Cryonics is Still in Search of Better Approaches to End of Life Management

Cryonics is the industry and collection of technologies associated with low-temperature preservation of an individual upon death, necessarily carried out as soon as possible so as to prevent tissue damage in the brain. It is connected to research and development in forms of organ preservation associated with transplant medicine. A good cryopreservation of at least the brain ensures the best chance of future restoration with all the data of the mind intact, encoded in the fine structure of neurons and synapses: a preserved individual has all the time in the world to wait, after all. The odds of success are unknown, but infinitely better than is the case for all of the alternative options for those too old or too ill to wait for the advent of future rejuvenation therapies.

In an ideal world a good preservation would occur because it was scheduled ahead of time: a team and resources must be assembled and on the site, and this is hard and expensive to do at very short notice when there are so few qualified individuals and such a large territory to cover. This is why cryonics is strongly connected to legal issues surrounding self-determination in end of life choices, since in most countries people are forbidden to choose the time and manner of their own death, and doctors are forbidden to assist in enabling that death to be an easy one when the patient is in pain and dying, beyond the capacities of present medical technology. In that ideal world, the cryonics industry would also be large enough to ensure that first responders to medical emergencies, coroners, and other relevant individuals would as a matter of course be trained to understand and respect cryonics arrangements.

The present small size of the cryonics industry and the hostile nature of our legal systems means that we don't live in that world, unfortunately. We are not granted ownership over our own lives and bodies. Cryonics must occur as a last minute emergency effort at short notice in most cases, and the existing services and regulatory bodies must often be fought at the same time. Even people well connected within the cryonics community, who are well aware of the hurdles in the way, can succumb to sheer accident and as a result obtain a poor preservation with an unknown but probably large level of neural damage:

Dr. Laurence Pilgeram, a cryopreservation member of Alcor since 1991, was involved in cryonics early on. He gave a talk at the 1971 Cryonics Conference in San Francisco, California, on "Abnormal in-Vitro Oxidation and Lypogenesis Induced by Plasma in Patients with Thrombosis". Dr. Pilgeram was awarded his PhD. in Biochemistry at the University of California at Berkeley in 1953. In 1954-55 he served as an Instructor in Physiology at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Chicago. After two years, he accepted an offer to develop and head an Arteriosclerosis Research Laboratory at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine. He later moved to Santa Barbara, California for a time before joining the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX to develop and head the Coagulation Laboratory there.

On April 10, Dr. Pilgeram, collapsed outside of his home of an apparent sudden cardiac arrest. Despite medical and police personnel aware of his Alcor bracelet, he was taken to the medical examiner's office in Santa Barbara, as they did not understand Alcor's process and assumed that the circumstances surrounding his death would pre-empt any possible donation directives. Since this all transpired late on a Friday evening, Alcor was not notified of the incident until the following Monday morning.

Fortunately, no autopsy was performed which at least eliminated any invasive damage but the lengthy delay led to a straight freeze as the only remaining option. The medical examiner released the body to the mortuary that Alcor uses in Buena Park, California and he was immediately covered with dry ice, per our request. Aaron Drake and Steve Graber traveled to California to perform a neuro separation in the mortuary's prep room and then returned to Arizona for continued cool down which began on April 15, 2015.



Cryonics is in urgent need of the creation of a facility in a more euthanasia-friendly country (Switzerland?).

Posted by: Antonio at May 21st, 2015 11:24 AM

Or the Netherlands, Belgium, Colombia, Luxembourg, Germany, Japan, Albania, and the US states of Washington, Oregon, Vermont, New Mexico and Montana. Perhaps Alcor should relocate.

Posted by: Barbara T. at May 21st, 2015 11:56 AM

I vote for Germany.

Posted by: Matin S. at May 21st, 2015 12:58 PM

I vote for California, specifically Silicon Valley. It least it will be next to SENS.

Posted by: Robert Church at May 21st, 2015 4:59 PM

Cryonics is not going to succeed until the people running it are really practical physician scientists. About 2 years I attended a party they held and got to talk to a couple of their scientists and was dismayed at their lack of knowledge of the practical problems that need to be addressed immediately for a successful long term revival to occur. If there was any chance that their techniques would succeed I would sign up but from what I heard there really is very little chance of success with the way things are being done now.

To start with we need more scientific meetings on the topic with people like Greg Fahey directing and organizing the meeting. The meeting would be well served with an in-depth review of the processes that occur at the time of death systemically as well as microscopically. These changes are complex and vary with the diseases and premorbid conditions the person has been suffering from. In other words the team will have to become part of the patient's final care since that is the only way to know what is and has been going on with the patient. By having this experience with the patient while still alive one can prepare their preservation better.

The training of someone close to the person should be part of the procedure. Methods of what to do immediately at the time of death should be known and the equipment and solutions should be stored in the person's residence for the loved one(s) to have ready access to and directions to follow so that when the real team arrives the body will have been kept in good shape for the next steps in the cryogenic process. All of this takes time and planning to set up but if this business is going to succeed it has to have demonstrable successes like Paul Segall's dog (that was covered on TV world wide back in 1991).

What we need is for Paul Segall, PhD to come back from the dead with his pet beagle (it would be the second time back from the dead for the beagle) and this would be a thriving industry.

I think that Biotime, ,Inc is a grandchild of Paul's so I would think they should be willing to help with some of the funding?? For all of the hype I have heard about Michael West I don't see him involved with this industry and yet it was cryogenics that made his company (Biotime) and still continues to pay their bills.

Going back to Dr. Laurence Pilgeram, a cryopreservation member of Alcor since 1991 I was a consultant back in 1981 so I have been around for awhile and never met this doctor nor have we had one scientific meeting all of this time that I have been invited to. It is no wonder people don't believe this group is serious. If you want to succeed you all have to organize, plan, get money, and do things right! When that day starts to happen I will be back but not until. Go look at ALCOR's home page and look for information on their procedures for how they handle their clients at the time of death. You won't find any info since they don't have a plan other than to send their preservation team out as fast as they can-which no matter how good is not good enough. Better we have a clinic like mine where dying patients could be brought and either revived with the latest techniques such as stem cells or if they do die then everything is already setup and ready to be used at the time of death. That will work if anything is going to work. That type of rejuvenation-cyropreservation clinic would get a massive amount of attention and with that money to fund more research.

For my part I will continue to develop and use stem cells in HLA matched cord blood stem cell transplants into old folk's bone marrow so they have new stem cells to give them a new lease on life (my form of heterochronic parabiosis).

This is much more practical than the rat model of heterochronic parabiosis since I have yet to find a young female that wants to be connected to my old body for even a few minutes much less for 24 hours a day!

Posted by: David Steenblock, DO at May 21st, 2015 11:26 PM

"If there was any chance that their techniques would succeed I would sign up but..."

Yeah, it's much better to be cremated...

Posted by: Antonio at May 22nd, 2015 3:22 AM

Alcor and others like them, should look into using drones for rapid response and they can deliver kits or other much needed things via drones. Amazon is looking seriously into using drones to deliver some of their packages and I'm sure these unconventional methods will pick up speed.

Posted by: Adrian C at May 22nd, 2015 10:18 AM

Dr. Steenblock's criticisms do indeed point to weaknesses in cryonics as currently practiced. On the other hand it is not easy or cheap to set up the sort of infrastructure he is referring to. Granted, if you did, it might greatly improve the practice and ensure much better preservation, particularly in cases like Dr. Pilgeram's where there was a long ischemic delay before the process could begin and only a crude version (straight freezing without cryoprotection) was possible. But the difficulties are formidable, due in no small part to overall apathy or hostility to the idea and the paucity of individuals who do take the idea seriously, now, and are willing to work hard to make it work (as opposed to those who say they will not be involved until it looks more workable).

Nevertheless, I strongly favor cryonics over other options currently available, such as burial or cremation. My background is computer science and math, not cryobiology or medicine. As I see it, the biggest issue is how well identity-critical information survives in the preserved remains, in some eventually inferable form, not whether the cells might still be viable and restorable to function using presently existing methods. Information is relatively hard to erase, and low temperature is not generally a good way to do it, despite "freezing damage" of one sort or another. I look forward to mature nanotechnology capable of assembling/disassembling a wide variety of molecular structures, including cryopreserved tissue. Tissue preserved by crude methods today could be reconditioned to be in shape suitable for rewarming and restoration to function--or some other restorative approach could be used. All this would be based on recovery of information from the preserved tissue--to determine what should be there from what still is there. Much as you might restore an ancient building from its rubble, carefully analyzed.

This sort of speculation I realize is a two-edged sword, reinforcing the hopes of cryonics aficionados on one hand, but also reinforcing the dismissal of cryonics by others on grounds of being "just science fiction." Anyway, as a computer programmer I was frequently doing things that had not been done before, by suitably structuring a series of instructions. Most of the problems I worked on were solvable in a Turing sense, and it was relatively hard to come up with something that was not (though not impossible). Something of this sort of difficulty I expect to occur in the future when the resuscitation of cryonics patients is seriously considered. Most likely, these patients will, at worst, suffer from some degree of amnesia as they are resuscitated, which in turn might be at least partly remedied using records. (For this reason cryonicists are encouraged to also store "mindfiles" that record important personal experiences, dispositions, etc.) I hope that cryonics can become a better practice but making it that way requires a willingness to deal with what we have here and now.

Posted by: R. Michael Perry, Ph.D. at May 24th, 2015 12:06 PM

Maybe Alcor (and the business in general) should look into providing its members a device that will notify them when their heart stops.
There are all kinds of wearables on the marked now that continuously monitor people's activity, heart rate and what more. They also communicate with mobile devices and upload data directly to the cloud.
Technology has probably come at a far enough state now to have a bracelet or watch developed that will track where a person is and monitor basic vital signs. When the vitals stop, the bracelet could emit some sort of emergency signal through some cell carrier or whatever. The signal could go to Alcor directly and to the nearest Alcor qualified (certified?) emergency center based on the device's location. Sounds like Dr. Steenblock's clinic could become one of those qualified/certified centers.

Posted by: Jo Creyf at June 20th, 2015 1:35 PM

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