X-Message-Number: 32976
Date: Sat, 23 Oct 2010 20:56:30 -0700
Subject: A feature that won't appear in Cryonics magazine-2
From: Charles in Arizona <>


by Charles Platt




4: The Quick Fix

The overwheming desire to reach a goal encourages a mood of
impatience, especially as each new day brings us all closer to death.
Impatience is not compatible with incremental, painstaking work. Thus
cryoptimists have always been impatient with conventional methods and
vulnerable to someone who turns up with a simple, quick solution to a
complicated problem. Examples have included Olga Visser, the
perfusionist who claimed to be able to do an end run around
cryobiological research, and Cells4Life, a company that was formed
with the sincere confidence that it would generate enough revenue to
support Alcor indefinitely. (Of course the most persistent Quick Fix
is the old idea that one high-profile case will legitimize cryonics
and open the flood gates to a wave of new members. One former Alcor
CEO told me he had believed that such a case would bring in 10,000
members within a matter of months, until actual experience proved

So far as I know, there is not one single instance of a successful
Quick Fix in cryonics history, but the concept still exerts a powerful


5: Delayed Delegation

Cryonics has benefited from many people who have done a lot of very
hard work, often for low pay, or no pay at all. These activists built
the original organizations, designed and built the equipment, ran the
cases, and did the research that legitimized the procedures in the
cases. We owe them a lot.

We have also benefited from brilliant people such as Eric Drexler,
Ralph Merkle, and Robert Freitas who have mapped out the possibilities
for cellular repair, greatly increasing the plausibility of cryonics.

Last but not least, we are indebted to the activists who stood up
against threats from entities such as the Riverside Coroner or a
representative of the Arizona legislature. These were instances where
cryoptimism paid huge dividends.

Alas, the activists are a minority which is growing smaller, and for
many people in cryonics, the general concept of delegating our
problems to people in the future has become a refuge from confronting
problems today. This is what I refer to as Delayed Delegation.


6: Life Insurance and Minimums

I now come to the specific example of underfunding, by which I mean
members whose funding was sufficient for the cryopreservation minimum
when they signed up orginally, but is no longer sufficient for the
minimum that is required today. Such people remain eligible for
cryopreservation at Alcor because they have been "grandfathered in."
Grandfathering has never been an official Alcor policy, but has always
been allowed as an unofficial policy.

How does this relate to the traits I've listed so far?

In the early days of cryonics, most activists didn't have much
money--certainly not enough for their indefinite cryopreservation.
How, then, could they achieve their overriding goal of defeating
death? Well, there was an obvious Quick Fix: Buy life insurance. And
since it satisfied the need that Money Should Not Be a Problem, the
concept was hard to resist.

Of course, people realized that since the cost of cryopreservation
would tend to increase with time, the insurance would lose value
relative to the service it was supposed to buy. But to a 25-year-old
activist grappling with everyday challenges associated with running a
small undercapitalized company, death must have seemed a remote
prospect, decades away. Before then, no doubt, some key event would
change the public perception of cryonics. The concept was so obvious,
it was--well, too important to fail! Members would come flooding in,
and no one would be worrying about money anymore.

In other words, the problem created by the Quick Fix of life insurance
should be solved by Delayed Delegation.

As Alcor started accepting more members, there was a conscience-driven
move to encourage the newcomers to buy more than the minimum life
insurance. "Twice the minimum" was sometimes suggested as a safe hedge
against inflation. Was this multiple based on a calculation of the
likely cost increase of procedures during the member's likely
lifetime? I don't think so. In fact, so far as I can tell, that
calculation was never performed until the 1990s, when an Alcor member
named Eric Klien did the math and started posting messages about it on
CryoNet. Klien showed beyond any doubt that doubling the minimum would
not be sufficient if (a) a member was likely to live for another 40 or
50 years and (b) the cost of cryopreservation was likely to grow by a
modest annual inflation rate.

No one could prove Klien wrong, but his message was not welcome, and
Alcor did not revise its policies. No one wanted to increase minimums
unduly, because this would discourage people from joining. No one
wanted to discard the unofficial policy of "grandfathering" members
because this might cause people to leave Alcor and go elsewhere.
Either of these eventualities would conflict with the sacrosanct
desire for growth. But the costs associated with cryopreservation went
up by around 3 to 4 percent per year, on average, and funding minimums
were periodically increased to cover these costs. Consequently, more
and more members became underfunded, especially when funding minimums
were increased substantially in 2005.


7: How Many?

According to the membership graph on the Alcor web site, about 400
people joined between 1995 and 2005. Financial planner Rudi Hoffman,
who arranged insurance funding for many prospective Alcor members
during that period, believes that most of those who opted for
neuropreservation obtained insurance policies for $100,000--that is,
double the minimum. Many of them had no choice, because the insurance
companies which Rudi dealt with started requiring $100,000 as the
minimum face value for any policy.

However, those who chose whole-body preservation were not forced to
pay more, and many chose not to. They obtained only minimum funding,
which was then $120,000. As for the neuro signups who didn't use
Rudi's services, I have no way of knowing how well they are funded,
but I suspect that many of them only provided minimum funding.

Therefore, I would guess that 50 to 100 of the 400 (approximate)
people who joined Alcor during the ten years commencing in 1995 became
underfunded when the minimums increased in 2005. As for the
approximately 350 members who signed before 1995--surely, most of them
never obtained more than double the minimums that prevailed when they
joined. If that is the case, they are now underfunded, too. (I regret
that I must guess at these numbers, because they are not public. If my
guesses are wrong, I encourage corrections.)

This is why I conclude that at least 250 of Alcor's current members
are now probably underfunded.

The members who are overfunded will help to compensate for those who
are underfunded, but I see two problems with this. First, I find it
ethically unacceptable that provident people should subsidize
improvident people. Second, even if the overfunding cancels out the
underfunding currently, it cannot be sufficient to compensate for it
for the indefinite future, as funding minimums will probably continue
to increase.

How big will the underfunding problem become? Projecting this number
would be simple enough, for anyone with access to Alcor data:

     1. Check each member's funding.

     2. Look up the probable life expectancy for each member
     from actuarial tables, and project Alcor's probable
     funding minimum at the likely time of death, assuming
     that minimums continue to increase by an average of 3 or
     4 percent per year. Subtract the member's grandfathered
     funding amount from the probable future minimum at the
     likely time of death, to find the member's probable
     funding gap (in a few cases, it could be a surplus).

     3. Add up all the funding gaps, subtract the total of
     surpluses, and the result would be Alcor's total
     probable unfunded liability for performing

Unfortunately, so far as I know, no one has ever done this
calculation. Therefore, the likely future dimensions of the
underfunding problem remain unknown.


8: Our Own Contribution to the Problem

It's easy to blame Alcor directors for one thing or another; people do
it all the time. In this instance, though, I think we must also blame

When I signed up, so far as I remember, the neuropreservation minimum
was $35,000 and the annual membership dues were $199. I obtained whole
life insurance for around $500 per year, and thus for less than $2 per
day I enjoyed the smug illusion that I had solved the annoying little
problem of human mortality. Just like that.

Let's be clear about my expectations. I believed that emergency
personnel and sophisticated equipment would be deployed anywhere in
the United States, at a moment's notice, whenever I needed them. I
would receive state-of-the-art preservation at the limits of
cryobiology. I would have safe, indefinite storage. My brain would be
repaired and reassembled by nanomachines, and I would enjoy biological
immortality. All for $2 per day during my previous lifetime. What a

Why would I believe such a seemingly far-fetched proposition? Well,
essentially it was a Quick Fix which naturally appealed to my
cryoptimistic mindset. But the way in which Alcor presented itself
also had something to do with it. If you examined the contracts
carefully, they described cryonics as an experimental procedure and
emphasized that the $35,000 was a minimum that didn't really guarantee
anything. Under IRS regulations, a nonprofit organization such as
Alcor could not offer a fee-for-service deal anyway. But the monthly
magazine, and later the web site, may have created a very different
impression--that cryonics was like a futuristic version of medicine,
where you would pay your money and receive a treatment in return.
During the 1980s, _Cryonics_ magazine often ran clip-art showing
scenes such as doctors with stethoscopes and ambulances taking
patients away. I suspect that those of us who joined Alcor then or in
the 1990s were imprinted with these associations, and we probably
perpetuated them to some extent on the Alcor web site. (I say "we,"
because I helped to write that site).

If this occurred, I think it was a mistake. It was too inherently
optimistic--especially bearing in mind that optimism is highly
contagious. People who have an optimistic mindset always feel strongly
inclined to believe other people who are optimistic. This is how Olga
Visser, or Cells4Life, convinced some very smart people to jump
onboard. They became cheerleaders for each other, enjoying a contact

Alcor and its members likewise satisfied each others' needs. The
members enjoyed the idea that they could have it all for next to
nothing, while Alcor enjoyed the steady growth which it believed was
fundamental to its future. Everyone was happy.

Alas, it was not realistic. So far as I can tell, each new member
represented a financial burden. Even at current rates, the service
remains underpriced for what people expect to receive. If we had been
more open to perceiving problems instead of rejecting them, we would
have seen this.


9: The Options

Where the underfunding problem at Alcor is concerned, it's too late
for more Delayed Delegation. The future has arrived, and people today
must deal with it. I see only three options. All will inflict pain, as
tends to be the case when we compensate for reckless financial
decisions that were made in the past. The options are:

     1. Charge a higher price for the same level of service.

     2. Charge the same price for a lower level of service.

     3. Charge the same price for the same level of service,
     while delivering it more efficiently.

Or some combination of the above. I remain skeptical that Option 3, on
its own, can cover the total probable funding gap.

Alcor members who imagined that they were paying a fixed fee for a
specific service may feel a sense of betrayal, but all of us should
have seen that a growing organization cannot depend indefinitely on
volunteer or underpriced labor and deep-pocketed donors. We should
have seen the need to get personally involved, instead of viewing
ourselves merely as customers who could ignore cryonics until we
needed it.

I look forward to seeing cryonics organizations operating on a
fiscally sound basis, because I don't see any other way for cryonics
to become stable and viable in the long term. I look forward to fiscal
responsibility even in a worst-case scenario where cryonics becomes
unaffordable for me personally, because I think I was just fooling
myself, back in 1990, when I participated in mutually placatory
wishful thinking. If an organization shows a genuine determination to
moderate its cryoptimism with financial realism, it will become a lot
more worthy of our respect and participation. If it remains fiscally
irresponsible, it will not survive in the long term.

Does this sound unduly pessimistic? I think you would have to be
unduly optimistic to think so.


End of "A feature that won't appear in Cryonics magazine."

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