[extropy-chat] Alcor Life Extension Foundation Press Release

Mathew Sullivan 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.

The Facts

                 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 

Sensational Journalism

                 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
Corona, California


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 
contract physicians.

If you start everything...
you will finish nothing.  

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