On the first weekend of October, 2010 I was an invited speaker at “Applied Cryobiology – Scientific Symposium on Cryonics” held in Goslar, Germany: http://www.biostase.de/us/symposium2010.html. The meeting was the first effort by the German Society for Applied Biostasis (DGAB) to create a milieu for scientific discussion of cryonics-related issues as well as to elevate the scientific status of cryonics and bring more scientists into the field. DGAB hopes to have another such symposium in two years.

Goslar, Germany is a World Heritage Site and tourist center based on the fact that it was the beginning of German industry nearly a thousand years ago as a rich source for mining many minerals. Goslar became a free imperial city and was a favorite residence for many emperors. Goslar is also the city where the conference organizer lives.

With only about 10,000 tourists per year, and a location that is not close to a major city, Goslar can only be reached after several hours by car or train by those coming from outside of Germany. I chose to rent a car, partly because it was so much less expensive than train, and partly because of my curiosity about the Autobaun.

The German Autobahn is probably the only major highway system in the developed world that has portions without a maximum speed limit. I have no enthusiasm for speeding, but was curious to see what it is like to drive on the Autobahn. I reasoned that such a motorway would not be permitted to exist if it were littered with corpses and smashed vehicles. I found that much of the Autobahn had speed limits, there were many construction zones that restricted speed, and traffic jams were sometimes so bad that any forward motion was slow and intermittent. But there were a few times when I was traveling over 90 miles per hour in the flow of traffic, and being passed on my left by cars going so fast that I could have been standing still, relatively speaking. Nonetheless, it did not seem too dangerous.

The symposium was originally to be held mainly in German, but there were twice as many attending (about 50) as had been anticipated — and so many were from outside Germany that the organizers decided to have all sessions in English. Although many of the participants had impressive scientific backgrounds, they were overwhelmingly people with a personal interest in cryonics. The organizers struggled to get speakers with scientific credentials, but many of those who would have been otherwise interested and qualified did not want to risk their careers by participation. Peter Gouras, MD, PhD was the most credentialed scientist presenting. There was a medical examiner whose presentation concluded that cryonics can’t work in Germany, a perfusionist-turned-journalist, an embalmer who failed to attend, a nanotechnology PhD, and me. The other presentations were not about cryonics science.

I was scheduled to speak about challenges in cryonics technology, but became concerned that there was no general introduction to cryonics technology in the program. I requested that I give an introductory presentation as the first speaker, and give another presentation on technical challenges later in the program. Instead, the organizers gave me double the time for my presentation as first speaker (following the Mayor of Goslar). I believe that I did a good job combining introductory material with technical challenges in cryonics. My presentation and the question period that followed were recorded on video, which I am hoping will be put on YouTube.

Holger Zorn discussed his experience as a perfusionist who had worked in the field of hypothemia. He said that cannulation for cooling perfusion could be done in two minutes. When cooling for cardiac surgery they used diluted blood (low hematocrit). Holger discussed cases of forensic perfusion in which reperfusion was performed weeks after death on corpses to elucidate puncturing by knife or gunshot. He said he had worked with hypothermic perfusions down to 18 degrees Celsius, and had never seen a case of shivering. This conflicts with studies reporting shivering between 34 and 35.5 degrees Celsius in therapeutic hypothermia, requiring drugs for suppression:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19535948

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19679849

There has been recent criticism of the use of drugs to suppress shivering in cryonics cases.

Dr. Peter Gouras, who is on the Cryonics Institute Scientific Advisory Board (and whose wife is German) has been involved in cryonics for many decades. He is an ophthalmology professor at Columbia University. He was introduced as the “father of retinal pigment epithelial transplantation.” He discussed his work studying macular degeneration in rhesus monkeys on calorie restriction, concluding that calorie restriction has less benefit for primates than for rodents. He expressed the view that enthusiasm for cryonics is genetic, and that any attempt at persuasion is fruitless. Somewhat contradicting this claim is his claim that reviving a whole mammal from cryopreservation would have a huge impact on the acceptance of cryonics.

The Nanotechnology and Cryonics presentation by Klaus Mathwig was somewhat standard nanotechnology fare for me. What I found most interesting was the question of how nanomachines would know how the correct structure would look after increasing levels of damage. It was suggested that there might be a need to scan the brain structure beforehand. So if your last scan was a month or two before your deanimation, you might be reconstructed as you were at that time. But with a good scan, what need is there for the original material? I thought the purpose of nanobots was to partly to discover the original structure.

Christoph Meissner is a medical examiner who works at the Department of Forensic Medicine at a university hospital. He had done an impressive amount of research on the subject of brain deterioration following stoppage of the heart. Many of the studies he cited were decades old because such studies would not currently be approved by ethics committees. In his experience, the corpse of a murder victim is not found in less than four hours. Under the best of circumstances he believes that a death certificate cannot be issued in Germany in less than one or two hours. He believes that it would not be possible to revive a cryonics patient who had experienced that amount of warm ischemia. During the question period he was asked why he would come to a cryonics conference if he had such a negative view of cryonics prospects. He answered that he is a scientist and that he was trying to make a reasonable assessment of cryonics. I believe that he is sincere and had no “ax to grind” about cryonics one way or the other. The fact that he was specific about probable delays in Germany being the source of his negative prognosis implied that he has not decided that cryonics is hopeless ifcryopreservation is prompt. Ironically, one of the studies he cited showed that rat brain neurons in cortical slices recover function upon reoxygenation as well after five hours post-mortem as they do after immediate post-mortem reoxygenation.

David Styles announce the beginning of Eucrio, an organization intended to give Suspended Animation, Inc -like standby/stabilization services to all the countries in the European Union, plus Norway. Cryonics patients would be vitrified in Europe with CI’s VM-1 vitrification solution, and then shipped on dry ice to Michigan or Arizona for cryostorage. Given the welter of European languages, laws, and insurance policies this is an ambitious undertaking. David has a lot of energy, intelligence, and determination, so if anyone can make this project work, he is one of the few. David spent much time discussing the equipment Eucrio has or is obtaining. Eucrio currently has seed capital for the first year of operation, and it is expected that Eucrio members paying 35 euros per month will keep the organization going even when there are no patients. Fees for service are calculated with a goal of breaking even, based on the assumption that one-third of insurance policies don’t pay (which has not been CI experience).

Sebastian Sethe is a lawyer who spoke on Ethical Problems in Cryonics. Sebastian asked many questions for which he gave no answers. When challenged on this matter, he said that ethicists are more interested in questions than answers, whereas scientists are the opposite. I sometimes think that ethicists are sadists who enjoy torturing people with questions. As a case in point, Sebastian asked whether if the CI facility caught fire, if Ben Best should be saved or the 100 cryonics patients in storage. Part of his question was entailed in Sebastian’s assertion that “It is reasonable to assume that cryonics is not going to work.” After the lecture I tried to pin Sebastian down on his assertion, asking him why his assertion should be more true than “It is reasonable to assume that cryonics is going to work.” He answered that the true opposite of his assertion is “It is unreasonable to assume that cryonics is not going to work.” I at least got him to say that cryonics has more than a zero chance of working, although I had a hard time nailing down what he thinks the most limiting considerations are — technical, organizational, societal, financial, etc. He suggested that the cryonics organizations are financially threadbare and vulnerable.

I considered discussing the preventative measures against fire that are in place at the Cryonics Institute, but did not do so.

Torsten Nam spoke on Cryonics and Transhumanism. He described transhumanists as people who want to use technology to improve their physical and mental abilities, and to overcome their (biological) limitations. He said that 8% of transhumanists are cryonicists, which by his calculations means that a transhumanist is 200,000 times more likely to be a cryonicist than someone in the general population. He called FM-2030 the father of modern transhumanism, while acknowledging Robert Ettinger’s transhumanist classic MAN INTO SUPERMAN. Among major milestones he listed Francis Fukuyama calling transhumanism the world’s most dangerous idea and a 2007 European Union report on human enhancement. In the early days it had been common to compare transhumanism to fascism (Nietzsche’s Superman), but now the subject is entering the academic mainstream. Some transhumanists want to dissociate themselves from cryonics in order to be more acceptable.

On Sunday the Robert Ettinger Medal for outstanding merits in the field of cryonics was awarded to its first recipient: Robert Ettinger.

Medal Front

Medal Back

I accepted the medal on behalf of Mr. Ettinger, which meant that I had to make a speech. I said that Robert Ettinger is above all a man ofideas, who nonetheless also felt obliged to exert his influence in the physical world by, among other things, helping found the Cryonics Institute because he was not satisfied with what the other cryonics organizations were offering. I also said that Mr. Ettinger deserves a lot of credit for the creation of CI’s fiberglass cryostats, something he is rarely credited for.

In the Round Table discussion I provocatively asked David Styles how Eucrio would provide good stabilization service in Germany, where they would have to wait 1-2 hours after cardiac arrest to get a death certificate before proceeding with cooling and Cardio-Pulmonary Support (CPS).The situation is worse in Italy where 24 hours must pass before getting a death certificate, and in France where cooling is not permitted. France and Italy both require embalming before a body can be shipped out of the country. There was a lengthy discussion/argument wherein David defended his ability to expedite obtaining death certificates and to adapt legal requirements to cryonics purposes. In my own talk I had cited studies showing that neurons are more durable than generally believed, and can survive hours of warm ischemia. Good vitrification in Europe and shipment in dry-ice would definitely be an advantage over the alternative of spending days in water-ice during shipment.

I mentioned the importance of vital signs alarm systems for cases of sudden death where no standby is possible — and the greater availability of such systems in Europe versus the United States, notably the  Vivago Care watch. Dr. Klaus Sames became very impatient and stressed that a scientific symposium should discuss more scientific issues. Dr. Peter Gouras then began beating the drum for raising money for cryonics research — and his preference for small animal whole body experiments. I re-emphasized that Aschwin and Chana de Wolf are doing the most focused cryonics research in their experiments that have found ways to improve perfusion in cryonics patients that have suffered ischemic damage (virtually every cryonics patient). I believe that it would be a great boon to cryonics science if there was money for Aschwin and Chana to do full-time research, rather than just on weekends.

Dr. Sames again felt that this subject is not purely scientific, which led to some discussion of methods of cryonics research. Dr. Sames questioned that the results of small animal experiments are applicable to large animals (humans). Dr. Gouras argued that mouse experiments are the basis of most modern medicine. I described the whole body vitrification experiments at 21st Century Medicine, and the electrophysiology studies on vitrified hippocampal slices. I noted that my information is three years old and that the next public update on 21st Centrury Medicine research is not likely to happen until the May 2011 Suspended Animation Conference in Florida.

Dr. Gouras repeated his claim that experiments on small mammals provides more rapid feedback than organ cryopreservation. No one seemed very inspired by my contention that the greatest breakthrough for cryonics would be elimination of cryoprotectant toxicity. We only have vague theories of what cryoprotectant toxicity is — there should be focused research on this topic, understanding the mechanisms of cryoprotectant toxicity would be a significant step toward understanding how to eliminate it. Whole body vitrification efforts are easily distracted by perfusion problems, and trying to analyze every organ at once makes the problem hopelessly complicated. Analyzing cryoprotectant toxicity on single organs, perhaps even with biochemical tools (because it is ultimately an issue in molecular biology), has the best chance of addressing the toxicity problem, in my opinion. But “cryomouse prize” and whole body vitrification approaches win the popularity contests by a large margin over a cryoprotectant toxicity “X-prize”. I believe that given adequate funding, Aschwin and Chana de Wolf could contribute significantly to finding less toxic cryoprotectants, and I would like to be involved in the project.

At the symposium I met many people whom I had not known before, many I had known, but not met, and quite a few others that I enjoyed meeting again. I will only mention one, however: Roland Missionnier.

In the late 1960s the Cryonics Society of France was the largest cryonics organization outside of the United States. Roland was the President and Anatole Dolinoff was Vice-President. Roland showed me a list of officers and directors of the organization, pointing-out who had been fighting with whom, and the fact that virtually all were dead without having been cryopreserved. Dolinoff believed that cryonics was illegal in France because of a decree issued by the French Minister of Health in 1968. On page 13 of the October 1989 issue of CRYONICS magazine, Saul Kent said that he would investigate challenging the French law if it had an substance, but if he did so, I never heard the result of his efforts. Roland has been trying to re-start a cryonics organization in France, but he is also planning to move to Florida where he can live close to Suspended Animation, Inc. Roland said that with some money and a lawyer, almost anyone could move to the United States.

Cryonicist Charles Tandy, PhD, wants to publish the symposium proceedings through his Ria University Press.

Those of you who read Finnish can read the summary by Ville Salmensuu or you can stick the link in Google translate: http://translate.google.com/#fi|en|

Advocates of human cryopreservation argue that death is not an event but a process. Cryonics patients are stabilized at low temperatures in anticipation of a second medical opinion in the future. This raises an important ethical issue. What is the moral status of cryonics patients? It is not possible to argue that cryonics patients will be resuscitated in the future. But it is not possible to categorically rule this out either. As a matter of fact, evidence from cryobiology, neuroscience, and synthetic biology support the technical feasibility of cryonics. As a consequence, cryonics patients are somewhere on a continuum between alive and irreversible biological death.

What does this mean when someone interferes with a person’s wish to be cryopreserved? In essence, those who successfully prevent the cryopreservation of a person have altered the probability of future revival from “possible” to “impossible.” For example, let us assume that cryonics patients can be resuscitated in the future. What does this mean for those who were not cryopreserved because of hostile interference? Have they been killed? Most people would agree that such a verdict is too strong. But do we believe that a person who knowingly changes the prospect of future revival from possible to impossible (or decreases those probabilities by causing delays) should be free from moral blame and legal consequences?

A related problem is the termination of cryonics procedures. Advocates of cryonics agree that a person who has not chosen for cryonics should never be forced to be cryopreserved. But what is the right course of action when such a person is already cryopreserved? Can we just thaw him out? Let us consider the case of a person with a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order who is accidentally resuscitated because paramedics were not aware of his wishes on the matter. Few people would argue that this person should be killed before he gains awareness to honor his wishes. Now let us consider a situation where it is discovered that a person was cryopreserved against his will but at a point in the future when the prospect of resuscitation becomes increasingly likely. In such a case, the issue would be similar to a resuscitated DNR patient in deep anesthesia.

This example illustrates a number of issues. There is a meaningful distinction between ignoring someone’s wishes not to be cryopreserved and terminating the cryopreservation of an existing patient. Honoring a person’s wishes not to be cryopreserved requires non-interference. Thawing out an existing cryonics patient is an act to change someone’s existing chance at revival from possible to impossible. The example also illustrates the role that probability of resuscitation plays in such considerations. Few people would argue that it does not matter at all how credible resuscitation of cryonics patients is for making decisions about the  moral status of cryonics patients, interference with cryonics procedures, and the decision to terminate somebody already in cryostasis.

We want certainty in a universe that only offers us probabilities. The ethical and legal issues surrounding cryonics are not unique to cryonics. It is not just in cryonics where issues of moral obligation are discussed in the context of uncertainty, probability and risk. It will be rewarding to review these philosophical and legal debates and see how debates about interference with cryonics can be framed from these perspectives.

In the meantime, people who have made cryonics arrangements are not completely powerless against hostile interference. They can alter their cryonics paperwork and living will to ensure that there is little incentive for greedy relatives to interfere. As a matter of fact, one could change one’s “last” wishes to ensure that interference would trigger the worst financial outcome for greedy family members and others who would stand to benefit from a person not getting cryopreserved.

The biggest obstacle to the acceptance of cryonics is medical myopia; the idea that someone who has been pronounced dead by contemporary medical criteria will still be considered dead by future criteria. Advocates of human cryopreservation strongly argue against this. There are few things more discomforting than the idea that medical professionals of the future will look back in horror and wonder why we gave up on people who still possessed the neuroanatomical basis of their identities and memories.

But there is another kind of myopia in the public discussion of cryonics that warrants consideration. It is taken for granted by some critics of contemporary cryonics that cryonics has always been framed as a form of medicine. Nothing could be further from the truth. The history of cryonics is replete with debates between advocates of the medical model and those who believe that timely transport of the patient to a cryonics facility for low temperature storage should be adequate for future resuscitation by advanced nanotechnology. It is only because  cryonics advocates with medical and research backgrounds such as Mike Darwin and Jerry Leaf vigorously argued for adopting conventional medical techniques and protocols that today’s cryonics organizations can even be criticized  for falling short of these criteria.

There is a silver lining to a lot of the controversy that surrounds today’s cryonics . Critics now adopt the premise that cryonics is a form of medicine to make a case against practices they consider suboptimal.  It was not long ago that public critics of cryonics simply dismissed the whole idea as pseudo-science. This was never a sophisticated response but ongoing advances in cryobiology (such as vitrification of the central nervous system) and synthetic biology/nanotechnology have made this position even more of a showcase of ignorance. When people read the news about animals being cloned from straight frozen DNA they will be less receptive to tendentious claims that existing cryonics technologies are hopelessly inadequate to preserve the identity of a person.

The current development in which cryonics is being criticized from a clinical framework should have positive effects on how cryonics will be approached from a regulatory framework. It does not make sense to argue that cryonics is a pseudo-science and offering false hope but at the same time insist that cryonics organizations adopt high standards of medical care. The acceptance of the concept of “patient care” in cryonics would be incoherent without (implicitly) embracing the premise that cryonics patients have interests and deserve legal recognition of that fact. As more public information is disseminated about the quality of brain vitrification that is possible today, the need to recognize cryonics as an elective medical procedure will receive more attention from bioethicists and medical professionals.

There are those who believe that the acceptance of cryonics itself is being held back by amateurism. If this is the case there should be unexploited profit opportunities for cryonics providers that pursue the highest standards of medical care.