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Cryonics in Russia
by Valerija Pride, KrioRus deputy director Member of the Coordinating Council, Russian Transhumanist Movement sociologist, philosopher, rock star and fantasy writer.
On August 25th, in Alabushevo village, just outside Moscow, Russian cryonicists held the second large gathering of cryonics supporters. The initiator of the meeting was the first and only Russian cryonics company "KrioRus". It was the second such event open to the public and aimed at informing the public about the company and cryonics, in addition to many meetings of KrioRus founders and clients.
The previous cryonics meeting happened one year ago in August 2006. And just like this time, it was in the storage facilities of KrioRus. About thirty people came to the meeting, including some visitors from other cities. August in Russia is traditionally a month of vacations, so many cryonicists were on holiday, but we decided not to postpone the meeting. For those who could not attend, the company plans to organise another meeting or a conference in autumn in Moscow.
Notably, among the crowd was a rising star of Russian TV and cinema Anna Arlanova, who starred in "Moscow Windows", "Greek Holidays" and other films. Now Anna plans to take on a new role — a role of a film director, as she has already started work on a feature film about cryonics that will be based on the story of Lidiya Fedorenko, a cryonics patient of KrioRus. But she is interested in the field of cryonics not only as a film director, but also as a person who, like the rest of us — yet! — lives under the Damocles sword of death.
Among the visitors were a number of doctors, several people who want to promote cryonics and become sales agents for KrioRus, people from all walks of life: a poet, philosophers, programmers, teachers... At the meeting we told people about successes (so far modest) of Russian cryonics, about the prospects of the company, the attitude of Russian society and the media to this area of life. We also discussed the legislative climate in Russia in connection with cryonics.
At the start of the event we showed the 40-minute film "Freeze me" (alternatively known as "Death in the deep freeze") about the suspension of Anita Riskin at Alcor. People who saw it, especially those who were new to cryonics, were really impressed. The film was shown in Russian on the Viasat Explorer channel dubbed into Russian, but it was shown only once and was virtually unknown to people.
After the film managers of KrioRus gave two presentations. The first was about scientific basis of cryonics (presented by Igor Artyuhov, the Director of Science of KrioRus). The report covered the basic scientific facts that justify cryonics, explained our hopes for possible revival in the future and also introduced the audience to work of Russian scientists (including Artyuhov) on gas vitrification methods (using inert gases such as krypton, xenon and argon under pressure). The theory has been developed about a decade ago and now experiments are under way. Artyuhov is currently working on preservation of cells using this technique, but with proper funding and enough researchers these methods can be applied to patients. Igor Artyuhov was very enthusiastic and speculated that (if we are lucky) these methods can make reversible cryoprotection possible on large biological objects in several years. After that director of "KrioRus" Danila Medvedev gave a report on the history of the company, its achievements and future prospects.
So what is the history of the first Russian cryonics firm?
It must be said that considerable interest towards cryonics first emerged some 10-15 years ago. Several enthusiasts appeared at that time and started promoting the idea, yet for a long time there was neither a wealthy sponsor, nor a group of dedicated people who could put some money into a cryonics organisation. Nevertheless, in 2003 Danila Medvedev, the current director of KrioRus, translated the "Prospect of immortality" book by Robert Ettinger into Russian. This is the only book on cryonics published in Russia. It was published by "Scientific World" publisher thanks to the sponsorship of Mikhail Batin, a businessman and politician with a strong interest in cryonics, who has now become an activist and supporter of radical life extension. In 2007 Batin has founded a movement "For increasing life spans" in Yaroslavl, Russia.
But despite all these advances, the progress was slow, until the Russian Transhumanist Movement was set up in 2003. In 2005 it started a monthly seminar on scientific immortalism and transhumanism. At the seminar we discussed philosophy of transhumanism and new technologies, including cryonics as one of the technologies to defeat death.
Gradually people with interest in cryonics came together and decided to do something practical. By that time Igor Artyuhov has already maintained a brain of a cryonics patient on dry ice. Two years ago he helped arrange a cryosuspension of his friend’s father and has kept it in a special container on dry ice since.
In September 2005 Daniil Fedorenko, a young man from St. Petersburg, Russia contacted Cryonics Institute to help cryopreserve his then dying 79-year old grandmother Lidia Ivanovna Fedorenko. This request was forwarded to Danila Medvedev as CI’s only contact in Russia, who could provide real help to Fedorenko. Mr. Medvedev had the basic knowledge of the process, was a cryonics activist and at the moment he was located in St. Petersburg.
Even though the situation was complicated and urgent (it was Friday evening, stores and frozen food warehouses were closed until Monday) and almost no advance preparations have been made (remember, a cryonics company didn’t exist then in Russia), a few hours after the death the body of Lydia Fedorenko was cooled by ice and preparations for the cryopreservation have begun.
Unfortunately, because of the opposition of relatives and lack of money, the family could not afford to send the full body of Lidia to Cryonics Institute. Only the brain of the patient was preserved and in the six months after that the Fedorenko family kept it at home in dry ice.The events were recorded by a team from NTV channel, which started an impressive sequence of publications and broadcasts about cryonics in Russia.
In preparation for the broadcast a website has been designed and launched in just three days. The updated version of it is now at www.kriorus.ru. The name of the site and then the company was invented by one of the co-founders and current deputy director of KrioRus Valeria Pride.
During the autumn and winter cryonics supporters met regularly at transhumanism seminars, where they discussed the possibilities of future medicine, nano medicine and cryobiology. Finally a few months later they have been convinced and a group of eight people agreed to proceed with incorporation of the company. On May 3rd, 2006 the company has been officially registered. Temporary space and a 260-litre dewar were provided by one of the founders, Viktor Grebenshchikov, a director of a clinic in Moscow. The rest of the financial costs were covered by the co-founders.
The main motivation for everyone was to provide affordable cryonics services for themselves and for their families. This explains the quick start of the company and the lack of "polish" in its activities. And yet, after the press-release that was sent out immediately after the registration, media became interested in the company. The following intensive coverage caused a growing number of interest in KrioRus’ cryonics services.
Current state of cryonics in Russia
Indeed, members of the KrioRus project has done a lot to promote cryonics in Russian and foreign media. Thousands of articles, hundreds of television programs and countless Internet publications has appeared... Some noteworthy publications are: several cover stories in the largest Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, articles in Trud, Izvestia, Arguments and Facts, Moscow News, in magazines Gala, Persons (Ukraine), "Russian Newsweek", etc., Programs and news stories about cryonics and KrioRus have been shown on virtually all television channels in Russia, as well as on some foreign ones, such as Skynews, Al Jazeera, etc.
After a year of painstaking PR work, Russian cryonicists have changed the attitude of the media from curious, but somewhat skeptical to mostly positive. Part of the population now sees cryonics as somewhat normal and most see it as acceptable. Moreover after a national program of nanotech research was passed in Russia, the media understood the basis for our hopes much better, thanks to the now "official" promise of nanomedicine.
But the main result of cryonics is not the media coverage, but lives saved. Unfortunately, at KrioRus every successful suspension (at this time of 5-two and three bodies brain) is preceded by many unsuccessful ones. The negative factors include mistrust for the young company, the novelty of the idea for the Russian public and the overall deathist attitude prevailing in the society. However, despite some initial worries, there has not been a single case where the church would actively discourage cryonics. In the first year of our operations we had three cases, all three with full-body suspensions. With these few examples it is difficult to say whether this reflects a trend — a desire of Russians to preserve the body or it is coincidental.
Since KrioRus currently occupies a rather small storage facility, which was not meant to accommodate large dewars, in all these recent cases a separate storage was arranged. In one such case the dewar was designed and manufactured at the leading Russian vacuum technology factory Kriomash. Small storage facilities are now located at the Moscow region, in Siberia and in Vologda (north of European Russia). In our Siberian facilities the construction of a larger dewar capable of holding three full-body patients is expected to be finished in September.
As the general director continued the report, it was clear that during the short time it operated, the company has earned some credibility and attracted some investment. This made it possible to plan the construction of a new larger and better-equipped storage facility. Right now KrioRus employees are looking for suitable land and are discussing the project with architects. There is already initial agreement to hold an architectural competition for this new KrioRus project with the leading Russian architectural institute.
KrioRus has also found many cryonics supporters and enthusiasts in various cities of Russia, CIS countries (Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus) and even farther — in Brazil, China and the Netherlands. About a dozen people have expressed a desire to develop and promote cryonics — from Vladivostok, to Voronezh and Vologda, to Kiev and Kharkov in Ukraine.
Technical capabilities and skills are also improving. This May the director of the company Danila Medvedev attended cryonics training by Alcor in the UK. There will be a workshop in the city of Voronezh at the local hospital (this fall-winter). Several skilled specialists (including doctors) offered to join our team and support us with their knowledge and skills.
The meeting (like last year) was held in informal atmosphere and everyone appeared really interested. For instance, there was a whole group of ambulance doctors, who considered cryonics not just as a way of earning extra money, but above all as a promising technology for saving lives.
KrioRus is at the beginning of its path and its managers are looking for the most appropriate ways to develop and promote cryonics in Russia and outside it. We are going to offer additional services of pet cryopreservation. At the meeting people had an opportunity (and some took advantage of this opportunity) to have their DNA samples taken for permanent storage at KrioRus.
As Mr. Medvedev said: "Many Russians find it hard to take the first step on the road to immortality. Tradition draws thousands of people into the embrace of death, stifles the will to live. Perhaps the realization that their DNA — a tiny code describing their human body — is now stored at KrioRus may help them get accustomed to the idea of cryonics. Also, in the future, these DNA samples can be used for cloning — reproductive or therapeutic. It is even possible that in extreme case those will help restore a person's identity coupled with personality reconstruction based on records. In any case, DNA of every human being is valuable and worth preserving.
Hopefully cryonics in Russia has a bright future. The company was established by true enthusiasts of cryonics and the interest in Russia is growing. As some experts point out, Russia has a very positive climate for possible cryonics legislation. Interestingly, a leader of LDPR party Vladimir Zhirinovsky spoke positively about cryonics in one of the first publications.
The world is changing. New technologies bring a different attitude to life, to death. Civilization taught us to appreciate human life and personality. And ahead of the huge crowd of humanists is a small group of cryonics supporters, proclaiming their hope to fulfill the ancient human dream — the dream of immortality.
Subject: Report about Helsinki
On August 30 Danila Medvedev from KrioRus ( www.kriorus.ru ) gave a presentation on cryonics at University of Helsinki (Finland). Several members of Finnish Transhumanist Association attended. There was also a journalist from Helsingin Sanomat, the leading Finnish newspaper, who is going to publish a piece about cryonics in 2 weeks. A photoshoot for the story was done at an ice-bar nearby. :) Thanks to Jani Mollis and Samuli Eldfors from the FTA for helping organise all this. Sadly, the presentation turned out not as popular as we expected. There is very little awareness about cryonics in Finland at the moment. Since many FTA members are young (students and recent graduates), they sometimes are more interested in things like supplements, SENS research or artificial general intelligence. And yet, death is common and even if you are young, your relatives often are not.
The focus of the presentation was on what can be done in Finland to advance cryonics. If there is sufficient interest, KrioRus can help move things forward - technically, legally and organisationally. Cryonics is a necessary part of life. To bring that point forward to people I have created a presentation that can be watched online at http://www.slideshare.net/danila/people-die/