They froze a frog and it lived. And they hope one day they can do the same to a human.
The fact is, they knew it would because this species of wood frog lives in the abject cold, and it has evolved to be able to endure extreme weather to such a point that if it is frozen solid, properties in its blood stream will enable its cells to stay alive even after a deep freeze.
Scientists have been studying these frogs in hopes that they can provide the answers necessary to allow doctors to freeze human organs for transplant, or even further, cryogenically freeze living people to awaken them at a later date.
The moral, philosophical, and economic questions of cryogenic stasis for humans are vast, and few are better to speculate about them than Lois McMaster Bujold, local author of the novel "Cryoburn", which chronicles how these questions are addressed in an otherworldly futuristic society.
"It's the old consumer marketing quandary," she said. "If something really could give people a second lease on life, then almost everyone would want to do it. Well, what if they did? What happens to a society in which people can cheat death by simply freezing themselves until a cure for whatever disease they have is discovered? And further, what if the practice becomes so commonplace that the people who decide to go into stasis begin to vastly outnumber the living who must care for them? What happens to population control, the generational tug-of-war over natural resources, and the problem of awakening decades later without a grasp of the changes that took place while you were frozen?"
Bujold studied the current day state of the art of cryogenic freezing, and is aware of the recent direction of research to use cryobiology to extend the life of transplant organs.
"The medical advances over the last 50 years have raised the typical life expectancy in the U.S. from an age of barely 60 in the 1930s to what it is today, nearly 80 years," she said. "Now, extend that to being able to freeze humans, and we may wind up with a vastly different society, overall. Politics, healthcare and medical science would all experience dramatic shifts to account for a whole new population in flux, and a profit-driven industry that has to balance the moral and ethical responsibility of caring for frozen humans. And, as always when vast amounts of money are on the table, emotions would run high, and the dishonest would have to be kept in check."
Should we worry about how cryogenic technology could change our lives?
"I still don't see practical cryonics happening in my lifetime, but about technological change in general, I say bring it on. We'll muddle through somehow, keeping what works and discarding the false starts." She added, "If we look back into the history of technology in the Western World, the pundits have always proclaimed the sky would fall because of new developments. IVF (in vitro fertilization) alarmed the public when it first came in; now the first IVF babies are voting citizens and parents themselves. The first organ transplant ever, blood transfusion, is now so routine we scarcely think about how miraculous it really is. Human cloning, when perfected, will deliver simply-a baby.
Bujold believes that we're a race of explorers at heart, and fear of the unknown runs contrary to our natural state of being.
"We are pioneers," she added. "We push to discovery, and then we poke it and prod it until someone loses a finger, and then we learn how to do better, what to keep and what to discard. It's how we have progressed and thrived as a culture, and no matter what the next new thing is going to be, we'll figure it out and make it work."
Bujold is among the most acclaimed writers in the field of science fiction and fantasy, having won the prestigious Hugo Award for best novel four times, matching author Robert A. Heinlein's record. Her novella "The Mountains of Mourning" won both the Hugo and Nebula Award. In the fantasy sphere, "The Curse of Chalion" won the Mythopoeic Award for Adult Literature and was nominated for the 2002 World Fantasy Award for best novel, and both her fourth Hugo and second Nebula were for Paladin of Souls.