siyao
“Mom [Mom-in-law] said that whether science would make a breakthrough in the next 50 years is a mystery, but either way she did not mind her body being used for experiments,” Lu was quoted as saying.
This is actually the first known case of a Chinese-native subject in the field of cryonics, which involves storing bodies in aluminum containers in super-cold liquid nitrogen. As of 2013, approximately 270 people have undergone cryopreservation procedures since cryonics was first proposed in 1962. The most famous subject is American baseball legend Ted Williams.
“People do not immediately die,” Wei Jingliang, a Ph.D. student studying genetic engineering at the China Academy of Agricultural Science, told the Chongqing Evening News. He said that from a biological perspective, doctors make it so that bodies that seem dead are actually in a phase of “medical stability.”
Zheng Congyi, a professor of biology and the director of the China Center for Type Culture Collection in Wuhan University, said the idea of extending people’s lives in this way was “impossible in the foreseeable future.”
“No technology can preserve a human organ for a long time. That is why organ transplants must be carried out almost simultaneously on the donor and the recipient,” he told the SCMP.
“If we can’t exercise cryonics on organs, how can we hope to preserve and revive a head or entire body?”
Chinese science fiction writer Liu Cixin, whose book The Three-Body Problem won the Hugo Award for best novel this year, told reporters that he was “full of respect” for Du’s decision to commit her body to science. Du had previously edited the trilogy which dealt with the future possibilities of cryonics.
“She can use her ‘body’ to explore the future of science after the end of life. That is very courageous,” he was quoted as saying.
When Du Hong died, Zhang shared a post with her friends on social media, which read: “Mom, let’s meet in the future.”
By Lucy Liu
[Images via Caijing // People’s Daily]