X-Message-Number: 29942
Date: Wed, 17 Oct 2007 02:10:36 -0400
From: "Charles Platt" <>
Subject: Alcor Conference Report: Part 2

Alcor Conference Report by Charles Platt: Part 2

The opinions stated below are entirely my own. Although I
continue to work as a consultant for Suspended Animation, I
am not an employee and do not speak on behalf of the company
in any way.

Sunday Morning

a) Panel discussion

The Sunday morning panel consisted of Tanya Jones, David
Crippen MD, and Leslie Whetstine. It was moderated by Aschwin
de Wolf. This struck me as being the most significant event
during the weekend since it dealt with sensitive and
contentious issues regarding the pronouncement of legal
death. There is disturbing potential, here, to change the
practice of cryonics as we currently know it.

Caveat: I have no medical background and the following text
has not been fact-checked by anyone who is appropriately

Dr. Crippen is Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine
at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. He runs an
active news group on critical care medicine and speaks
frequently on related topics. He is not signed up for
cryonics but became particularly interested in the field
during the case of Timothy Leary and has remained in active
communicate with former Alcor president Mike Darwin.

Dr. Crippen appears to be skeptical about laissez-faire
capitalism and has a communitarian outlook on some ethical
issues. In some instances of patient preferences he would
seem to place "the good of society" ahead of the rights of
the individual.

Leslie Whetstine is an assistant professor of philosophy
whose doctoral dissertation "examined the definition and
criteria of death and whether Donation After Cardiac Death is
a legitimate method of organ procurement." Two criteria for
death exist in the United States. One is the irrevocable
cessation of brain activity, while a less stringent criterion
is the irreversible cessation of heartbeat. Many bioethicists
seem concerned that lack of heartbeat alone may be inadequate to
legitimize pronouncement unless a waiting period is imposed.

In December 2005 the journal _Critical Care_ published a
paper titled "Pro/con ethics debate: When is dead really
dead?" This was coauthored by Leslie Whetstine, Stephen
Streat, Mike Darwin, and David Crippen. In a section of the
paper authored by Dr. Whetstine she expressed strong concerns
that many organ donors are not truly irrevocably dead when
their organs are taken from them.

In a typical cryonics case, pronouncement legitimizes a
sequence of aggressive interventions to preserve the brain in
what we hope is a viable condition. To a bioethicist, the
closer we come to succeeding in our endeavor, the more
questionable our actions may seem, because brain viability
implies that the patient may be revived--which of course is
our ultimate goal, although some decades or even centuries
may intervene.

Dr. Whetstine apparently would like to see a more rigorous
definition of cardiac death requiring that the patient should
be left untouched (by medical personnel, cryonics personnel,
or anyone else), at normal body temperature, presumably until
ischemic injury to the brain makes resuscitation absolutely,
positively impossible. In the paper cited above, Dr.
Whetstine speculated that even a waiting period of five
minutes after cardiac arrest might be insufficient to
guarantee permanent death. For anyone hoping to receive the
best cryonics care, this is not good news.

Some questioners at the conference objected that the
patient's wishes were not being given sufficient weight.
Surely, if someone wants his brain to be optimally preserved,
he has a right to this.

Not necessarily, according to bioethicists such as Dr.
Whetstine, because you cannot always allow people to make
their own "utilitarian" decisions while ignoring the social
harm that may result from "bending the rules." As Dr. Crippen
put it, if we allow people to choose to be pronounced when
their brains (and other organs) are still viable, we may
descend a slippery slope which leads ultimately to people
auctioning their body parts on eBay.

At this point, even though I have had many friendly exchanges
with David Crippen, I became so concerned by what I felt was
a form of paternalism, I could not remain silent. "Why not?"
I shouted. A few other malcontents voiced their agreement.

Dr. Crippen seemed stunned. *Why not* allow people to sell
pieces of themselves on eBay? Apparently no one in his entire
medical career had ever suggested such a concept seriously to
him. In response, he said that allowing this kind of thing
would lead to exploitation of people who were the most
vulnerable in society--poor people especially. I was not able
to determine whether he felt they would be exploited because
they would be tempted to sell their own organs, or because
they would be unable to obtain organs, since organs might not
be "free" anymore.

Leslie Whetstine concluded that we need "experts" (such as
herself, perhaps) to decide these contentious issues.
Needless to say, this outlook was not well received at the
Alcor conference. The panelists and members of the audience
seemed equally amazed by each other's views in this memorable

Cryonicists should realize a) we may still be regarded as a
lunatic libertarian fringe by many people in the conventional
medical establishment, and b) bioethicists may be more
concerned with their broader perception of social harm than
with our self interest, and c) they are likely to have a lot
more influence over future legislation than we do.

One can only wonder if bioethicists will ever reach the point
where they regard cryopreserved neuropatients as not quite
dead. This would validate a concept that cryonicists have
advocated for a long time, yet the consequences could turn
out to be nightmarish.

Although uniform standards for death currently are observed
in all 50 states, the right of states to make their own rules
in this area has not been usurped (yet) by the Federal
Government. Since Oregon has already taken its own path in
the right-to-die issue, I can easily segue into my old
mindset as a science-fiction writer and imagine a future in
which different states apply different criteria for legal
death, just as the laws regarding abortion used to vary from
state to state. We might then see cryonicists crossing state
lines in search of the speediest legal intervention by a
cryonics transport team, and some cryonics organizations
might find themselves forced to perform procedures out-of-
state to achieve optimal results. Conversely, Alcor might
find itself lobbying its local legislature to include a
provision in any new Arizona law allowing rapid pronouncement
in the special case of cryonics patients who have expressed a
clear prior desire for rapid intervention without an enforced
waiting period.

While none of these possibilities seems imminent, they are
starting to seem plausible--to me, at least.

b) Steve Harris MD

Following the panel, Steve described the procedure generally
known as liquid ventilation which entails infusing the lungs
with a chilled breathable liquid while blood is circulated
either by natural heartbeats or, in the case of a cryonics
case, by cardiopulmonary support. Liquid ventilation enables
exceptionally rapid cooling. Only extracorporeal bypass is
faster, but it must be preceded by surgery in an appropriate
environment. Liquid ventilation can be performed
spontaneously in almost any location, and should require
relatively little training of personnel.

The procedure has advanced to the point where it may be
deployable by Suspended Animation in human cryonics cases
during 2008. Animal trials have yielded consistent results
exceeding a cooling rate of 1 degree Celsius per minute, in
dogs that fully recovered afterward. Higher rates may be
feasible if we are willing to inflict some lung damage, which
would be acceptable to neuropatients and might also be
tolerated by some whole-body cryonics patients.

Unfortunately Steve's presentation was significantly longer
than the program time permitted, and he had to stop about
half-way through his PowerPoint slides.

c) Calvin Mercer, PhD

After a mid-morning break the program continued with a talk
by Calvin Mercer, PhD, advocating a better mutual
understanding between cryonicists and people with religious

I happened to be sitting near Dr. Mercer during the Saturday
afternoon lunch, and discovered that he is an academic
theologist with a sympathetic interest in cryonics. In his
talk he acknowledged that if any fundamentalist encounters an
aspect of science that conflicts with religious dogma, the
dogma will win. Still, he pointed out that many people have a
more moderate religious faith, and we should respect and
value their open-mindedness in an effort to open a dialogue.

I had mentioned to Dr. Mercer the interesting overlap that
seems to exist between the Mormon church and cryonics. Out of
perhaps 50 people I know or have known as activists in
cryonics and closely related fields, I can count five who
are, or have been, in the Church of Latter-Day Saints.
Alcor's former CEO, Joe Waynick, was a Seventh Day Adventist,
although not very typical of that faith.

Dr. Mercer's talk was knowledgable and interesting, but I do
not see any practical applications at this time. While it
certainly can't hurt to maintain civil communication with
people who have religious faith, any outreach to new members
will probably be more productive if we direct it toward the
groups who have been traditionally most receptive, such as
computer scientists, life extensionists, and libertarians.

d) Christine Peterson and Chris Heward, Ph.D.

The final two program items focused on life extension.
Christine Peterson, who is best known to most people in her
role as President of the Foresight Institute, talked
generally about life extension strategies, and was followed
by Chris Heward, PhD, president of the Kronos Science
Laboratory, who talked about the Kronos Longitudinal Aging
Study. Personally I have limited interest in aging research
because I am reaching the point where I am too old to benefit
from it. Therefore I did not attend these talks.

After these presentations a barbecue was offered at the Alcor
facility, followed by guided tours, which I will describe in
the final section of this report.

End of Part 2 of 3.

Rate This Message: http://www.cryonet.org/cgi-bin/rate.cgi?msg=29942