An Example of How Not to Organize Your Own Cryopreservation

Cryonics is a process of low-temperature preservation for your brain (and optionally body) on death. Cryoprotectant chemicals are infused into your tissues during a cooling process so as to produce a glass-like vitrification rather than freezing, minimizing formation of ice crystals and preserving the fine neural structures that contain the data of your mind. At some point in the future it will become possible to revive and restore an individual to life from even as radical a procedure as this. The technologies needed can currently be envisaged: swarms of guided nanomachines capable of repairing and altering cellular structures down to the level of individual proteins, combined with near-complete control over the growth, state, and behavior of cells that will evolve from present day stem cell research.

The process of cryopreservation is not something that can be thrown together at the drop of a hat. Preparation is needed. This is especially true because we cannot legally choose the time our own death, and thus much of the expense and complexity of cryonics involves standby teams and the uncertainty inherent in the process of natural death. It is an ugly thing that the responsible, individual choice of assisted euthanasia is forbidden in our society. It forces people to suffer needlessly in their final, frail days, and further creates an entirely avoidable increase in expense and decrease in reliability of cryopreservation.

Cryonics standby groups are often volunteers, and they go above and beyond to make cryopreservations happen even under the least optimal of circumstances, just as do the staff at organizations such as Alcor and the Cryonics Institute. All too many people fail to carry out the necessary preparations, and someone ends up having to pick up the slack. In a better world than this cryonics would be a large enough business to spur the creation of intermediaries who fulfill a role similar to that of insurance companies merged with paramedical organizations, working to ensure better end of life treatment and organization for cryonics patients. Unfortunately we do not yet live in that world, and so there are examples such as this:

Alcor's 118th Patient

A-2694 completed sign-up paperwork just four days before being pronounced and we confirmed receipt of payment for his cryopreservation on the day of pronouncement. The patient was admitted to a hospital in the Czech Republic on Wednesday October 23. Initially, a relative told us that doctors had claimed that conducting cryopreservation procedures in that country would be illegal. That turned out to be incorrect, although there is a requirement to conduct a postmortem. Fortunately, either because of the patient's dual citizenship or because a close relative was physically present to dismiss that requirement, no postmortem was required. Although payment for cryopreservation had not yet been received, the patient's brother had the wisdom to wire sufficient funds to allow us to begin preparations (with the invaluable assistance of international funeral directors Rowland Brothers in London) and to send Medical Response Director Aaron Drake to the Czech Republic.

We had hoped to perform a field cryoprotection for the first time. This would have allowed us to cryoprotect the patient and ship him on dry ice. Just recently, we had positioned supplies in England for this purpose. Unfortunately, this turned out to be impossible. In part, this was due to the extremely close time frame for the patient's sign-up. More critically, however, we ran into incredibly bad luck in that on the day our supplies were to be moved from England to the patient's location, England was hit by the massive St. Jude storm. Winds of up to 80 mph led to cancelled flights and other major travel disruptions. Even if the patient had been well enough to move him to Germany (as we had suggested), field cryoprotection would not have been feasible.

The patient's location in the Czech Republic added further difficulties. It turned out that the hospital lacked any ice facilities - a situation that would never happen in a US hospital. When the patient's condition (based on very limited medical information) seemed to be critical, Aaron Drake got on a flight to the Czech Republic on Sunday October 27. The patient was pronounced while Aaron was still in transit, then placed in the hospital morgue at around 2 degrees Celsius. All the dry ice in the area was purchased and used to cool and pack the patient for air transport to Alcor. A-2694 arrived at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport early in the evening of Friday November 1 and at Alcor around 9:00 pm. The transfer into cool down took a little over an hour. At the time of writing (November 7), the patient is close to completing the cool down process.

Don't leave your preparations to the last minute. By doing so you make tightly-run organizations stretch themselves on your behalf: they will do their best at short notice, as happened here, but the end result may still be a poor cryopreservation. The preservation process needs to begin as soon as possible after death, and any delay is not a good thing: perhaps the damage accrued might be repairable by far-future technology, but there is every likelihood that it might not, as much of the vital data that makes up you as an individual is lost. That might as well be death.


What we need is a cryopreservation agency in countries where euthanasia is legal, i.e. Belgium and Switzerland. That would improve chances of optimal preservation for the terminal ill.

Posted by: Barbara T at November 15th, 2013 12:53 PM
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