The cryonics industry provides the only alternative to the grave for people who will age to death prior to the advent of rejuvenation treatments. Sadly, even after four decades of service this remains a small industry and only a tiny fraction of those who die choose to take advantage of what is offered: low temperature preservation sufficient to maintain the fine structure of the brain until such time as the means for revival are created. Everyone else is gone to dust and oblivion, beyond any hope of returning. A number of people have put in a lot of time and effort to describing how the revival of cryopreserved individuals might be achieved under various scenarios, but the bottom line is that it would require some form of mature molecular nanotechnology industry and all its applications, such as swarms of accurately controlled nanorobots, coupled with the sort of precise control over cellular biochemistry, growing from the present cell research community, that we might envisage being the state of the art five decades from now. None of that is impossible or implausible, it is just far away. But if you are stored in liquid nitrogen you have all the time in the world to wait. Many patients have waited for decades already.
The essence of a good cryopreservation is speed. Reaching storage temperature after perfusion with cryoprotectant chemicals that prevent ice crystal formation must happen as soon as possible following clinical death so as to prevent as much loss of structure and cell death as possible. That preservation must happen after natural death is an artifact of the modern legal battle over euthanasia and other aspects of self-determination in end of life decisions: it is illegal to end your own life in most regions and illegal for anyone to help you in near all. Since people can't choose their time, the whole process becomes much more expensive and uncertain. Standby teams and equipment must be on call, for example, and there are any number of accidental circumstances that can delay cryopreservation simply because the time and place cannot be chosen. Further, what if you suffer a condition that destroys your brain along the way? The courts have not been sympathetic to that situation in the past.
Given this legally-ordained environment, I can't emphasize enough just how important it is to be organized and prepared. You can't just sign up as a member with one of the providers like Alcor or the Cryonics Institute and sit back. You must have a plan in place for accidents and unexpectedly fast declines, and you must have a standing plan for the end of your life before it becomes apparent that things are heading that way. When it does happen you'll have other things on your mind, after all.
The Alcor staff posts cryopreservation notices on an ongoing basis that are quite informative from the point of view of learning what not to do, as well as providing a catalog of slings and arrows that can interrupt even the best laid plans. Just the four reports below illustrate that this is often no walk in the park, and the human body fails in unexpected ways and at unexpected times. Alcor and other cryonics organizations try to go above and beyond even when members and their supporters leave little room to create a good outcome in the present legal environment. Beyond that, these notices also put a human face to many of these patients, those generous enough to allow their preservation to be public. These are people just like you and I who are looking ahead to a brighter future, but, like so many of those presently alive and in the later stages of life, have no hope of living to see the rejuvenation treatments that lie just around the corner, relatively speaking. So near and yet so far.
Camelia Petrozzini, Alcor member A-2745, was pronounced legally dead on December 1, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. Petrozzini, a whole body member, became Alcor's 130th patient on December 2, 2014. A-2745, a member who was on Alcor's Watch List due to stage 4 lung cancer, was planning on relocating to Scottsdale to enter into hospice when her remaining time was short. Despite an expectation that she had a few months remaining, she was taken into the hospital in serious condition in late November. Alcor was not notified of her admission until the family called to say her physician expected she had 8-12 hours remaining. Alcor contacted Suspended Animation and requested an immediate deployment to Chicago. While the response team was on the way, Alcor was able to convince the hospital to heparinize the patient, provide chest compressions and immediately begin to cool in the morgue, if she passed before the team arrived.
The patient passed 12 ½ hours later, roughly 60 minutes before Suspended Animation arrived at the hospital. Numerous issues delayed the transfer of the patient out of the hospital but a broken elevator proved to be too much to make the last commercial flight out for the day. To avoid a straight freeze, an air ambulance was secured and the patient arrived at 4 am into Scottsdale, around 21 hours after pronouncement. A neuro procedure commenced and was followed by a quick clean up and reset as another standby had commenced locally.
Confidential Alcor member A-2454 was pronounced legally dead on September 16, 2014 at 7:36 am (Arizona time) in Pittsburgh, PA. A-2454, a whole body member, became Alcor's 129th patient the same day. On the evening of the first day of Alcor's annual Board Summit, we received an emergency Telemed notification that an 87-year-old member had suffered a respiratory arrest following a choking incident and was at a hospital in a suburb of Pittsburg, PA. The individual had been placed on a ventilator, during which a 36-hour therapeutic hypothermia protocol was induced, in an attempt to diminish the damage to the brain and heart caused by the period of prolonged hypoxia.
The deployment committee discussed the likelihood of the individual surviving this event, and based upon the preliminary information provided by the medical providers it was considered quite high. The reporting family member, who previously had his mother cryopreserved with Alcor, considered the situation more grave and was determined to have a standby initiated. He offered to pay for the costs associated with the standby if it did not result in a suspension.
Based upon this request, Alcor decided to send Aaron and his team to the hospital. After the 36-hour protocol ended, it was determined that the individual had zero brain function remaining and the family decided to terminate life support. Within 10 minutes of withdrawing the ventilator, the patient's heart arrested and the team began stabilization and cool down immediately. An air ambulance was used and paid for by the family with hopes that the reduced travel time might mitigate the damage and increase the perfusability of the brain. Unfortunately, extensive cerebral edema had already occurred and was visible upon establishing the burr holes resulting in the perfusion attempt being stopped shortly thereafter.
Hal Finney, Alcor member A-1436 who chose the whole-body option, was pronounced legally deceased on August 28, 2014 at 8:50 am at the age of 58, in Scottsdale, Arizona. That same day, Hal became Alcor's 128th patient. Hal, who has had cryopreservation arrangements with the Alcor Foundation for over 20 years, was diagnosed with ALS five years ago and placed on Alcor's Watch List and then monitored over the years as his disease process continued to advance. He made it clear that once he lost the ability to communicate, he did not want his vital functions supported any further but should be allowed to cease functioning and promptly be cryopreserved. "It was actually extremely reassuring as the reality of the diagnosis sunk in," Hal wrote in 2009. "I was surprised, because I've always considered cryonics a long shot. But it turns out that in this kind of situation, it helps tremendously to have reasons for hope, and cryonics provides another avenue for a possibly favorable outcome."
Hal's long-stated wishes were to come to Scottsdale once he lost the ability to communicate with family and friends. When that time arrived, he was flown to Scottsdale by air ambulance with his wife, Fran, at his side. Hal and Fran Finney arrived in Scottsdale, Arizona on Tuesday August 26 where Hal was checked into ICU of a hospital near Alcor where the Alcor response team was set-up and waiting. After the family had a chance to say their goodbyes, Hal's ventilator was disconnected and he was allowed to breathe naturally, all while medical providers ensured that he had no conscious awareness of the process. Defying doctors' expectations, he didn't draw his final breath until 38 hours later, shortly before 9:00 am on Thursday August 28. Immediately after pronouncement of legal death, Alcor's standby team went into action, restoring circulation, ventilation, administering an array of medications, and initiating external cooling. Cryoprotective perfusion - to eliminate ice formation - has been completed and Hal is now undergoing cool down to -196C for long term storage where he be cared for until the day when repair and revival may be possible.
Alcor member, Robert Revitz (A-1963) moved to Scottsdale specifically to be close to Alcor after he started his membership in 2002. He attended monthly Board of Director meetings and local meet-ups when he was able. Struggling from congestive heart failure in addition to bone cancer, he was occasionally admitted into local hospitals for respiratory relief. Alcor's Medical Response Director, Aaron Drake, closely monitored Robert's health for several months.
In 2014, he fell at home where he fractured his hip and never fully recovered following hip replacement surgery. His primary care physician referred him to hospice-at-home in August as his health declined to the point where he could no longer care for himself. Hospice nurses who were caring for him provided frequent updates and eventually called to say that he had taken a turn for the worse. Preferring to conduct a standby in a controlled environment rather than an individual's home, Robert was transferred by ambulance into the same hospital that Alcor typically uses and a standby began. On August 15th, 2014, less than 24 hours after being admitted Robert, a neuro member, was pronounced and became Alcor's 127th patient.