Interview by Leon Horton
Photographs by kind permission of the Cryonics Institute
Dennis Kowalski is President of the Cryonics Institute in Michigan. A fire fighter and paramedic for the city of Milwaukee, he is certified in advanced cardiac life support, advanced paediatric life support and as a CPR instructor for the American Heart Association. In addition, he teaches emergency medicine at the Milwaukee Fire Academy and the Milwaukee County Emergency Center. He is also a member of the Cato Institute – a public policy research organisation dedicated to the principles of individual liberty.
Raised in a small Milwaukee suburb, Dennis was a prize-winning pugilist at high school; served in the US Marine Corps on special assignment to Alpha Company 3rd Reconnaissance as part of an intelligence gathering unit; and studied philosophy and astronomy at the University of Waukesha. Science has always been and continues to be his great love, and as an advocate of cryonics and nanotechnology he sees advancements in these fields as the logical conclusion to the quest for prosperity and longevity.
Dennis is happily married to his wife Maria. They have three children, a dog and a cat.
Hi, Dennis, thank you for finding the time to speak to me. How and when did you first become interested in cryonics?
“I learned of cryonics when I was young and it made sense to me to at least attempt to allow future medical technology to solve problems that current medicine cannot. Advancements in medicine seem to support this logic. Later, I learned about molecular nanotechnology and the hacking of life such as genetic engineering, stem cell tissue regeneration, 3D bio printing and other technologies that firmly support cryonics.”
What was it that led you to get actively involved in the cryonics movement and when did this come about?
“As a paramedic I have an interest in emergency medicine and have witnessed the power of technology over life and death. About 15 years ago, I signed up for cryonics with the Cryonics Institute – and in 2010 was elected to the Board of Directors. Five years ago, I was elected CI’s 4th President.”
Are you personally signed up for cryopreservation?
“Yes. All of CI’s management and our Board of Directors are signed up and thus have a vested interest in the success of cryonics. As a bylaw requirement, to be elected to the Board of Directors you have to first be a member signed up for suspension. This helps to discourage fraud or embezzlement since we are not in it for the money, but for the success of our mission goal.”
How many people are members of your organisation, and how many of those are currently in cryostasis?
“Approximately 1,350 people are signed-up – 140 of them frozen. The numbers are growing faster than in the past.”
It’s an urban myth that Walt Disney is cryopreserved, but could you describe an atypical cryonicist? What sort of people sign up for suspension?
“They tend to be well educated middle- to upper-class people with technology educations and a genuine optimism about the future. We are disproportionately represented by members of Mensa and people engaged in the fields of medicine and computers.”
What would you say have been the biggest advances in cryonics, medically and technologically, in the last twenty years?
“Vitrification [the process of freezing] and improved cryoperfusion formulas [the chemicals used in preservation] have been hugely important in recent years. And thanks to technology we now have better cryostats [storage units].
“Standby procedures are also improving – along with scales of economy as more people sign up. As medicine and technology advances, more and more people see cryonics as a rational and logical attempt to advance emergency medicine by running a sort of clinical trial. Cryonics is simply an ambulance to a future hospital.”
What would you say are the biggest misconceptions about cryonics?
“I would recommend reading our popular misconceptions page, but I would have to say that the biggest misconception is that since our patients are dead, we are wasting our time. If this was the attitude in emergency medicine, we would not have CPR and cardiac defibrillation. Of course, 75 years ago if your heart stopped you were dead – or so everyone thought. Today people once considered dead are routinely brought back to life. No one can say for certain what the future will bring, but the smart bet is that we will in the future be able to do many things once considered impossible today. With cryonics, we have the process and time to find out what is possible and perhaps save lives – prematurely defined as dead – from the primitive present.”
With new advances and research, has the scientific and business worlds taken more of an interest in supporting cryonics?
“Yes. We have been approached by serious biotech companies who are considering investing money and research into cryonics and organ cryopreservation. Also, the [US] Department of Defense is currently offering $50 million in prize money for a successful organ cryopreservation, which, in turn, is driving forward interest in cryonics and vitrification technology.”
“Recent advances in 3D biological printers, stem cell regeneration, cloning, brain imaging, and molecular nanotechnology – all of these new sciences are helping to vindicate the science of cryonics and support the ultimate goal of some day repairing and rejuvenating those who were once considered dead.”
“Here is a link to 62 Phd’s who support our research and see what we are doing as credible science. http://www.evidencebasedcryonics.org/scientists-open-letter-on-cryonics/
How do interested parties become members of the Cryonics Institute and how much can they expect to pay?
“Simply read our website at cryonics.org or call us for the membership application paperwork. Membership at the Cryonics Institute is a $1,250 one-time fee or $120 annually. After that, a member is allowed the ability to prefund a suspension at CI for $28,000. The price for non-membership suspension sign-up is $36,250. This pays for cryonic suspension and perpetual storage. Most of the money is invested so that the interest can pay for perpetual overhead and storage costs. Cryonics is very affordable and most people use life insurance to pay for cryopreservation by naming CI as their beneficiary.”
Finally, how far in the future will it be before it’s possible to revive cryonics patients?
“That’s a good but tough question. It’s always difficult to predict the future, but I think a reasonable estimate is no sooner than 45 years which is when futurist Ray Kurzweil is predicting accelerating technology will propel us forward at exponential rates.
“The conservative side of me, however, says no more than 200 years. I would hedge my answer with a range of between 45 and 200 years. Of course, predicting if something is possible and when it will happen are two completely different things. Fortunately cryonics buys us as much time as we need to figure out the medical science of revival and rejuvenation.”
Thank you for answering my questions, Dennis. Keep up the good work and sign me up.
Anyone interested in further information on the Cryonics Institute can contact Dennis at Dennis@Cryonics.org