Cryonics, June, July, August 1991
by Mike Darwin
[Note: The text of the letters mentioned in this article may be viewed in their entirety in the original article in Cryonics magazine for June 1991. The Arthur Rowe letter can be viewed in PDF format.]
Upon a two-thirds vote of the Governors in office, the Board of Governors may refuse membership to applicants, or suspend or expel members (including both individual and institutional members), whose conduct is deemed detrimental to the Society, including applicants or members engaged in or who promote any practice or application which the Board of Governors deems incompatible with the ethical and scientific standards of the Society or as misrepresenting the science of cryobiology, including any practice or application of freezing deceased persons in anticipation of their reanimation. [UPDATE: This is from Sec. 2.04 of the bylaws of the Society for Cryobiology, instituted September 1982 and removed December 2017. It was replaced in 2018 with an official Society for Cryobiology Position Statement on Cryonics found on their website and also reproduced at the end of this article.]
For 25 years cryonicists and cryobiologists have been doing battle in the public eye. Some might scoff and call it hyperbole to dignify the verbal exchanges and skirmishes between cryonicists and cryobiologists as “war.” But war it is; for as in any war the cost has been the loss of lives, reputations, and fortunes. And as in war, the driving forces are envy, hatred, and a deeply-held belief that each side threatens the others’ survival.
Twenty-five years is a long time for a war to continue. An entire generation has been born, and an older one died, since it began. Many of the early combatants are nearing the end of their lives. . . and still the battle goes on.
It is the purpose of this article to examine in detail the causes of the war, its history to date, and the likely outcome. The reader should be warned that this is a history written with a special set of prejudices: it is being written by one of the “generals” many years before the last shot is to be fired. As such, it must be scrutinized carefully and perhaps ultimately be set aside to await the passage of time and the objectivity and clarification that passing into history brings with it.
Cryobiologists and cryonicists were not always at war with each other. Indeed, many might question why there is a war at all between two groups of people with similar objectives and a common purpose: the development of mammalian suspended animation, or at least suspended animation for mammalian organs via cryopreservation.
The desire of cryonicists is to have available a technology which will allow them access to medical time travel (albeit one-way time travel) and cryobiologists are the most logical group of scientists capable of delivering that technology. At first glance these two groups should be natural allies, not enemies.
Logically, cryobiologists should have looked to cryonicists as a possible strong and unwavering source of support in achieving their research objectives, just as they have looked to the organ transplant community for such support. Certainly there are many examples in other areas of society and science where special interest groups have worked with researchers to develop technologies for which they have a deep need — even technologies which have theoretical problems standing in the way of their development.
Several examples of this kind of symbiosis between special interest groups and researchers come to mind. Consider the case of people who have suffered spinal cord injuries. Medical dogma was (and in some quarters still is) that spinal cords do not regenerate, cannot regenerate, and will NEVER be induced to regenerate. Many individuals who were paralyzed as a result of cord injuries (wisely) refused to accept this and began to watch the medical literature closely for any work that might offer some hope. Naturally, there was some research which indicated that the situation was not as cut-and-dried as the establishment projected. By the early 1970’s a number of research support groups founded by cord-injured patients came into being with one overriding objective: find a cure for spinal cord injuries.
These groups had names like the American Paralysis Cure Foundation and the Spinal Cord Society. They set about raising money to support research into methods for achieving regeneration and repair of the spinal cord that would lead to a cure. Overall, they found the relative handful of researchers working in this area very receptive to their concerns and more than willing to take their money. What they did NOT find was a group of researchers who were hostile, jeering, polarized, and ridiculing of their desire to walk again or of their belief in the potential of scientific research to unearth mechanisms of repair for central nervous system injury. And this despite the fact that decades of medical dogma asserted a contrary opinion.
Similarly, a variety of governments (both totalitarian and democratic) have shown a willingness to underwrite extremely costly research into areas which can even at best be described as “speculative” and fraught with theoretical as well as technical problems. Perhaps the best example of this is the four-decade-long commitment of both the United States and the Soviet Union to the development of thermonuclear or so-called “fusion” power. This undertaking, which is by no means merely an exercise in solving technical problems (there are many thorny theoretical problems here as well) has cost 20 billion dollars (worldwide expenditures) over a time course of 40 years and still has not yielded any clear answers as to whether it will ever be practical to generate even one watt of controlled power using this approach. Indeed, earlier this year, the American fusion community requested 700 million dollars per year (to continue more or less indefinitely) for more work on this problem (Business Week Oct. 15, 1990, pg. 62).
Perhaps an even more stunning example of governments’ willingness to work on projects which present substantial theoretical and technical obstacles and face strong opposition on theoretical grounds from a large body of establishment scientists is, the Strategic Defense Initiative or “Star Wars” program. Six billion dollars per year has been spent on this project for over five years, despite the vigorous objections of a plurality of well-informed and well-credentialed scientists in a variety of relevant disciplines — not to mention a vocal and well organized segment of the American public.
What happened between the cryobiologists and the cryonicists to cause such unreasoning enmity and a state of virtual war? What is different about the relationship of the cord-injured patient and researchers working on understanding central nervous system repair and cryobiologists and cryonicists? Why, if entities as conservative as governments are willing to underwrite multi-billion dollar projects in speculative science (and establishment physicists were willing to take such money) do cryobiologists run screaming from cryonicists? In short, what went wrong?
Enmeshed as I am in the heat of the battle on the opposing side, and given my life-long history of involvement as a cryonicist, I am distanced somewhat from the minds of the cryobiologists. Also, the critical first few years of the encounter between cryonicists and cryobiologists occurred before I entered the fray, indeed occurred from 1963 to 1967 when I was between 8 and 10 years old and hardly in a position to evaluate it. Nevertheless, that period of time is not without its “historical record,” fragmented and anecdotal as it is.
Perhaps the first contact cryobiologists had with cryonicists was receiving, for review, copies of Robert Ettinger’s manuscript for The Prospect of Immortality, circa 1963. Reaction to Ettinger’s manuscript (and to the book which was published in 1964) was reportedly divided, but by no means universally hostile. Several cryobiologists who later became some of the most vocal critics of cryonics were not only not hostile, but actually demonstrated interest in and support of cryonics; particularly with an eye towards getting money to pursue cryobiological research.
Chief amongst these was Arthur Rowe (editor of Cryobiology and past President of the Society for Cryobiology), frequent repeater of the quote: “Believing cryonics could reanimate somebody who has been frozen is like believing you can turn hamburger back into a cow,” and one of contemporary cryobiology’s sternest critics of cryonics. (This origin of this quote is usually attributed to cryobiologist Peter Mazur.) In a letter to Robert C.W. Ettinger dated 4 December, 1968, Rowe expresses interest in cryonics and wishes Ettinger “continued success in your endeavors.” But perhaps more amazing still is the fact that in the summer of 1968, during the cryonic suspension of Steven Mandel by the Cryonic Society of New York (CSNY), Arthur Rowe was called by Saul Kent (then Secretary of the CSNY) and asked for cryobiological recommendations on how to better suspend Mandel. Not only was Rowe friendly and supportive during this conversation, he provided a considerable amount of advice (Saul Kent, personal communication).
As Saul Kent recounts:
“We were really unprepared to freeze Steven in that he was the first patient CSNY ever had and we had absolutely no warning whatsoever that he was terminally ill, let alone dying. When the call came in it was totally unexpected. The call came in the 28th of July, 1968. It was Sunday morning, and many of the people who were to participate were still asleep. Freezing someone was the last thing we were really prepared to do.
“I called Art Rowe to ask for basic advice. He had been friendly to cryonics in the past and I was hoping he might be able to make some recommendations or suggestions about what cryoprotectives to use, best temperature to perfuse at and so on. He (Rowe) was surprisingly forthcoming and friendly. He provided a fair amount of practical advice on just those issues, although now, with the passage of over 20 years, I don’t recall the specifics.
“Rowe continued to subscribe to Cryonics Reports and I believe there are several warm and supportive communications from him in the CSNY correspondence files.”
Similarly, John Baust, past president of the Society for Cryobiology, had no deep objections to the program. Indeed, Baust even accepted grant money in the late 1960’s from Texas millionaires Harlan Lane and Don Yarborough to support cryonics-related cryobiological research (John Baust, personal communication). Cryobiologist and heart-lung machine pioneer Richard Lillehei was also favorable toward cryonics and offered public support on at least one occasion (Life Extension Society Newsletter, Oct., 1964.)
Other evidence of the ambivalence and even the support of cryobiologists for cryonicists’ objectives can be had by looking over the list of scientists present on the Scientific Advisory Council to the Cryonics Societies of America (CSA) as late as March of 1969. Present on that list are cryobiologists Hendrick B. Barner, M.D., Armand M. Karow, Jr., Ph.D., William G. Manax, M.D., James A. Miller, Jr., Ph.D. and Richard D. Rink, Ph.D.
Armand Karow early in his career not only accepted grant money from the Cryonics Society of New York (CSNY), but even wrote a regular column for CSNY’s newsletter entitled “Scientifically Speaking” for nearly two years (cf. Cryonics Reports vols. 1 & 2, 1966-1967).
While it would be unfair to say that cryobiologists as a group were ever supportive of cryonics, it is very clear that they were not uniformly hostile, either.
Outside of the cryobiological community the response to cryonics, while equivocal, was considerably warmer. The CSNY archives contain letters expressing interest and support from the likes of Willem Kolff, M.D. (the inventor of the artificial kidney machine and the father of modern hemodialysis) (letter from W.J. Kolff to Saul Kent dated 26 August, 1965) and Adrian Kantrowitz, a leading innovator in early cardiac surgery and heart transplantation (letter from A. Kantrowitz to Saul Kent dated 27, 1965).
Apparently, though, over the course of a few years cryobiologists became, as a group, increasingly polarized against cryonics. Initially this polarization was expressed simply in terms of more and more vocal and extreme anti-cryonics statements to the media. By late 1969 or early 1970 all of the cryobiologists on the CSA Scientific Advisory Board had been approached by one or more of their colleagues in the Society for Cryobiology and pressured to resign their positions. In particular, Armand Karow was chastised for listing the Cryonics Society of New York as a financial supporter of his research on rat heart freezing, as well as his involvement with CSNY. Karow once expressed his opinion to the author that he “was passed over for a position on the Editorial Board of the Society’s journal Cryobiology because of his association with cryonics.” Karow followed these remarks with an observation to the effect that he had “learned his lesson” and did not intend to get tangled up with cryonicists again (Armand Karow, personal communication).
By the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, prominent individuals within the cryobiological community began to take steps to destroy cryonics. Perhaps the first effort in this regard was made by Harold Meryman, then President of the Society. Meryman reportedly approached Minnesota Valley Engineering (MVE), the cryogenic engineering company and manufacturer of the custom storage vessels for whole body patients, and threatened them with loss of their institutional membership and refusal of their advertising in the Society’s journal, as well as a boycott of purchase of their equipment unless they stopped supplying patient storage vessels to cryonicists. MVE complied, and for nearly a decade there was no reliable commercial source of whole body cryogenic equipment available to any cryonics organization anywhere (this information was supplied to the author in the late 1970’s by an individual in MVE management who wishes to remain anonymous). Indeed, it was in part as a result of this storage unit embargo that Robert Ettinger and the Cryonics Institute launched their program to build patient dewars in-house so as to be protected from such manufacturer black-listing.
In April of 1980, cryobiologist Maxim Persidsky wrote a letter to the California Board of Funeral Directors and embalmers urging the destruction of cryonics (letter from M. Persidsky to Kathleen Callanan dated 21 April, 1980). Persidsky’s letter is interesting in that it shows the mind of a hostile cryobiologist at work in a way rarely publicly seen. Persidsky’s letter lay undiscovered for 10 years until it was obtained, and then only with great difficulty, under the California Freedom of Information Act during litigation with the California Department of Health Services to establish the legality of cryonics in California. The letter is reproduced in full elsewhere in this article, but the following quote is instructive:
“I can’t find the proper words to express my indignation about this gruesome practice, or rather cult, which has continued to persist for more than a decade. There is absolutely no scientific justification to expect that these frozen corpses can ever be resurrected regardless of any future scientific achievements. With our present knowledge we can clearly realize the extent of the irreparable damage that could be inflicted on the human body if it were subjected to freezing even under the most sophisticated conditions that current science can offer. However, even before freezing there will be irreversible damage to the brain and other vital body organs resulting shortly after death. This damage will be further amplified during the inevitable slow processes of perfusion with cryoprotective agents and cooling. Very soon after death there will be a breakdown of lysosomes in the different cells and tissues of the body, resulting in the release of their harmful enzymes which will digest all the cellular structures and macromolecules upon which life of the cell depends.”
It is interesting and more than a little ironic to note that fifteen years prior to the time that Persidsky wrote the words above, a large and growing body of evidence was already present in the scientific literature to discredit the “suicide-bag concept” of lysosomal rupture resulting in destruction of cells shortly after so-called death. I cite below papers debunking this notion:
- Trump, B.F., P.J. Goldblatt, and R.E. Stowell, “Studies of necrosis in vitro of mouse hepatic parenchymal cells; ultrastructural and cytochemical alterations of cytosomes, cytosegresomes, multivesicular bodies, and microbodies and their relation to the lysosome concept,” Lab. Invest., 14, 1946 (1965).
- Ericsson, J.L.E., P. Biberfeld, and R. Seljelid, “Electron microscopic and cytochemical studies of acid phosphates and aryl sulfatase during autolysis,” Acta Patho Microbio Scand, 70, 215 (1967).
- Trump, B.F. and R.E. Bulger, “Studies of cellular injury in isolated flounder tubules. IV. Electron microscopic observations of changes during the phase of altered hemostasis in tubules treated with cyanide,” Lab Invest, 18, 731 (1968).
Eight years before Persidsky pronounced the situation hopeless due to lysosome rupture after death, an excellent and exhaustive paper appeared, entitled “Lysosome and phagosome stability in lethal cell injury” (Hawkins, H.K., et al., Amer. Jour Path., 68, 255 (1972)). The authors subjected human liver cells in tissue culture to lethal insults such as cyanide poisoning and then evaluated them for lysosomal rupture. They state: “In conclusion, the findings do not indicate that the suicide bag mechanism of lysosomal rupture prior to cell death was operative in the two systems studied. On the contrary, the lysosomes appeared to be relatively stable organelles which burst only in the post-mortem phase of cellular necrosis.” And when does this “post-mortem phase of cellular necrosis” occur? Again, to quote from the Hawkins paper: “As late as four hours after potassium cyanide and iodoacetic acid poisoning, where irreversible structural changes were uniformly seen, it was clear that the great majority of lysosomes continued to retain the ferritin marker within a morphologically intact membrane . . .” To translate: even four hours after poisoning with drugs that mimic complete ischemia, the cells had stable lysosomes.
Perhaps even more to the point, in the decade prior to Persidsky’s statements to the California Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers, there was a veritable explosion of studies on the effects of complete ischemia (completely absent blood flow) on the mammalian brain. These studies documented not only the persistence of brain ultrastructure right down to to the macromolecular level of which Persidsky speaks, but also of the preservation of brain function even after as much as an hour of no blood flow at normal body temperature. Even a cursory review of the literature would have revealed papers documenting the persistence of brain cell structure over the time-course of an hour or more of cardiac arrest. Here are two of the best of many papers that appeared over a time course of more than a decade before Persidsky wrote the words above:
- Kalimo, H., et al., “The ultrastructure of brain death II. Electron microscopy of the feline cerebral cortex after complete ischemia,” Virchow’s Arch. B Cell Path., 25, 207 (1977).
- Karlsson, U., and R.L. Schultz, “Fixation of the central nervous system for electron microscopy by aldehyde perfusion. III. Structural changes after exsanguination and delayed perfusion,” Ultrastruc. Res., 14, 47 (1966).
The same is also true for papers documenting the preservation of the ability of the brain to recover metabolism after up to an hour of total cerebral ischemia. Largely beginning with the publication of a paper by Hossman and Sato in Science on 17 April, 1970 (Hossman, R.A. and K. Sato, “Recovery of neuronal function after prolonged cerebral ischemia,” Science, 168, 375 (1970)) which documented that so-called cell death did not occur until long after the return of circulation following a period of one hour of absent blood flow at normal body temperature, the literature exploded with papers on the effects of cerebral ischemia and the field of cerebral resuscitation was born. A small sampling of papers published in the preceding decade giving the lie to Persidsky’s claims is cited below:
- Okada, Y., “Recovery of neuronal activity and high energy compound level after complete and prolonged brain ischemia.” Brain Research, 72, 346 (1974).
- Hinzen, D.H. et al, “Metabolism and function of dog’s brain recovering from long-time ischemia.” Amer. J. Phys., 223, 1158 (1972).
- Hossman, K.A., and V. Zimmerman, “Resuscitation of the monkey brain after 1 hour complete ischemia.” I. Physiological and morphological observations,” Brain Research, 81, 59 (1974).
- Rehncrona, S., et al, “Recovery of brain mitochondrial function in the rat after complete and incomplete cerebral ischemia,” Stroke, 10, 437 (1979).
- Hossman, K., and P. Kleihues, “Reversibility of ischemic brain damage,” Arch. Neurol., 29, 375 (1973).
Apparently Persidsky, like his colleagues, felt no need to get the facts before speaking out and urging that “. . . I would like to see these [cryonics] organizations thoroughly investigated and their illicit activities brought to a halt.” Nowhere in his letter does he provide any references or other documentary evidence for his claims of “irreparable damage” as a result of freezing, let alone for his statements about the rapid post-mortem disintegration of cell structure.
Persidsky’s scandalous statements reflect a total lack of respect for cryonics and are evidence of an out-of-hand dismissal based on personal prejudices without any recourse to the scientific literature which existed years before his statements were made. Nor is Persidsky alone in these kind of remarks. Even today it is not uncommon to hear cryobiologists and medical and scientific “experts” make the same kind of statements. It is extremely unlikely that Persidsky or his colleagues would make statements regarding claims or assertions they considered in the realm of the “scientific mainstream” without careful recourse to the scientific literature first.
No doubt Persidsky never dreamed his letter would see the light of day. And, but for the California Freedom of Information Act and the efforts of Alcor Member Keith Henson, it would not have.
By October of 1981, the Society as a whole had developed a very hard attitude toward cryonics and was even willing to commit it to print, as evidenced by their denial of membership in the Society to cryonicists and/or cryonics related organizations simply because of their involvement in or association with with cryonics (letter to Jerry Leaf from Harold Meryman, 5 October, 1981). By April of 1982 the Society was actively investigating ways to formally exclude cryonicists from its ranks (letter from Mary Douglas to Terrance J. Leahy, 20 April, 1982).
Word that an effort was underway to ban cryonicists, principally by the mechanism of revising the Society’s bylaws, was leaked from the Society to cryonicists. Many of the internal communications which provide the documentation for this article were made available to the editors of cryonics publications, and thus passed into the hands of the leaders of the cryonics community.
Jerry Leaf, a member of the Society for Cryobiology, a cryonicist, president of Cryovita Laboratories (a major cryonics service provider) and a Research Associate at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) made an effort to derail these proposed bylaw changes. He attended the Society’s annual business meeting on 1 July, 1982 in Houston, Texas where it was anticipated the new bylaws would be enacted. Despite the fact that there was not a quorum of the Society’s Directors present, Harold Meryman (then the Society’s President) moved that the new bylaws be enacted, stating that “since we are all friends the absence of a quorum is not important.” Jerry Leaf objected to this and argued against adoption of the new bylaws and the “Policy Statement On Cadaver Freezing.” Jerry pointed out that the new bylaws would strip the membership of many rights they held under the old bylaws and the Policy Statement was premature, since the results were still not in on the issue of the workability of cryonics.
Jerry’s efforts resulted in the Society deciding to mail out ballots for approval of the new bylaws; in effect giving the Society’s entire membership the opportunity to decide the issue. On 3 August, 1982, a communication written by Jerry Leaf was mailed to the membership of the Society for Cryobiology explaining the unfairness of the proposed actions and urging them to vote “no” on the new bylaws and Policy Statement.
On 15 September, 1982, section 2.04 of the Society’s bylaws took effect, denying membership and allowing expulsion of any existing member who engages in or promotes “any practice or application of freezing deceased persons in anticipation of their reanimation.” The bylaws passed by an overwhelming majority, confirming that the desire to exclude cryonicists from membership in the Society was broadly held, and did not represent the arbitrary imposition of the will of the Society’s leadership on its membership.
I have talked with two cryobiologists unfriendly to cryonics about this issue and neither of them are able to pinpoint with certainty what the specific reasons were for this hardening of attitude.
One cryobiologist sympathetic to cryonics does have an opinion about what caused the formal polarization of cryobiologists against cryonicists. In particular, this cryobiologist feels that formal, administrative attempts to exclude cryonicists from the Society and attempt to publicly distance themselves from cryonics came about as a result of something this author did.
During 14-18 June, 1981, this author attended the Society for Cryobiology’s meeting in St. Louis, Missouri. During the course of that meeting I had occasion to speak with Jerome K. Sherman, a cryobiologist who was at that time active and influential in the Society, and who was chairing a session on gamete preservation at the meeting. Since we had corresponded briefly in the past, he knew who I was, and the course of our discussion turned to cryonics. Sherman was fascinated by what I had to say and, much to my surprise, at the end of one of the sessions he chaired, he announced my presence and solicited a presentation on cryonics. Since I was giving cryonics presentations to others (not associated with the Society) in the area, I had a slide presentation documenting cryonics procedures. Sherman encouraged me to return to my room and retrieve it so that it could be used to accompany my presentation.
The 15 or so attendees were fascinated by the presentation I gave, which included a detailed series of slides showing how cryonic suspension was done; surgical approach used, cryoprotective protocol, and so on. The presentation seemed well received, and Sherman as well as half a dozen or so other cryobiologists stayed for nearly an hour afterward asking questions about every aspect of cryonics.
However, according to the cryobiologist informant who attributes to this episode the formal hardening of the Society for Cryobiology against cryonics, the repercussions from this incident were far-reaching. Rumors about the presentation — often wildly distorted rumors — began to circulate. One particularly pernicious rumor, according to this informant, was that my presentation had included graphic photos of “corpses’ heads being cut off.” This was not the case. Surgical photos which were shown were of thoracic surgery to place cannula and would be suitable for viewing by any audience drawn from the general public.
This informant also indicates that it was his perception that this presentation caused real fear and anger amongst the Officers and Directors of the Society. They felt as if they had been “invaded” and that such a presentation given during the course of, and thus under the aegis of, their meeting could cause them to be publicly associated with cryonics. Comments such as “what if the press got wind of this,” or “what if a reporter had been there” were reported to have circulated.
Also, the presentation may have brought into sharper focus the fact that cryonicists existed, were really freezing people, and that they were using sophisticated procedures borrowed from medicine, and yes, even from cryobiology, which could cause confusion between the “real” science of cryobiology and the “fraud” of cryonics in the public eye. More to the point, it was clear that cryonicists were not operating in some back room and mumbling inarticulately; they were now right there in the midst of the cryobiologists and they were anything but inarticulate, bumbling back-room fools.
The Enemy Within
In the informant’s mind this made taking some action a real priority. I might also add my own perception that it was around this time, or shortly thereafter, that many of the Society’s Officers and Directors became aware of something even more potentially threatening: namely that several of their own number were “closet” cryonicists, and what’s more, were influential and active in the cryonics community.
Two cryobiologists in particular (one of them the informant I have previously cited) posed a special concern in this regard. For not only were these individuals cryonicists as well as cryobiologists; they were path-breaking, high-profile cryobiologists who were beginning to contribute enormously to cryobiology in general and, even more alarmingly, were beginning to become influential in the leadership of the Society.
The attitude of the Society and some of the reasons for it can perhaps be put into perspective best by examining what occurred in June of 1985, when the Society sponsored a panel on “Ethical Considerations and Applications of Cryobiology” at its annual meeting in Madison, Wisconsin. A major focus of this session was a rabid attack on cryonics, using as “evidence” of cryonicists’ wrong-doing and incompetence a number of newspaper stories which had been copied onto transparencies and projected for the attendees to see. John Baust chaired the session and Harold Meryman of the Red Cross Blood Research Laboratory (Bethesda, MD) delivered the most vituperative attack. Meryman cited the newspaper articles as evidence of fraud and wrongdoing by cryonicists and further indicated that the activity of cryonicists was damaging not only the public, but the discipline of cryobiology as well. That these articles might be inflammatory and inaccurate was never considered as a possibility.
A number of cryonicists were in the audience for part or all of this presentation including Paul Segall, Jerry Leaf, Hugh Hixon and myself. Segall, Leaf, and I vigorously defended cryonics against the half-truths of the media articles (the worst of which had been selected by Meryman for presentation) and attempted to set the record straight. This was to no avail, with many of the younger members of the Society lashing out at the cryonicists and accusing them of wild fantasies and “science fiction schemes.” In response to a statement by the author to the effect that “cryonicists are counting on repair capabilities, on the ability to engineer at the molecular level,” one nameless cryobiologist jeeringly shouted “that will never happen; pure science fiction!”
The rest of the meeting was made as unpleasant as possible for cryonicists attending it, with most of the delegates refusing even to speak to or sit with (at dinner) the cryonicist attendees. One notable exception was cryobiologist Locksley McGann, who had the courage to approach Jerry Leaf and myself and express his regret for the way in which his colleagues handled themselves and the issue of cryonics at the “bioethics” session at the opening of the meeting. McGann was at pains to point out that he did not consider cryonics workable. But he also stated that he felt that we were sincere in our beliefs and that no one, including the Society, benefited from the kind of exchanges that had occurred earlier or the kind of treatment we were receiving at the meeting. Similar sentiments were expressed by J.K. Sherman.
The Madison meeting made clear that cryobiologists were not only not interested in establishing a dialogue with cryonicists, they were not interested in becoming even marginally informed about how cryonics works and why cryonicists think it a rational thing to do.
But beyond this particular incident, it is clear that the Society had a long history of less focused enmity toward cryonics. What was responsible for this enmity and lack of cooperation between cryonicists and cryobiologists? The answer is: a lot of things.
One major difference between the examples of speculative scientific research cited previously (spinal cord repair, fusion power, and SDI research) is that none of these undertakings involve commitment to taking any action now beyond paying for the research. As for example, researching the problem of how to fix spinal cords doesn’t mean that cord-injured patients should be treated differently today.
(This is not strictly the case, as many cord-injured patients and the researchers and support groups driving them have recently begun to emphasize the need to protect such patients from muscle atrophy and tendon contracture which will occur; the rationale being that such changes cause permanent damage to limbs which may limit or prevent recovery if and/or when a paralysis cure is discovered.)
Need For Action Now
Cryonics involves altering the care of terminally ill patients now, today, in a very radical way; a way that challenges a variety of deeply held convictions and assumptions about matters of life and death. It also involves considerable expenditures and inconvenience for the person deciding on suspension, as well as for his/her family or friends.
Such bold action, which breaks with conventional mores on fundamental issues and challenges accepted medical criteria, is bound to provoke strong emotional reactions and much knee-jerk criticism. To take a position of advocacy for cryonics thus implies the need not only for foresight, but for courage.
As with any fundamental shift in world-view, early acceptance is not very likely. The history of science and technology is littered with the broken hearts and broken minds of individuals and groups who challenged the accepted “paradigm.” Many examples come to mind; Robert Goddard was publicly ridiculed for his rocketry research and for his assertion that travel to the moon should be technically feasible (Robert H. Goddard: Pioneer of Space Research by Milton Lehman, DaCapo Press, Inc., New York, 1963). The work of Semmelweis and Lister with antisepsis was vilified, and it was over two decades after Lister introduced the concept of antisepsis in England before it was widely practiced in the United States (The Biography of Medicine by Sherwin B. Nuland, Alfred Knopf, Inc. New York, 1988).
Need For Courage and Foresight
For cryobiologists to have taken a position of advocacy for cryonics, or even for them to have accepted money from cryonicists (and suffer guilt by association) would have required enormous moral courage in addition to enormous foresight. Or it would have required enormous financial/ professional benefit as compensation. Several cryonicists who have been around since the inception of the program in the mid-1960’s are convinced that either support from — or at least the critical silence of — cryobiologists could have been had if only the program had grown large enough to generate significant revenue to support mainstream cryobiological research (Saul Kent and Robert Ettinger, personal communication).
Certainly a number of mainstream cryobiologists, some of whom were then or are now in influential positions in the Society for Cryobiology, were willing to accept research dollars from cryonicists for cryonics-related objectives and even to provide advice or lend their name to support the program (i.e., John Baust, Armand Karow, and Arthur Rowe). Some cryobiologists, such as Jerome K. Sherman, even offered complex research proposals to cryonicists to evaluate the efficacy of current suspension techniques and work on ways to improve them (Research proposal of J.K. Sherman to Robert Ettinger, as reported in The Outlook, p. 5, September, 1974). Unfortunately, the small size of the cryonics movement and the lack of research dollars prevented such support, causing the proposal to be turned down (The Outlook, p.5, October, 1974).
(The Outlook was the newsletter of the Cryonics Society of Michigan (CSM) published in the beginning in January of 1970. It is currently published under the name of The Immortalist by CSM’s successor, The Immortalist Society/Cryonics Institute of Oak Park, Michigan.)
All of the Disadvantages
This situation left cryobiologists in a very interesting position; they were faced with all of the disadvantages of cryonics with no perceived or actual benefit. And there were plenty of disadvantages.
First there was the problem of the media. Cryonics, even under the best of circumstances, was bound to attract plenty of attention and not all of it favorable. Many people, both inside and outside of the medical and scientific establishments, find the very notion of cryonics macabre and gruesome (even leaving neurosuspension out of it). Further complicating the situation was the crude state of cryonics in the 1960s. Suspensions were hardly comparable to medical procedures and the image of most of the cryonics organizations in existence at that time was a non-professional and amateurish one at best.
Since cryobiologists and cryonicists do have similar objectives, there is often confusion in the public mind between the two. It has been our experience here at Alcor that members of the public often first contact the Society for Cryobiology or individual cryobiologists seeking information on cryonics. This puts cryobiologists in the position of frequently having to clarify and distance themselves from the activities of the “body freezers” whom they consider pseudoscientific, irrational, and possibly fraudulent, and thus with whom they have no desire to be associated.
There is also the problem of the defiance and challenge to authority that cryonics represents. In the early days cryonicists came to cryobiologists in a friendly, open way looking for support, and asking for advice and help. Within the space of a few years cryobiologists began to tell cryonicists in no uncertain terms that they should not be doing what they were doing (i.e., freezing people using unperfected techniques). Several cryobiologists were even forthright enough to say that they would cease to have a problem with cryonicists if we would “just stop freezing people and instead work on the problem of developing suspended animation by supporting basic cryobiological research.”
But cryonicists didn’t listen. They continued to place themselves into suspension and vigorously pursue a program of public education aimed at expanding their program. In short, they failed to obey the authorities.
During the late 1960s to mid-1970s, criticism by cryonicists of the attacks of cryobiologists on cryonics was very mild and never ad hominem. Cryonicists adopted an exclusively defensive posture and tried a program of appeasement and quiet reason in dealing with the increasingly hostile attacks of cryobiologists. This approach did not work, and in fact even seemed to contribute to the heat of the public denunciations issued by cryobiologists.
Cryobiologists increasingly began to use the words “fraud” and “quackery” to describe cryonics and its advocates. They also began the practice (which continues to this day) of representing to the public as “facts” a welter of misinformation about their own discipline (principally involving the mechanisms and extent of cryoinjury) in order to prove their point that cryonics could not work (see the television show exchanges between the author and A. Trounson, reproduced below). All dialogue and exchange of information between the groups broke down.
In the late 1970s a renewed effort was begun, largely by Alcor’s Jerry Leaf, to establish a dialogue with the Society and to educate them about cryonics. It was felt that much of the misunderstanding between cryobiologists and cryonicists may have been the result of lack of communication. These efforts at opening dialogue by Jerry Leaf, Thomas Donaldson, Paul Segall, the author, and others were rebuffed. The Institute for Cryobiological Extension (a cryonics- associated cryobiology research support group) was denied institutional membership in the Society because of its (and its President Jerry Leaf’s) association with cryonics (Letter from H.T. Meryman, President of the Society to J.D. Leaf dated 5 October, 1981). These efforts at dialogue apparently resulted in further polarization of the Society against cryonicists (see the letter from Mazur to Carr quoted below) and resulted in escalation of the conflict.
On 4 September, 1981 Society President Harold Meryman wrote, and circulated within the Society, a “Policy Draft: Cadaver Freezing” the purpose of which was to inform the media of the “truth” about cryonics and separate the Society for Cryobiology from the activities of the “cadaver freezers.” This “Policy Draft” is reproduced here. Note that it contains the following statement: “. . . to encourage individuals to invest many tens of thousands of dollars in post-mortem freezing with the implication of ultimate reanimation borders more on fraud than either faith or science.” As was previously noted, a modified version of this Policy Statement was adopted at the same time the Society changed its Bylaws in 1982.
In 1985, (after the previously mentioned Society meeting in Madison) a research abstract and paper on subjects unrelated to cryonics (i.e., canine bloodless perfusion and deep hypothermia) were rejected for publication after presentation at the Society’s 1985 annual meeting, solely because the work was sponsored and conducted by cryonicists and cryonics-related organizations (Dr. Gregory M. Fahy, personal communication). Despite the fact that the paper was well-received and was “defended” by both Society President Stanley Leibo and Society Treasurer Greg Fahy (Letter from G.M. Fahy to J.D. Leaf dated 26 July, 1986), and further, despite the fact that the authors agreed to the extraordinary request by Leibo and Fahy to have the paper appear without any indication of the (cryonics) institutional affiliation or sources of funding support (Letter from J.D. Leaf to S.P. Leibo dated 15 July, 1985).
The intensity of the animosity and hatred of cryonicists by cryobiologists can perhaps best be gauged by a remark reported to have been made by John Baust (then the Society’s President-elect) at the 20 June, 1985 Society Board Meeting (which followed the paper’s presentation) to the effect that accepting such work for publication from cryonicists, even valid, scientifically sound work, was like accepting for publication human hypothermia studies done on Jewish concentration camp victims by Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele. The final verdict as reported in the Minutes of the Society’s 20 June annual Board Meeting was:
“The Board shall instruct the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Cryobiology to not publish abstracts numbered 48 and 49 submitted for presentation at the 1985 Annual Meeting of the Society for Cryobiology on the grounds that publication would be detrimental to the Society for Cryobiology.
“The motion was seconded and after considerable discussion the motion passed with ten votes in favor and one abstention.”
This incident caused intense anger and resentment amongst cryonicists. However, it was by no means the first example of grossly unfair and prejudicial treatment of cryonicists by cryobiologists. In 1981, an internationally renowned organ cryopreservation researcher was called into his supervisor’s office (the supervisor was also an Officer and Director of the Society) and threatened with dismissal if he continued not only his low profile association with cryonicists, but also his suspension membership. It was also pointed out to this researcher that if his association with or belief in cryonics in any way became public he would never again get grants from the NIH or other routine sources. This individual, who was already wearing his suspension bracelet on his ankle to avoid public comment, was thus faced with a terrible dilemma: a choice between his chance at continued life via cryonics, or his career. (It is ironic to note that bracelets worn around the ankle are commonly called “slave bracelets.”)
A little less than a year after the meeting in Madison, the Society felt sufficiently threatened by cryonics that director Peter Mazur sent a letter to the Society’s legal counsel, Mr. Joel Carr of the law firm Patterson, Belknap, Webb, and Tyler, which is quoted below:
“Some body-freezers are attempting to become members of the Society, and, whether members or not, are attempting to present papers at our Society annual meeting (abstracts of which are ordinarily published) and to publish papers in our Journal. A few have succeeded in doing so despite our efforts to prevent them.
“Our reasons for wishing to prevent them are that we feel that their association with our Society and publishing under the Society’s name will have a highly detrimental effect on a legitimate field of science and consequently will have a detrimental effect on the careers of those of us in the field of cryobiology. Secondly, the association may well cause bona fide members to leave the Society or result in potential valuable members deciding not to join the Society. At our last annual meeting there were strong rumblings from some younger members about the former. Our concern is based partly on our feeling that their basic approach has no scientific validity, partly on the repercussions of media attention to their thesis and practice, and partly on the fact that they charge their clients money for the practice.
“But the other face of the coin is whether we open ourselves to legal action by preventing them from gaining association with the Society. The basic problem then is what should the Board do to protect the Society from being damaged from their association while at the same time minimizing the probability of being sued? . . . .
“The problem that we have faced is that one can conceive of three main categories of body-freezers (with many possible intergrades):
“Category 1: Individuals who are publicly known members of body- freezing organizations who wish to present or publish papers clearly relevant to body-freezing or become members of the Society.
“Category 2: Individuals like (1) except that the work they wish to present in our Society is adequate scientifically and obviously related to body freezing.
“This category gives us the most problem because they also publish pseudoscience body freezing articles and are publicly associated with body-freezing organizations.
“Category 3: Individuals privately known to espouse the aims of the body-freezers but who otherwise act as bona fide cryobiologists as we define bona fide. This category does not cause us much concern. . .” [Nor should it have, since they had already succeeded in thoroughly terrorizing them into silence. — M.D.]
“. . . Two events the past month are transforming the problem from an academic exercise to reality. One is that our director’s and officer’s insurance is to go up five-fold next summer. The other is that we have heard that two individuals whose abstracts the Board refused to publish last fall are angry enough to possibly initiate legal action.”
Cryonicists began to react to these very unfair actions on the part of the Society for Cryobiology. It was one thing to publicly criticize cryonics and to question its workability. It was quite another to accuse innocent people of fraud, suppress free exchange of scientific information, interfere with free trade, and terrorize cryonicists (who also had the misfortune of being professional cryobiologists) with destruction of their careers and loss of livelihood, and give out misinformation about basic cryobiology in the bargain.
By the mid-1980’s this reaction had crystallized into a new and aggressive stance by cryonicists in dealing with cryobiologists. Cryobiologists who appeared on talk shows or in public forums opposite cryonicists no longer found them meek and amiable. Instead, they found cryonicists who were increasingly organized, capable, and willing to debate cryobiologists on the technical and scientific assertions which cryobiologists formerly made unchallenged and without supporting evidence. And above all, the cryobiologists found themselves confronting people who were bitterly angry and feeling, with plenty of justification, that through their actions cryobiologists might kill them.
Cryonicists’ Growing Militance
The cryobiologists were also unaware that the passage of years had seen a number of radical changes in cryonics. Cryonics was no longer the undertaking of a few amateurs with little scientific background and inadequate debating skills. Cryonics had begun to grow up. The typical active cryonicist was now highly educated, articulate, and scientifically knowledgeable. Indeed, many cryonicists had a broader and deeper understanding of the basic principles of cryobiology and the mechanisms and extent of cryoinjury than many of the over-specialized cryobiologists they confronted in public debates.
And just as important, the technology of cryonic suspension had been vastly improved over the decade between 1970 and 1980. No longer was cryonics a back-room operation carried out by morticians and unskilled helpers. Rather, cryonic suspension was being carried out using state-of- the-art surgical and medical technology by trained professionals — including physicians, registered nurses, and, yes, professional cryobiologists (who also happened to be members of the Society for Cryobiology).
Thus, the cryobiologists who chose to debate cryonicists both publicly and privately found themselves confronting an enemy that was affluent (compared to the past!), skilled at debating, presentable, personable, professional in appearance, and fully capable of aggressively, yet rationally, challenging each and every one of the cryobiologists’ unproved assertions about the evidence against cryonics.
Cryonicists also became intolerant of any public assertion on the part of cryobiologists that cryonics or its practitioners were engaged in fraud. Communications were sent apprising the Society that assertions that cryonics was fraud constituted both a serious criminal and civil allegation and that appropriate legal action would be taken if such allegations continued (cf. Series of letters from Robert Ettinger and Michael Darwin sent to the Society in the mid 1980’s: specifically Letter from M.G. Darwin to H.T. Meryman dated 21 April, 1982). As a result, by and large, allegations of fraud ceased.
Yet another problem cryobiologists confront as a result of the existence of cryonics is the problem of envy. Shortly after the start of the cryonics program, cryobiologists began to suffer not only from the confusion in the public mind between cryobiology and cryonics, but from a singular lack of media attention as a result of cryonics “stealing their thunder.” David Pegg, a leading organ cryopreservation researcher, has complained bitterly to the media and to cryonicists that his “valuable, serious work is virtually ignored by the media and the public in favor of the macabre lunacy of the cadaver freezers. . .” (conversation between David Pegg and Judith Hann, Presenter of BBC’s “Tomorrow’s World” following Pegg’s appearance opposite the Author on the “Kilroy-Silk Show,” aired 3 March, 1989).
Media attention on cryonics is constant and unremitting, and while often not favorable, it nevertheless remains that cryonicists have the ear of, and access to, the international public; an entre denied even the most successful and hardworking cryobiologist. Because cryobiologists consider cryonics unworkable at best, and fraud at worst, this situation of perceived unfair media attention infuriates them and perhaps makes them feel justified in using the questionable tactics they have in attacking cryonics as a whole and individual cryonicists within their ranks.
Errors of Fact?
A more subtle problem is that cryobiologists are experts in two closely related areas: the nature of cryoinjury, and possible strategies for preventing it. As is usually the case in any scientific discipline, initial progress was made almost exclusively on the basis of empirics: a trial-and-error approach to achieving successful cryopreservation. Additionally, as is also usually the case, understanding of the mechanisms of injury (reasons why it won’t work) has proceeded faster than the innovation of techniques to prevent injury from occurring.
An added problem is that until very recently there has been no unifying theory of cryoinjury which was capable of pointing the way towards a common technical method for preventing such injury in most living systems. Thus, cryobiology is a science rich in researchers whose careers have focused on the idiosyncrasies of preserving (and understanding injury in) individual systems such as red blood cells, tissue culture cells, embryos, and so on. An investigator may spend years working out the mechanics of a preservation protocol and understanding the nature of injury to a single class of cells or tissues. Thus, a red blood cell cryobiologist will employ techniques and use research approaches which are liable to differ greatly from those used by an investigator interested in cryopreserving embryos. Entire careers or significant fractions thereof may be spent on mastering the preservation of a single cell type.
Furthermore, moving from cells to organs presents a whole new series of problems to overcome. Until the work of Mazur (Mazur, P., “Causes of injury in frozen and thawed cells.” Fed Proc. (Suppl. 15) S175-S182, 1965.), Pegg (Pegg, D.E. and Diaper, M.P. “The mechanism of cryoinjury in glycerol-treated rabbit kidneys.” in Organ Preservation: Basic and Applied Aspects edited by D.E. Pegg, et al., MTP Press, Ltd., Lancaster, 1982.) and Fahy (Fahy, G.M., “The relevance of cryoprotectant ‘toxicity’ to cryobiology.” Cryobiology, 23:1, 1986.), there was no clear, unifying understanding of cryoinjury on both the cell and tissue/organ level. With the work of Fahy in particular, a common pathway to achieving cryopreservation was laid out (vitrification, wherein no ice is formed upon cooling) which should in theory work for virtually all mammalian tissues (Fahy, G.M., and Hirsch, A., “Prospects for organ preservation by vitrification.” In Organ Preservation, Present and Future (D.E. Pegg, I.A. Jacobsen, and N.A. Halaz, Eds.) MIT Press, Lancaster, 1981.)
As a consequence, cryobiologists tend to be “microspecialists,” often with a sad lack of awareness of progress in other areas even within their own discipline. Recently, the internationally renowned in vitro fertilization expert and human embryo cryopreservationist Alan Trounsen appeared opposite the Author on Australian TV (the Peter Couchman program in Melbourne, Australia, 3 October 1990). Trounson vigorously asserted on that program, in front of an estimated audience of 500,000 people, that all mammalian cells freeze intracellularly (that is, the interiors of the cells freeze), even at slow cooling rates and with cryoprotectants present, and that cryonics patients are reduced to chewed-up debris by this intracellular ice.
Intracellular freezing is somewhat more of a problem with early embryos because of the tightly packed arrangement of the cells which slows water loss during freezing. This can be easily overcome by using slow enough cooling rates. It is not a problem for other mammalian cells (with the exception of egg cells; due to their large size and resulting poor surface to volume ratio, mammalian eggs must also be cooled very slowly). There can be little doubt that other cryobiologists with expertise in cell and organ cryopreservation would be aghast at the assertion that mammalian cells freeze intracellularly at slow or even moderate cooling rates! Consider the following exchange between myself and Dr. Trounson on the Couchman Programme:
Trounson: “Now what would be happening with these tissues [in a cryonic suspension patient] that have been frozen in this way, if you watch under a microscope you get a flash, which is the formation of intracellular ice, that is ice forming inside the cell. Now, in some ways if you looked at that in histology, yes, some of the structures would be pushed out of the way. But the ice also encapsulates many, or all of the small intracellular components of that cell, disrupting them. So that when the cell is thawed out even though it still has a structure, which has been pushed around, all of those minute and essential parts of the cell are destroyed. They won’t function. You can look at them in histology and they are still there, but they won’t function.
Couchman: “I gather that you are not prepared to accept, even letting your scientific imagination run free here that —
Trounson: “Well the problem is, Peter, that that most of those cells will in fact be destroyed [by the freezing process]. Mike’s using a lot of license here in the way he is portraying this. Because he’s saying “OK in 600 years we’ll have great whoopee science,” and that may be so; we may be able to freeze whole bodies in 100 years time because we might have worked out a totally different system.
Couchman: “That’s right, because your science now would now have been great whoopee science for people in the middle ages.
Trounson: “But if you freeze a complicated group of cells, and if you take a brain that you freeze in this way — I’ll tell you one possible scenario is that all the tumor cells might survive and none of the other brain cells, so that what you get back is a tumor and not the brain —
Couchman: “[Mike,] without getting involved in a really complex scientific argument that none of us can understand —
Darwin: “I’ll try very hard, but he has raised scientific issues that he is simply wrong on. I must say I’m appalled. For a professional cryobiologist to sit there and say the things you did about flashover of ice inside cells…. That only occurs with intracellular freezing! You couldn’t intracellularly freeze this man’s brain (gesturing at Thomas Donaldson) or mine if you tried because you couldn’t get a high enough freezing rate for that if you tried. When you cool at moderate rates cells are dehydrated by freezing. . .”
Trounson: “You’re wrong because we freeze embryos at the slowest possible rate, 0.1 °C per minute, and they form intracellular ice.”
Donaldson: How many brains have you frozen?. . . . We’re not discussing freezing embryos.”
Trounson: “You’re just wrong!”
Darwin: “We have done freeze-substitution studies on human and animal neuronal tissue and we know they do not freeze intracellularly.”
Trounson: “You’re wrong! You must not mislead these people. These cells are damaged beyond repair.”
Darwin: “How can you say that? You’re an expert on injury and you don’t even seem to know about injury in tissues that are frozen slowly. You cannot sit there and say that it’s never going to be possible to repair that [damage]. How can you say that?”
As the above illustrates, Trounson, a respected scientist and so-called cryobiologist, was (and presumably still is) unaware that cells cooled at a slow or moderate rate, indeed even cells cooled at 1øC per minute do not freeze intracellularly. Nor is this knowledge very arcane; most competent cell, tissue, or organ cryobiologists would be aware of this. I quote from cryobiologist Peter Mazur’s excellent review paper “Freezing of living cells: mechanisms and implications.” (Amer. J. Physiol., (Cell Physiol. 16), C125 (1984)):
Fate of Intracellular Water During Freezing
“The chief physical events occurring in cells during freezing are depicted schematically in Fig. 1. Down to ~-5°C, the cells and their surrounding medium remain unfrozen both because of super-cooling and because of depression of the freezing point by the protective solutes that are frequently present. Between -5 and ~-15°C, ice forms in the external medium (either spontaneously or as result of seeding of the solution with an ice crystal), but the cell contents remain unfrozen and supercooled, presumably because the plasma membrane blocks the growth of ice crystals into the cytoplasm (see below). The supercooled water in the cells has, by definition, a higher chemical potential than that of water in the partially frozen solution outside the cell, and in response to this difference in potential, water flows out of the cell and freezes externally.
The subsequent physical events in the cell depend upon the cooling velocity. If cooling is sufficiently slow (Fig 1, upper right), the cell is able to lose water rapidly enough by exosmosis to concentrate the intracellular solutes sufficiently to eliminate supercooling and maintain the chemical potential of the intracellular water in equilibrium with that of extracellular water. The result is that the cell dehydrates and does not freeze intracellularly. But if the cell is cooled too rapidly (Fig. 1, bottom and center right) it is not able to lose water fast enough to maintain equilibrium; it becomes increasingly supercooled and eventually attains equilibrium by freezing intracellularly.”
As Mazur then goes on to note, for cells such as red blood cells the critical cooling rate for intracellular freezing to occur would be in excess of 1000°C per minute! For human lymphocytes 40°C/min, and for mouse or human embryos frozen in 1M DMSO, 3°C/min (Trounson’s assertions to the contrary notwithstanding). Please remember that the typical cooling rate for a human cryonic suspension patient is on the order of 3° to 4°C per hour, or 0.06°C/min!
A few other references documenting the absence of intracellular ice in cells and organs frozen at moderate or slow rates are presented below (there are many, many others):
- Lovelock, J.E., The mechanism of the protective action of glycerol against hemolysis by freezing and thawing.” Biochim. Biophys. Acta. 11:28, 1953.
- Meryman, H.T., Modified model for the mechanism of freezing injury in erythrocytes.” Nature 218:333, 1968.
- Fahy, G.M., “Analysis of ‘Solution Effects’ Injury: Cooling Rate Dependence of the Functional and Morphological Sequelae of Freezing in Rabbit Renal Cortex Protected with Dimethyl Sulfoxide” Cryobiology 18, 550- 570 (1981).
- Pegg, D. E., “Ice crystals in tissues and organs” in the Biophysics of Organ Cryopreservation, pp. 117-136, Plenum Press, New York and London, 1987.
Trounson’s remarks are a telling example of the effects of over- specialization and fragmentation of knowledge about cryobiology. As Thomas Donaldson correctly asked Dr. Trounson during this exchange: “How many brains have you frozen?” This was a question Trounson never answered.
A consequence of this fragmentation and over-specialization within the cryobiological community has been a failure to see the big picture. Few cryobiologists know anything about the true nature of freezing damage to organs or whole organisms. If called upon to describe the damage on an ultrastructural, tissue, and gross level, probably not three cryobiologists in 100 could do so (and keep in mind that the Society only has approximately 300 members). This ignorance, coupled with the arrogant and mistaken certainty that the injury they have observed in their area of specialization applies to cryonic suspension patients, has resulted in heated verbal exchanges between cryonicists and cryobiologists. Rarely, if ever, have cryobiologists taken the time to educate themselves about the issues they declaim on as experts.
It is also worth noting that when errors, such as the one highlighted above, are subsequently brought to the attention of such talk-show cryobiologists (with appropriate documentation, as has been provided here) there has never been a retraction, apology, or admission of error, either public or private. Indeed, the most common response is no response at all.
Another example of the public deceit engaged in by cryobiologists is the public denial by the Society of their policies and procedures toward cryonicists. The following dialogue occurred between Society Vice- President James Southard (a highly respected hypothermic organ preservationist from the University of Wisconsin) and the Author on the “Larry King Show” (aired live, 11 July, 1989):
Darwin: The Society for Cryobiology has so harassed its members who are also cryonicists that several prominent cryobiologists who are also cryonicists are afraid to come forward because of fear for their jobs, for their very livelihoods. In fact, the Society has a regulation which prevents cryonicists from being members.
King: Is that true?
Southard: Not true. . . The Society for Cryobiology will not eliminate anybody who is doing bona fide science and who will submit their scientific papers for review. . .
Given Southard’s position in the Society and the fact that it was he who accepted the abstracts for presentation at Madison it must be said that his statements above reflect either profound ignorance, an incredible lapse of memory, or an outright lie. (A letter sent to Dr. Southard following the King program documenting these errors (and others) was never answered (Letter from M.G. Darwin to J.M. Southard dated 11 July, 1989).)
Southard then went on to comment in response to remarks from Alcor Member Brenda Peters that Alcor’s hypothermic dog perfusion/recovery studies were not accepted for publication because they were found as a result of peer review to “not constitute bona fide science.” This is hardly the picture painted in the communications from Fahy previously cited or what the 20 June minutes reflect as the real reason the work was rejected.
Beyond an often appalling degree of ignorance about the nature and extent of cryoinjury, the first half of the cryonics problem, there is a total lack of any knowledge or understanding of the second half of the problem: the problem of repair. Cryobiologists often refer to cryonicists’ discussion of speculative strategies for repairing cryoinjury as “science fiction.” Further, they are often opposed on ethical grounds. Consider the following dialogue between James Southard, Alcor Member Brenda Peters, host Larry King, and I, again from the “Larry King Show” cited above which nicely illustrates both these points:
King: James, Do you want this [cryonics] to work?
Southard: No. I don’t see any reason why one isn’t satisfied with the one life that they have on earth. I mean from a personal standpoint.
Darwin: That’s a monstrous statement to make.
Peters: Dr. Southard, what is the advantage of a normal lifespan quote unquote?
Southard: Look at it this way, there are so many medical problems we have to solve nowadays, that’s where the priorities should be. That’s where the problems are and that’s where the resources and that’s where the money should go. I don’t think we should hold out false promises to people. I mean these are false promises; it cannot be done.
King: But, and correct me if I’m wrong, all medical research Doctor, help if I’m wrong here, all medical research is designed to extend life.
Southard: Medical research is designed to extend the quality of life.
King: Or extend it. . .
Southard: I don’t believe it is necessarily to extend life itself.
King: 95% of all health care dollars are spent on extending life.
Southard: No, extending the quality of the life you’re going to live on earth.
King: If you could make a good healthy person live a hundred years wouldn’t you buy it?
Southard: (pause) I suppose.
Peters: That’s exactly what we are talking about. . . we’re talking about bringing people back healthy and strong.
Darwin: Dr. Southard is all in favor of medical research as long as it’s his medical research or medical research that he gets to make the decisions about. I am sure that Pasteur and Semmelweis and other people who were responsible for vast extensions of the mean lifespan that we experience right now had exactly the same kinds of criticisms leveled at them.
Southard: Mike, I have no complaints about the fact that you want to freeze people and promise them you’re gonna bring ’em back. . . There is no scientific evidence that you can freeze a body or freeze a multicellular organism and thaw it out [successfully] at this point in time. . . What you’re talking about is science fiction.
Cryobiologists like Southard vigorously attack any effort on the part of cryonicists to speculate within the framework of the current understanding of physical law on possible approaches to repair, stating in effect that until such approaches can be shown to work (i.e., proven by actual experiment) they are meaningless and not worthy of considering as the basis for taking any current action (i.e., placing people into suspension now). Often they will categorically state that no repair process could ever result in recovery of patients frozen with today’s techniques.
This attitude of taking no action in an otherwise hopeless situation until the action is PROVEN to work is incredible, and characterizes few, if any other human undertakings (with the possible exception of the United States drug approval process). It is essential to human survival that people take action and accept risks on the basis of reasoned speculation based on limited insight. When we invest, do an experiment, or venture into any other area of activity where we have no prior “proven” examples, we are pursuing a course of action identical to that being pursued by people choosing to enter cryonic suspension. Indeed, it can be argued that the typical day-to-day risk-taker has a far larger number of options and considerably more to lose than the typical patient entering cryonic suspension, who has no other viable options, nothing left to lose and who has after all been pronounced dead.
Summing Up The Situation
Cryobiologists are opposed to cryonics for a host of complex reasons. First and foremost, they, like many others in society, do not see cryonics as a potentially workable enterprise for several technical, social, and moral reasons. However, in and of itself, this is not sufficient to have caused the enmity that exists between the two groups. Other factors, such as the need to differentiate themselves from cryonicists due to confusion in the public eye, envy of the attention given to cryonicists, misinformation about how cryonics actually works, and ignorance about both the magnitude of cryoinjury and the possibilities of repair, all combine to create a very adverse situation suffused with intense hostility.
But beyond these fairly “objective” reasons there is another, which is perhaps the most powerful reason of all: most cryobiologists don’t want cryonics to work.
I have talked with many cryobiologists about cryonics over the years. Whether young or old it has been my experience that almost universally cryobiologists consider the goal of human suspended animation and/or vastly extended lifespans anathema. I think the attitude of cryobiologists can best be summed up by the following quote from Harold Meryman taken from a letter to Charles Tandy dated 4 April, 1978:
“I am quite unsympathetic with the goal of preserving human beings through freezing. I find the proposition mischievous in the extreme and fear that, like some other scientific ‘breakthroughs’ one might mention, the end result would be impossible to control and far more damaging than beneficial to society.
“In short, I think that a national institute of low temperature biology is unjustified and the goal of freezing humans is deeply disturbing.”
The above quote from Meryman was in response to a proposal by Mr. Tandy to create a National Institute of Low Temperature Biology with the express goal of achieving human suspended animation. The above quote and the previously cited one from Southard demonstrate that a major factor in the unwillingness of cryobiologists to take cryonics seriously — or even give it a fair hearing — is their deeply held desire that cryonics and human suspended animation not be realized. Not now, not ever.
Assessing The Damage
The price of the continuing enmity between cryobiologists and cryonicists has been high. The unremitting pronouncements by many cryobiologists for over two decades to the effect that cryonics cannot ever work and what’s more, should not ever work have no doubt contributed to the slow growth of the program and resulted in many lost lives. Leaving aside the direct impact these pronouncements have had on individuals contemplating suspension arrangements for themselves and others, there is the broader issue of how these remarks have affected support for cryobiological research. It is an irony, no doubt totally unappreciated by the cryobiological community, that the highest price for the war between cryobiologists and cryonicists may have been paid by the cryobiologists themselves.
Progress in any human undertaking is dependent upon several factors: the competence of the individuals involved, their level of motivation, and of course, the resources available to them. Cryobiology — and in particular the discipline of organ cryopreservation — does not lack several high quality talents. And no doubt if the motivation and resources were available it would attract many more. And therein lies the problem. Individuals, investors, venture capitalists, and governments are all attracted to big ideas, to powerful ideas. Major progress within disciplines as diverse as cosmology and genetics has been driven by the strong personal motivation of the investigators as well as a sense of “mission.” A quick once-through of James Watson’s The Double Helix will clear up any doubts about the importance of personal motivation and, above all, a sense of mission.
To get good results in any undertaking it is necessary that people have genuine enthusiasm and excitement about it. People like Albert Einstein and James Watson were motivated by big ideas and extraordinary goals: to understand the universe and to understand the fundamental biological basis of life. Their undertakings had “sizzle” and offered excitement and a sense of power. In short, they had glamour, and glamour counts for a lot.
These elements are sorely lacking in all organ cryopreservationists today. I believe it is also fair to say that the movers and shakers of the Society for Cryobiology even question the desirability of pursuing solid state organ cryopreservation. In fact, one of the first sessions on the first day of the upcoming annual Society meeting in Brussels will be an “assault” on the utility of the work of the last remaining serious organ cryopreservationist, Dr. Greg Fahy.
England’s David Pegg, the other leading organ cryopreservationist, closed up shop earlier this year when the British Medical Research Council (MRC) declined to continue financial support for the MRC cryobiology unit. The reason this happened is simple: in nearly 15 years Pegg had failed to show any significant progress toward organ cryopreservation. He didn’t seem motivated to accomplish the job he was being paid for, and, just as importantly, he was no longer motivating others to continue his support.
The Society for Cryobiology has long lamented the lack of “new blood” and “first class talent” in its ranks. They have never paused to ask the all important question “Why is this the case?” The answer is simple: cryobiology, as it is currently practiced, is a drab, overspecialized discipline which offers little prospect for changing peoples’ lives or changing the world in a dramatic way; it doesn’t affect the big picture. Organ preservation was the last hope to turn this around. However, within the Society there has been considerable hostility and skepticism about the prospects for achieving near-term organ cryopreservation and there has been no effort on the part of the Society to promote organ cryopreservation, lobby for its funding, or even educate the public about its short-term benefits for transplant patients. In the absence of an organized and motivated approach, nothing gets done. (Indeed, the first organ cryopreservationists were transplant surgeons; people whose motivation often exceeded their competence — but at least they DID something and what’s more, believed passionately in the importance of what they were doing.)
Had cryobiologists and cryonicists achieved a rapport early on, even a modest rapport, things might have been very different. Funding for cryobiological research would likely have been broader and the labor pool of people available for lobbying and support of organ preservation would have been many times what it is now. A number of very bright young people deeply interested in cryonics and desirous of a career in cryobiology would have chosen that career path, instead of the ones they chose (rather than face the hurdles they knew would stand in their way). What’s more, these people would have been highly motivated.
It is interesting to note that the vast majority of the practical progress made in organ cryopreservation has been made by cryonicist cryobiologists “in the closet.” This is no accident. There can also be no doubt that many, many times more research dollars would have been pumped into cryobiology had competent credentialed investigators been willing to undertake brain cryopreservation research; this is particularly true of recent years with the attraction of individuals of major wealth (Forbes 400 caliber) to the cryonics community.
The price has been very high. For cryonicists it has meant greatly increased resistance/hostility from the media and reduced/delayed public acceptance of the program. For cryobiologists it has meant atrophy of the entire discipline, due to their having robbed themselves of cryobiology’s most dramatic and proper central goal: human suspended animation.
What of the future? What does the coming decade or two hold for the relationship between cryobiologists and cryonicists? This is, of course, an impossible question to answer. Much depends upon whether you are a pessimist or an optimist. Since I am a short-term pessimist and a long-term optimist, I shall cover the pessimistic scenario first since I think it the most likely — at least for the near and intermediate future.
Cryobiologists are unlikely to be persuaded of the “rationality” or “reasonableness” of cryonics any time soon. Indeed, many of the most polarized and vituperative opponents of cryonics are the younger members of the Society. While there has been some diminution of the criticism leveled against cryonics by cryobiologists in recent months, I believe that this has been largely as a result of the aggressive stance cryonicists have taken regarding prior comments. It’s been shown we can “win” and that we can embarrass them publicly by challenging their unsupported, dogmatic, and often scientifically ridiculous statements. This aggressive response has tempered their commentary and made them a little more thoughtful and much less confrontational.
I believe, though, that they will re-group. It is certainly clear that they remain full of hate and unconvinced of any possible good to our undertaking. In my opinion no technical advances in the field of organ cryopreservation — or even successful cryopreservation of the kidney, liver, or heart — will change their position. In fact, I believe it will make them even more aggressive in trying to destroy cryonics.
I predict that if a workable method of cryopreserving organs is developed, there will be efforts to prevent its application to suspension patients. I also predict that this effort on the part of cryobiologists will have broad government support. Under new FDA guidelines an organ cryopreservation method and the equipment used to apply it would be classified as a medical procedure and a medical device, respectively. It is now very clear that the FDA intends to expand the scope of its power to controlling the application of medical devices and procedures as well as their unapproved use. I believe the evidence is clear that the Society for Cryobiology will both demand and support a ban on the use of organ cryopreservation techniques for any unapproved use.
I realize that this is quite a startling and radical position. I base it not on personal enmity or “gut feel” but rather on the remarks made by cryobiologists, both public and private, to the effect that they consider cryonics immoral and that people have, in effect, a duty to die.
It is unlikely that any successful organ cryopreservation technique developed in the foreseeable future will be applicable to the whole organism. It is much more likely that such technology will only be reliably applicable to a single organ such as the kidney, heart, liver, or brain. Viable cryopreservation of the brain with or without an accompanying less successfully cryopreserved body will greatly increase the credibility of cryonics without proving its workability, and as a consequence greatly polarize and motivate our opponents. It may be small consolation that — at that time — the least of our worries may be the opposition of the Society for Cryobiology. It might be argued that this is already the case; the California Department of Health Services, the California Medical Board, and their Counsel, the California Attorney General, are formidable opponents enough.
The lesson here is a harsh and sobering one: things are likely to get much worse before they get better and we would do well not to count on a thaw in relations between cryobiologists and cryonicists any time soon.
Of course, a variety of more optimistic scenarios can also be offered for consideration. It is possible that successful cryopreservation of a solid organ such as a kidney or liver would soften cryobiological hostility. Certainly it can be argued that successful cryopreservation of the mammalian brain would go a long way towards achieving this end and some both inside and outside the cryobiological community have argued that it will.
My problem with this scenario is that a successfully cryopreserved brain isn’t the same as a successfully cryopreserved person in the eyes of many (including some cryonicists). There will no doubt be many who would argue against cryonics even MORE strenuously if they actually thought cryonicists capable of rendering patients’ brains into a state of suspended animation while still damaging their bodies in ways medicine cannot at that time repair. Certainly the ability to suspend the brain in a nondamaged state would elevate consideration of cryonics to a par with medicine, and perhaps cause it to be reclassified as such.
In the long run there can be little doubt that cryobiologists and cryonicists will have a meeting of the minds, if cryonics persists and if suspended animation is developed. However, the utility of any such union will be be greatly attenuated by the time it occurs. The intervening years to decades will probably be played out on the field of battle, much as the past two decades have.
It took the efforts of one General Walter Dornberger to convince Nazi establishment scientists of the utility of Robert Goddard’s dream and silence the laughter of so-called serious planetary astronomers at his “childish” notions of doing astronomy from space. When Dornberger’s bombs began dropping on their heads near the end of World War II, they finally had no choice but to take notice.
It is my confident and unhappy prediction that equally dramatic events will have to occur before cryobiologists and cryonicists find peaceful co-existence and even cooperation a possibility.
UPDATE: In September 2018, the Society of Criobiology released this Position Statement on Cryonics:
The Society recognizes and respects the freedom of individuals to hold and express their own opinions and to act, within lawful limits, according to their beliefs. Preferences regarding disposition of postmortem human bodies or brains are clearly a matter of personal choice and, therefore, inappropriate subjects of Society policy. The Society does, however, take the position that the knowledge necessary for the revival of live or dead whole mammals following cryopreservation does not currently exist and can come only from conscientious and patient research in cryobiology and medicine. In short, the act of preserving a body, head or brain after clinical death and storing it indefinitely on the chance that some future generation may restore it to life is an act of speculation or hope, not science, and as such is outside the purview of the Society for Cryobiology.