[extropy-chat] Alcor Life Extension Foundation Press Release
mathew at alcor.org
Mon Feb 23 21:00:27 UTC 2004
An Open Letter Concerning Cryonics Regulation
How media sensationalism catalyzed
an assault on individual rights in Arizona
By Brian Wowk, PhD
February 22, 2004
"No man's life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in
Judge Gideon J. Tucker (1866)
Since 1972, more than 700 people have made arrangements to
be cryopreserved by the Alcor Life Extension Foundation of Scottsdale,
Arizona. These people believe their right to choose Alcor, and the
procedures performed by Alcor, are as fundamentally important as the right
of all dying patients to choose their own care. In the case of Alcor, its
members believe that the neurological information archived by Alcor might
someday save their lives by allowing access to advanced future technology.
While cryonics remains controversial, a cursory review of
the numerous writings and conduct of people in the field shows that they
are sincere. It also appears that Alcor in particular seeks and implements
the best technologies it can find to achieve its objectives. In most cases
these technologies have been implemented under the guidance of physicians
and scientists from mainstream medicine who are experts in their field.
Yet on Feb. 6, 2004, bill HB 2637 was introduced into the
Arizona legislature. This bill would remove authority over cryonics in
Arizona from medical doctors and scientists operating under the Uniform
Anatomical Gift Act (UAGA), and transfer authority to the Arizona Board of
Funeral Directors and Embalmers. This is despite the fact that cryonics as
practiced by Alcor does not resemble embalming in any manner. Even though
cryonics is implemented after legal death, Alcor uses medical methods to
preserve neurological information in living tissue, not to cosmetically
preserve dead bodies. For embalmers to assume authority over procedures
created by brain resuscitation experts, thoracic surgeons, neurosurgeons,
and organ preservation scientists, would be comparable to the Funeral Board
assuming authority over the job of a brain surgeon.
The bill is being justified on the basis of consumer
protection and "right to know" about cryonics procedures. In fact Alcor
has explained its procedures in detail in its magazine, books, monographs,
and contracts for decades, and on the Internet for many years. Even the
most unsophisticated Alcor members seem to know more about Alcor procedures
than funeral clients know about embalming or cremation. There are no
public reports that even a single Alcor member (i.e. consumer) wants this
legislation. In fact, on cryonics discussion lists, the cryonics consumer
reaction to regulatory moves in recent months has been anger. Instead of
being treated with technology designed by scientists to preserve life, the
final authority over their treatment would be transferred to a regulatory
board that specializes in cosmetics and chemicals that destroy life.
The bill does not appear to be backed by anyone who has a
personal interest in cryonics. Furthermore, the regulatory board that this
bill would impose on Alcor has made alarming comments about
cryonics. Arizona Funeral Board Director Rudy Thomas has been quoted as
saying, "There's no difference between cryonics and cremation," (Arizona
Capitol Times, 23 Sept 2003) and "These companies need to be regulated or
deregulated out of business" (New York Times, 14 Oct 2003). Even if Mr.
Thomas is merely indifferent to cryonics, and not hostile, there is no
assurance that his successor will feel the same. The bill gives the
Funeral Board a blank slate to prescribe or proscribe cryonics procedures,
even though it disclaims the entire purpose of the field. It is "consumer
protection" championed by non-consumers over the objections of actual
consumers of cryonics. How did Alcor ever become the target of such
patently wrong legislation?
Allegations of Wrongdoing
During the month of August, 2003, a Sports Illustrated
article alleging mistreatment of a high profile case during
cryopreservation by Alcor appeared on newsstands. The article alleged that
a head had been separated from a body, "shaved, drilled with holes,
accidentally cracked as many as 10 times...." In the article, and
especially in the media coverage that followed, these allegations were
presented as shocking news of mishandling and negligence at Alcor.
Alcor has been performing neuropreservation (preservation
of the brain within the head) as a cryonics procedure for decades. Most
Alcor members prefer neuropreservation, in part because it results in less
brain injury than whole body freezing. Cryonicists believe that
preservation of the brain is the most important part of cryonics. Most
"patients" now in storage at Alcor are in fact neuropreservation
cases. That Alcor preserves brains within heads is almost common
knowledge. The only thing new in recent media reports about
neuropreservation at Alcor is the sensationalization of the procedure.
What about "drilled with holes?" To monitor the state of
the brain during its procedures, Alcor makes two small (1/4") holes in the
skull using a standard neurosurgical tool called a perforator. That's
it. Any brain surgery patient in any hospital will have these same holes
made using the same tool to begin a procedure called craniotomy to access
the brain. One can only imagine why Sports Illustrated chose to draw
attention to such a minor procedure, and describe it with the words it did.
What about cracking? In September, 1984, Alcor published
in Cryonics magazine the first paper that documented fracturing as a
problem in large organs cooled to the temperature of liquid
nitrogen. Mainstream scientific journals (Cryobiology) have since
published research suggesting that fracturing (not breaking) is to be
expected in all large organs preserved by vitrification during cooling
below -150 degC. Ironically, the same week that the Sports Illustrated
story came out, Carnegie Mellon University announced a $1.3 million grant
from the federal government specifically to solve the problem of fracturing
during cryopreservation. None of this research would be going on if the
cause of fracturing were careless handling, as implied by media coverage.
Virtues Portrayed as Vices
Perhaps the most unfair aspect of the allegations against
Alcor is that conscientious and well-justified procedures were perceived as
Why does Alcor remove heads? Because, according to Alcor,
that allows the best possible preservation of the brain. The brain is the
primary target of preservation in cryonics.
Why doesn't Alcor just remove the brain? Because the
brain would be injured in the process.
Why does Alcor make two small holes in the skull? To
properly monitor the brain.
Why does Alcor get "cracks"? All large organs treated
with chemicals to suppress ice formation develop invisible fractures during
deep cooling. Alcor was the first institution anywhere to discover and
monitor fracturing with a unique acoustic (sound detection)
technology. Nobody would even know about this problem were it not for
Alcor's extraordinary efforts to measure and document it during cryonics
Other articles following the Sports Illustrated story were
even more extreme. The same source cited in the Sports Illustrated story
was quoted delivering a rich variety of inflammatory invectives, including
"unethical", "sickening", "ghastly", "horrific", "desecrated", "destroyed."
Surgical instruments became woodworking tools. Cryogenic dewars, named
after their inventor, became "gods" named after a brand of
whiskey. (Florida Today, 16 Aug 2003).
Journalists continued the escalation. A former COO became
a former CEO (Associated Press, 15 Aug 2003). Two small holes became
"drilled with holes" (Sports Illustrated, 18 Aug 2003). "Drilled with
holes" became "cracked when holes were drilled in it" (Arizona Capitol
Times, 17 Feb 2004). Local TV stations produced graphic animations showing
a skull cracking and splitting open. (There has never been a reported case
in published scientific literature, or Alcor technical reports, of bone
ever fracturing during cryopreservation.) And the witch hunt was on.
Consider if a journalist did this expose of the funeral
industry: "Funeral Home Scandal: Bodies injected with poison, organs
mutilated, remains stuffed into wood boxes and covered with dirt!" It's
all true, right? Of course, if a disgruntled apprentice embalmer went to a
sports magazine describing in graphic detail the use of a trocar during
embalming of a sports celebrity, or the physical effects of cremation, he
would be escorted out of the building by security.
The Question of Regulation
Arguments for funeral board regulation of cryonics neglect
a very basic difference between the way Alcor and the funeral industry
operate. Most funeral business is "at-need," meaning that grieving
families seek to arrange services for their loved ones after they are
deceased. There is no time for research or investigation of the product or
facility performing the procedure. Cryonics, however, is almost entirely
"pre-need." People join Alcor before they need Alcor, and typically spend
years "kicking the tires" before they finally join. It's very rare for
Alcor to accept cryonics cases arranged by next-of-kin. Unless there is a
history of involvement or interest in cryonics by the family, informed
consent is practically impossible under such circumstances.
The best proof that Alcor handles informed consent well is
that in 32 years of Alcor history, no reports can be found of anyone
choosing cryonics with Alcor ever going to reporters or authorities to
complain that they were misled by Alcor, or regretted their choice of
Alcor. Even the family members reported by media to have arranged the
cryopreservation alleged by Sports Illustrated (the two youngest children)
have expressed no dissatisfaction. Only the eldest daughter, who never
wanted cryonics, has complained. Similarly, the disgruntled ex-employee
who alleged wrongdoing at Alcor has apparently disclaimed interest in
cryonics for himself (New York Times, 14 Aug 2003).
Where, then, are the dissatisfied consumers? Where are
the unhappy Alcor members? Where are the family members that wanted
cryonics for a loved one, but were let down by it? There appear to be
none. There are only people who don't understand cryonics, people who
don't want cryonics, and people who don't like what they read in newspapers
about cryonics. That is not sufficient justification for a majority to use
government force to assume control of a technology desired by a minority
with beliefs different from theirs.
Brian Wowk, PhD
Physicist and Cryobiologist
Mathew Sullivan (mathew at alcor.org)
Alcor Life Extension Foundation
7895 E. Acoma Dr., Suite 110, Scottsdale AZ 85260-6916
Membership Information: (877) GO-ALCOR (462-5267)
Phone (480) 905-1906 FAX (480) 922-9027
info at alcor.org for general requests
The Alcor Life Extension Foundation was founded in 1972 as a non-profit,
tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, and has 59 patients in cryostasis. Alcor
is the world's largest provider of professional cryotransport services with
over 660 members who have pre-arranged for cryotransport. Alcor's Emergency
CryoTransport System (ECS) is a medical-style rescue network patterned
after Emergency Medical System (EMS). Alcor CryoTransport Technicians, as
with EMTs and Paramedics on an ambulance, are advised by our Medical
Director, Jerry Lemler MD or other physicians who are Alcor members and/or
If you start everything...
you will finish nothing.
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