Cryonics, September, October, November 1992
The greatest crisis in the history of Alcor, and one of the major turning points of cryonics, began in December 1987, when 83-year-old Dora Kent was suspended. A retired dressmaker, and mother of longtime cryonics activist Saul Kent, Mrs. Kent had been ailing for several years. When she came down with pneumonia and death seemed imminent, a fateful decision was made to bring her into the facility before she deanimated. This was medically sound but politically pretty dicey, as events proved. The suspension itself (a neuro or head only) was fairly routine (in some ways in fact, the best ever, since there was no waiting time for transport). But afterward the local coroner became interested, launched an investigation, autopsied the headless body, decided the mode of death was "natural causes," reversed himself, demanded and was refused the head for autopsy, accused the Alcor team of murder, etc. Alcor personnel, who refused to disclose the location of this neuropatient when questioned, were put in handcuffs and detained for several hours before being released, and this was but one incident in a long campaign of intimidation and harassment. The case was concluded only in 1991, by a tacit admission of wrongdoing by the Coroner's office and an out of court settlement of some $90,000 which was divided among the six who were detained that day (Jan. 7, 1988) and their attorneys. Dora Kent was an important milestone for a number of reasons. Most important, we did carry the day when threatened by a powerful bureaucracy. The patient was saved, as well as our other patients (then numbering, believe it or not, only seven), all of whom were threatened with autopsy. (The coroner wanted to just end our operations then and there. Apparently this was a "grandstanding" attempt, perhaps an act to follow the forced autopsy of Liberace which the same coroner had carried out a year or so previously.) Although it was a mistake to proceed as we did, bringing the still-living patient into the facility with a hostile bureaucracy lurking by, the determination shown in facing down officialdom saved the day, and would culminate in legal recognition for cryonics, and a new respectability. What I mainly want to share with readers this time is some personal notes I kept on developments during the early stages of this case, which have not been previously published, and which are mostly as they were written at the time. These do not tell the whole story, but do give an indication of what life was like, to a group of people trapped in a world dominated by death, trying as best they could for something better, and learning that the biggest obstacles are very probably not scientific but social.
Dec. 9 [1987, Riverside, Calif.]: Worked some on music early morning, up till nearly 3. Hugh advised sacking out at that point because tomorrow could be "interesting." As usual, whenever you get some project halfway going, you must cut to something else. The curse of time pressure can be stifling, especially when reinforced by the cruel threat of death.
The reason for concern: Dora Kent has taken a turn for the worse.
Daylight: Mrs. Kent was brought to the facility today and wheeled into Jerry's office. The suspension team is on the alert. [Another member] was out here, helping move Dora. Several others showed up later. Steve Harris checked Dora's condition, and chatted awhile. He and I were discussing the possibility of simulating a reconstructed personality in a computer to see if it is psychologically viable before committing oneself to a flesh-and-blood resuscitation of a patient. (This issue will hopefully be well thrashed out by the time any of us are brought back from suspension.)
Dec. 10. Dora's condition appeared stable this morning. She was on oxygen but is breathing unassisted though very weak and enfeebled. There is a strong feeling that she will go down, as we hope, and she is no longer being fed through tubes as she was at the nursing home. She has been kept alive for 2 or 3 years while her brain has slowly decomposed -- an outrage we may realistically hope to halt through freezing. Several of the team members are now here, some having spent the night: Arthur, Carlos, Max O'Connor, Al Lopp, Jerry Leaf, Mike, Hugh and yours truly.
I was talking to Saul Kent, Dora's son, this morning, who remarked that her heart had been going 84 years now and finally it might be about to stop.
Then around 10 (as if we didn't already have enough problems) there was a surprise inspection by a U.S. Dept. of Agriculture official. Hugh was still in bed and when the crew room was opened he bellowed, "shut the goddamn door" not realizing who it was. This tended to hasten the proceedings so that Jerry's office next door wasn't even looked at. (Mrs. Kent was in there on a gurney.)
Around 10 p.m. Dora was wheeled into the operating room, taken off the oxygen bottle, and her head was shaved. She stopped breathing the first time around 11:30 I think. Her heart was still going strong however. I watched her skin start to darken, then Mike applied mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and other heroic measures. There was a horrible obstruction in the throat, mucus or something, that produced a rattling sound as the breath was exhaled. But her color pinked and at length she started breathing again, shallowly.
Dec. 11. This breathing went on awhile then stopped. The heart rate slowed, weakened, and finally Mike and Jerry separately checked with a stethoscope and reported it had stopped. This was about 12:25 a.m. and very shortly afterward the protocol for freezing was started. The chest was cut open and the stilled heart was observed. Heart massage was begun and oxygenation of the tissues was maintained. At no time after that did I see the color darken as it had after the first respiratory arrest.
From there the suspension went smoothly, with about the only complications being (1) one instance of ineffective mixing that led to a higher concentration of glycerol than intended, and (2) the advanced age of the patient causing brittleness of the vascular system. Mainly I filled an ice chest and did a few other incidental chores, then sacked out, to be ready in the morning for the cool-down to dry ice temperature. The decapitation of this patient occurred about 7 a.m., while I was asleep.
Daylight: Mike was so pleased that I had gotten some sleep when everybody else hadn't that he said, "we're going to miss you when you're gone," to which I replied "I'll miss this place too." Mike said, "Oh yeah?" and I added, "in some ways." [I had recently gotten a tentative offer of a programming job in England.]
I took over the cooldown of the patient to dry ice temperature from Fred Chamberlain about 10 a.m., taking readings every 15 min. all day, relieved occasionally by Arthur and Hugh. Hugh and I packed the headless body (wrapped in heavy plastic sheeting) in ice later in the evening. Arthur, who was up longer than me last night, though not for the entire suspension, says he went out and screamed later, to relieve the stress. (The level of stress was less overall though, than last time, I would say.)
Dec. 12. A potentially stupid mistake which didn't cause any harm this time. As the patient's temperature approached that of dry ice logging was done less frequently, though Mike said it should still be done every 2 hrs. By 2:04 a.m. the temperature was within 2 of the dry ice point for all three probes (one in the pharynx, one on the brain surface and one outside the head, in the coolant bath). I sacked out at 3 and didn't wake up till 9, despite 2 different alarms. The additional 2 degrees cooldown thus happened unobserved.
My middle finger is sore today from hauling so much dry ice, which repeatedly had to be packed in the plastic container that holds the silcool coolant and head, as well as around the outside of this cylindrical container. It rests inside another container, with an inch or so of clearance around the outside.
Those of us still here, Arthur, Hugh, Mike and I, went to the Pizza Hut for dinner. It was jokingly suggested that this diary be shredded, when I brought up the subject of covering the Kent case.
[One staff member] resumed work on suspension paperwork, on the dining table upstairs, which happens to be close to the A-9000 dewar. Thus I have to come up there to log the temperature, something not popular with [him]. He left some papers on a corner of the stair railing and when I went by I brushed them causing them all to tumble to the floor, whereupon he exploded, "God damn you, you f-----g klutz!" Later though he was conciliatory. "You knew you were a f-----g klutz, didn't you?" to which I grinned and said indeed I did.
Afternoon: Call from Dave Pizer -- wants to go on a trip to northern Calif. starting around January 4 and wants to know if I want to go along. (Yes!)
Dec. 14. Mike called [a mortician] and learned some disturbing news. Dora Kent appears to be a coroner's case because no physician was in attendance when she died. (Mike also wished me luck on the northern California trip.)
Dec. 15. A day to remember well. I believe it could easily qualify as "interesting" in the Chinese sense.
Saul Kent was out here this morning dressed in a blue-gray suit. He questioned me about whether Steve Harris had said he wanted to come out for the suspension. I said I wasn't aware of his wish to come out here during the suspension; he hadn't said anything to that effect in an earlier conversation with me. Steve's absence when Dora Kent died is creating problems. Scott Greene and I may both be at fault, at least to some degree, for not getting back to Steve on the night of the 11th when she went down. But Mike is accepting most of the blame for (1) not recognizing the serious difficulty he would get into if Steve, as attending physician, was not able to claim on the death certificate that he was present when she died, and (2) for not calling Steve himself but trusting it to "minions."
So now the difficulties appear nontrivial, and Dora's death at the facility may not be treated kindly by the Coroner. There is the possibility of a raid, confiscation of records, etc. Some hasty decisions were arrived at. We packed up a load of the more critical files and Arthur took them away in his car. I packed a few of my own papers in my car. Arthur, before he left, instructed me to put stamps on the copies of Cryonics, latest issue, and mail them out. Hugh gave me $200 cash for the postage and other expenses. I sat most of the day in the parking lot of the post office at Tyler Hole licking and sticking stamps. Arthur [had] told me that, when I was finished, to "go have yourself a nice vegetarian meal" [since I am a vegetarian] and come back, park in an inconspicuous place near but not within obvious sight of the gate, knock on the door, and "tell the person answering that you're selling Girl Scout cookies." When I finally did get finished (I ran out of money, that is, all but about $7 or 8, and I spent about $15 of my own) it was nearly 6 p.m. and almost all the issues were mailed.
I went to Papi's and had a vegetarian Burrito, partly out of respect for Arthur (I would have done better, I think, with just my usual fare), and called Hugh. He said I ought to "kill time" for another 2 hrs. and call him back. (A strange request!) I went to the post office (the one near Pierce and La Sierra, where I have a P.O. box) and found I'd been sent a package of "Immortalist" back issues from Mae Junod. Then I went around the corner, parked under a bright light, looked over the back issues for awhile, and dozed. After this I went into a Thrifty store and browsed their books and magazines. Finally I called Hugh again. He said to come on back.
On returning, Mike and Hugh were the only ones there. Hugh said the death certificate "couldn't get through the Bureau of Vital Statistics" and it had to be referred to the coroner. Mike, sick with the flu and frightened, said he didn't know what to do and was leaving the matter up to Jerry Leaf. I felt sorry for Mike, who mused sadly that this will "probably be the end of Alcor." He went home, but then there was a call to Hugh, who said that "the geniuses" [Board members] had decided that we (meaning Hugh and I) are "liabilities" and must leave the facility that night. Soon Mike was back again, stretched out uncomfortably in the crew room, while Hugh and I did some last minute things. Mike said it wasn't his decision -- they just want to make the most favorable impression tomorrow when, as seems likely, the Coroner will come over. This means as few people as possible should be there just the most knowledgeable and best prepared for whatever cross-examination may be carried out.
Hugh and I left for his residence in Long Beach (in separate vehicles). A few minutes into the trip he stopped, said he'd forgotten something, and we headed back. This was nearly midnight.
Dec. 16. Back at the lab I logged Bedford's capsule, something I'd forgotten to do before, in the confusion (though I had logged the other two). Then we started back, arriving at our destination around two in the morning.
A cold, rainy night here in Long Beach.
Daylight: still raining. News from Alcor -- coroner was at the lab, took the body for autopsy, the head is still there and its fate hangs in the balance, a frightening prospect. The Coroner, though, was said to be very considerate and understanding. Mike called again evening, said it's okay to come back any time, though we are still in the dark about how this case is finally to be resolved.
Thoughts on a person dying. I watched Dora Kent expire in the operating room of the Alcor facility, at approximately 12:25 a.m. Dec. 11. As I watched the breathing stop the first time, then resume, then stop again it occurred to me how fuzzy the boundary between life and death is by the present inadequate criteria. Also I watched the body begin to darken and turn blue after breathing stopped the first time, then I saw it lighten and the color return under the artificial respiration and later. After this it was always in the pink, and in fact even the frozen head looked quite good, when I chanced to see it a few days later. (This was early Sunday morning, the 13th, when the head was transferred out of dry ice storage to begin descent to liquid nitrogen temperature.) All this suggests that cryonic suspension does at least offer some hope of eventually restoring a person to a conscious, functioning state, and that other approaches to death, by comparison, [are] unspeakable rites of human sacrifice. Another "unspeakable rite," a crime of incalculable proportion, is perpetrated by maintaining a person in a nursing home until their mind is gone, using whatever artificial means are available. Many people think they would do violence to the "soul" or be offensive to "God" if they dared to consider euthanasia or, what would be infinitely better, cryonic suspension itself, as an alternative to the hideous insults inflicted on nursing home patients. Well-meaning people who contribute to the mental destruction of the elderly are living tribute to the bankruptcy of the superstitions of the past that once offered harmless comfort in the face of death.
Around 10:30 Mike called again. When the problem with Dora came up Hugh said, "your apprehensions don't do a damn thing for you at this point." Mike is under severe strain "waiting for the ax to fall whether it does or not." Arthur has managed to punch a hole in his gas tank and Hugh advises fixing it with chewing gum.
A comment on the present predicament: This may be Alcor's greatest crisis. The decision of a coroner could determine whether Alcor stands or falls, and whether any person living today will also witness the end of the aging process. The pessimistic assessment is that the coroner will feel it is his duty to follow whatever would be done routinely, and that that will require examination of the head, with thawing and the brutal butchery of autopsy. If this decision is reached, then we may still be able to fight it through the courts, and perhaps some less injurious examination will be adequate (for example, through MRI which has been suggested for other patients too). On the other hand, perhaps the coroner will waive autopsy of the head, based on his findings in the case of the (headless) body. Establishing the mental state of the woman prior to death, and that she controlled no financial or other significant assets, should rule out the usual motives for foul play. Maybe our videotape of the procedure will be a deciding factor. Let's hope it works for the best and that Dora Kent, already savaged by the vicious injury to which she was subjected in the last years of her life, will be spared further insults. May she rest in peace until a time, however distant, when she can be restored to youthful health and vigor.
Dec. 17. Carlos called early morning. Arthur was in some kind of a jam somewhere with his car -- what he mainly needed was money to pay for repairs, I gather. So Hugh went out after him, and I went back to the lab (forgetting some clothes & other items that will cause inconvenience). Mike was at the lab when I got there, sick with the flu, and stayed the night. Hugh didn't get in until after I'd gone to sleep.
Daylight: Jerry Leaf was there in the morning, answering phone calls, and telling me he'd not let the patient be destroyed if they demanded her (her head of course, that is). We have legal recourse, and noninvasive testing methods, etc. Saul Kent came over a little later. No word from Coroner by 12:30 so [our mortician] was contacted. He had talked to the C. who said they would not be finished until late tomorrow. Then another call came in, that the C. wanted a copy of the death certificate -- to be used in making out a new certificate. Jerry & Saul went over & were gone several hrs. Jerry spent about 1 1/2 hrs. talking to the coroner, he said afterward, who seems interested in the idea of cryonics & said it might be worth presenting at a coroners' meeting. Also, we learned that the coroner is coming out tomorrow to take depositions from those of us who witnessed the death, after which the matter is to be resolved -- so they say.
Dec. 18. Scott Greene flew out this morning. Jerry Leaf was here as he has been for several days now. Mike, Hugh, I and the others waited all morning. The Coroner never showed up. Saul Kent was over the afternoon, while Scott left. (Jerry said of the Coroner & his crew that if they couldn't keep their side of the bargain, "f--k 'em.") Saul & Jerry were talking about some sensitive matters relating to contingency plans for the patient, and Mike said to me, "why don't you disappear for awhile." I asked if he wanted me to leave the facility altogether but he said no. So I went to the crew room, shut the door, tried to read, fell into a sleep that lasted an hour. I dreamed that Saul was asking if I wanted a certain job of sorting out thousands of silver dollars, and I said sure, if they were real silver (not the more recent clad issues). When I woke up I could hear Mike, Saul and Jerry plainly discussing, among other things, the fact that some of Alcor's assets are in gold. I came out & the talk was on less sensitive subjects--I was not asked again to disappear. (Mike also apologized later for his generally strung out condition caused by this whole ordeal.)
Evening: We got word that a gross autopsy examination had been performed on the body it is in our favor but a final decision will not be reached until Monday [the 21st] probably if not later. Jerry says the chance[s] it will go our way (and the Coroner will not ask for Dora) are "99.5%" and Steve Harris later echoed this optimism when Mike called.
Dave Pizer called this evening. Mike cautioned me to emphasize the need for confidentiality, which I did, when I outlined briefly what has been going on here. Dave wants me to make plane reservations to fly back from San Francisco to Ontario Airport Jan. 9. We will leave for northern California on the 6th, visit with ACS people and the Winters institute and perhaps do an interview.
Later: Mike wants to get Dora down to LN2 temperature by Sunday "so we don't get caught with our ass hanging in the breeze" -- that is -- so she can be moved quickly in case her safety is threatened. (The Coroner promised not to ask for the head to be autopsied unless the cause of death cannot be determined otherwise. We, of course, will seek legal means to halt any removal from suspension that may be demanded.) Even Mike, however, is showing optimism, though very guardedly.
One analogy he used was to compare us to a lobster. "Come on, we need you to go from your big pond into this smaller pond, but everything will be all right. True, the smaller pond will start to get a little warm but don't worry, your difficulties will all be over soon," etc. The Coroner has been "understanding" up to now and may be so in the future but we don't know for sure.
The Coroner was reportedly impressed when he came out here on Wednesday (the 16th), saying we had a better facility than his own and that what we were doing is right.
Dec. 19 (Saturday) .Up till 4:30 a.m. reading book on the Titanic, "The Night Lives On." Daylight, finished reading the book, a good one. Mike is going to do Christmas shopping today & try to work toward a more normal existence again, he says. (He didn't show up at the lab today.)
Hugh put one more bucket of LN2 into the A-9000 with our patient to bring the total to 3. Temperature was around 180 as midnight approached.
Dec. 20 (Sunday). Temperature continued to fall today, down to about 190 by midnight. Mike emptied a bucket of LN2 onto the top of the TA60.
Dec. 21 (Monday). Early. Patient moved out of the facility -- took us till 4 a.m. Morning: Tired, stayed in bed until about 11. Jerry Leaf here from 8 a.m. on. No call from the Coroner. [Our mortician] came over around 1 driving a shiny black Cadillac hearse. Mike showed him around the facility. Other than that, things are moving slowly. The Coroner's office is having their Christmas party today.
Dec. 22. The Coroner & his deputy were over this afternoon. They have found "pneumonia" as the cause of death as we maintained. They said they have been tied up in meetings for days over this, and recommended we try to arrange cryonic suspensions under the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act.
Dec. 23. Mike was in a cheery mood for awhile.
Press Enterprise called evening. They are doing an article on us. Mike says it will "go out nationwide." Hugh created some further consternation because, through his direction, Mrs. Kent's severed hands were not given over to be cremated along with the rest of her body. [The hands had originally been intended for analysis in a perfusion study, but in the controversy this project was abandoned.] Some frantic phone calls followed -- one to [our mortician] and one to Jerry Leaf. We don't know what we'll do with the hands. I saw Mike sitting morosely on a stool, head in (his own) hands, all cheer evaporated, situation normal again.
Hugh left for Long Beach, Mike for home finally, and I had the facility to myself -- me and the patients, that is.
Dec. 24. Was called morning by a reporter from [a] radio news station. The Press-Enterprise article has "hit the fan" evidently, though I hadn't had a chance to see it yet at that point. I gave them some basic information such as that Alcor charges $100K for whole-body freezing and $35K for head-only, but declined to comment on the Kent affair. Jerry Leaf arrived, then left for the holidays. More reporters called later. Mike came over afternoon. Place had to be spruced up at near light-speed, papers shoved into drawers, floors swept, etc. Some reporters showed up unannounced at 2:30 and Mike, then in tennies and jeans, made them wait an hour. Then the interview began. Saul Kent came over and was interviewed, and gave a spirited and reasoned defense of this whole matter, I thought.
Then we started getting reports of how the media is treating us. Horrible. We starved Mrs. Kent 6 days before cutting off her head, according to one version. I watched reports at 10 and 11 p.m. ". . . A bizarre story from Riverside . . ." Mike did a good job defending us, considering, and Saul came across well, but we were bludgeoned unmercifully.
Dec. 25. I was foaming at the mouth over this, when everybody else had gone. We should have frozen Mrs. Kent years ago! Cutting off the head and freezing it solid is a lot less severe penalty than what nature often has in store: consider such brutal atrocities as organic brain syndrome, Alzheimer's disease or Huntington's chorea. Come to think of it, any form of death is a sacrifice of brain cells, isn't it? Except when followed by cryonic suspension.
Again I spent the night alone here while Hugh was in Long Beach. He showed up around 10:30, enough time for me to get to a Christmas party. A good party, good food and all, but I was too burned out to really get into it -- having had only 4 hrs sleep. This was because I went to bed late (3) and was called by a worried Thomas Donaldson next morning around 7. He had been reading the newspapers. I referred him to Hugh, gave him the Long Beach number, and he was reassured, I was told later.
Dec. 26. Evening -- Arthur Carlos came over, bringing back most of the stuff that was taken away on the 15th, including my diary [minus the last few days, naturally]. Arthur agreed "the cat is out of the bag" on Dora Kent so I can admit she was brought into the facility, and commit other facts to writing which I will be doing retroactively.
Dec. 27. A gratefully uneventful day. Picked up mail at my P.O. box -- a letter from [a non-cryonicist friend]. Says he "couldn't stomach" what I had to say in my Dec. 12 letter on cooling the patient but "at least you like it."
Dec. 28. Supposedly Bogan, the deputy coroner assigned to us, is saying criminal charges could still be filed based on the fact that we are using cardiac arrest rather than brain death as the criterion for death. This is an utter absurdity!
Dec. 29. [T]he day not too eventful. Ran some copies of materials for information requests, monitored nitrogen levels in the patients' dewars, etc. Things are in a state of tension again.
Dec. 30. Steve Harris is to be interviewed by the coroner's office, I understand. The matter may take a long time to resolve, and we don't know the outcome, so we are back to pins and needles.
There was a closed meeting of the Alcor Board of Directors here at the facility (with Saul Kent, who is not a Board member, also in attendance). The purpose was to decide what to do about Dora Kent, in view of the latest developments with the coroner. [She was brought back into the facility a few days ago, about the 23rd, when things seemed safe.] Mike asked me to leave during this meeting, which started at 7:30 p.m., mainly because, he said, legal counsel advised it for my own protection. I said I wasn't much worried about personal danger. Mike smiled and said, "Oh yeah? Then I have a job for you -- just say you did it" -- meaning I caused the death of Dora Kent. I said, "Okay, I'll go to prison for ten years, we'll learn a lot about the prime numbers, and Alcor can get on with its work." This caused some merriment.
Anyway, I left just before the meeting started. At one point I was in Walden Bookstore, and saw a book entitled "Coroner" and another, "Coroner at Large" by none other than Thomas T. Noguchi, former coroner of Los Angeles County, something that did not improve my peace of mind. It also struck me how trapped in mysticism, confusion and ignorance the public is, judging by the books they read, and it certainly poses a threat to those of us seeking liberation from mortality.
Tried to call the facility around 10, only got the answering service. Tried again around eleven, Mike answered, "Come home, Mike," so I did.
Dec. 31. Dora Kent was moved out of the facility for the second time around 2 a.m. For about 10 days she (her head that is, of course) has been in a dewar that rests inside a blue-painted plywood box.
Read a letter from [a respected cryobiologist] to Cupido, the Chief Deputy Coroner and the one who is now handling the Kent case. It was a good, positive endorsement of cryonics, while requesting confidentiality.
Daylight. Steve Harris was grilled for an hour or 2 by 2 deputy coroners and someone from the California Medical Association. He fielded the questions well and gave a favorable image of cryonics and Alcor. Mike was rather more optimistic after talking to him, though he sounded worried at first.
Worked some on music, was doing this as the last seconds of 1987 ticked away.
Jan. 1, 1988. Up till nearly 4, to complete all chores. Awake again about 10:30.
A noisy cricket upstairs has been driving me up the wall for some time. It is lodged in the woodwork, under the floorboards, and is impossible to access. Neither Hugh nor I really want to poison it, which is the only way to get it out.
New Years' was not too eventful, considering, which is good. Listened to Mike & Steve Harris's conversation of yesterday, where Steve says he may get reprimanded "because I signed the damn death certificate."
Jan. 2. Mike had a big tale to tell about a hot springs pool he went to yesterday. Several others [there too]. One of them started talking about freezing mice in liquid nitrogen, then about the Dora Kent case, using much street language. "They cut this f----n' b---h's head off and froze it, and she paid 'em to do it -- no it was her son who paid 'em, and she was still alive," and so on. Mike kept a straight face through it all & didn't say much, fearing it would spoil the evening.
Jan. 3. Worked the day on "Venturist Voice" [a newsletter promoting cryonics], finally getting [masters] printed up around 8 [p.m.] I believe. But I still had to paste on the illustrations. Worked at illustrations till midnight, except for chores.
Jan. 4. Up till nearly 8 a.m. but finished the illos, all but the cover page. Slept about 1 hr., awakened by fierce leg cramps. Stood flat footed on the floor to make them subside. By then I was wide awake. At Pro Printing photocopied a halftone and had them trim it for a cover design. Took completed masters of VV to PIP Printing; they say they'll have it done by Wednesday.
Mike talked to the deputy coroner Bogan today, and was told that criminal charges "cannot be ruled out." We may all be called to testify. Jerry Leaf called later to ask if I was willing to give permission to have my name & phone # given to the Coroner's office. I gave permission. Jerry then talked to Hugh who also gave permission I think.
At a later discussion Mike, Hugh and I were upstairs talking about possible impending events. I reiterated that I wasn't afraid of any personal danger, if we are charged with a crime. Mike & Hugh cautioned being noncommittal if questioned and it seemed the best approach.
Also talked to Dave Pizer -- he is coming on Wednesday [the 6th] not Tuesday as I had thought.
Jan. 5. Mike, in talking to [an Alcor member in Canada], read an inspiring defense of his & Alcor's position that he said he would run in Cryonics this month unless forbidden from doing so by Jerry or the Board. Among other things it expressed the view that the end of Alcor and cryonics would be "a death sentence."
Called Dave again today; he says he'll be out here about 2 p.m. tomorrow.
Jan. 6 [Wednesday]. Dave Pizer showed up. We went down to PIP and picked up "Venturist Voice" (200 copies). A long bull session evening, Mike favoring printing an article saying "we're right, they're wrong," Dave favoring a more conciliatory approach.
Jan. 7. We were to leave for northern California today (Dave & I). Before that could happen, disaster struck. A bunch of deputy coroners and other officers barged in with a search warrant and started confiscating things. They wanted the head of Dora Kent, they said in no uncertain terms, and they planned to autopsy it. Thankfully, it wasn't here. Before they realized that, they told a number of us that we could leave (without insisting that we had to). We did, Dave & I in particular, going out for lunch. Before I left I talked to one of the deputies, Regan Schmalz I believe was his name, about the possibility of doing nondestructive testing on the head, and he said come back at 2 when I could talk to the pathologist who would be in charge of the case.
When we came back , though, everything was in turmoil. The reason, it developed, was that they had failed to find the head they were counting on so much to thaw out and dissect. Mike was put in handcuffs first, then Hugh, then Dave Pizer, and (not as one to be left out of the picture) finally, me. I was also questioned rather sternly by two deputies, Bogan and Kunzman, about the whereabouts of the head and a videotape, on which I of course knew nothing, except that they obviously hadn't found them at the facility. From them I learned, rather by way of a threat, that they had seized my "notes" or in other words the diary. I escaped them by saying, "I've been advised not to comment unless I have counsel present."
We were detained at the police station several hours and questioned, along with Arthur and Carlos, who also had managed to get themselves detained. (Carlos got in some good licks through the press who showed up, though, I heard.) At one point shortly before I was fingerprinted one of the station employees asked if, when we came back in new bodies after our heads were frozen, we would have the same fingerprints. I said I thought we would, which was a cause of amusement. Eventually, though, we were all released, the rumor being that our attorney was doing what he could.
So we went back and had dinner at Pietro's, all but Mike, that is, who was taken back to the facility. Our relief was short-lived however, a frantic call from Mike reporting that "they're pulling the patients out of the dewars for identification" and something about a nitrogen burn, and for Hugh to come at once. Hugh, Arthur and Carlos took off, while Dave and I stayed behind. Dave made panicky calls to two news stations to report that patients were being taken out of suspension, then we heard that that wasn't happening, and Dave called one of the stations back to retract his earlier claim. (The other one, he said, didn't seem to understand what he was saying anyway.)
So we went back to the facility. Mike and Hugh were there, with Rick Bogan and a photographer. Mike and Hugh were lifting up the neurocans briefly to allow photographing of the name plates, I believe. No basic harm done to the patients, this time. We were reminded by the coroner's people again, before they left, that they still wanted the head.
Jan. 8. Spent the night at the facility, Dave at a motel in town. This morning I had two small red marks on the right wrist from the handcuffs, nothing more. It is quiet but very ominous. A chemicals inspector came over, but we didn't have anything particularly dangerous. Our nitrogen supplier told us today they will no longer do business with us, which caused a frantic scramble. Mike swung a deal involving the coroner no less (Chief Deputy Coroner Dan Cupido, that is) for two LS 160s on Monday. We will pay for the cylinders themselves, something not ordinarily done, and the Coroner's office will okay it. If they want to destroy us they want to do it through "legitimate" means.
Some rotten press. We are guilty of failure to have several minor permits, of operating in a light industrial zone which we aren't supposed to do, etc. This came about because the entourage yesterday included the right experts to pronounce our doom. But they recognize that the Coroner had dibs on us first, so they promise no action until his investigation is complete. We also were thought to have "explosives" concealed here, which was a misperception based on some disabled grenades and other war mementos.
Evening -- a call from Dave, who went back to Phoenix (an enviable place to be at this point). Mike thanked me for staying behind. I hope I do more good than harm.
Jan. 9. Still quiet, still ominous. Some scurrying behind the scenes with attorneys, including a Constitutional lawyer. Maybe we can get a court injunction to stop this horrid autopsy, maybe not. The fate of all our patients also hangs in the balance, however.
Mike got a liquid nitrogen burn on his foot the night of the 7th, it turns out, which is still painful today.
Jan. 10. A day of meetings. We had our regularly scheduled [Alcor] meeting [at the facility] and [despite the fact that members were at risk for possible further action by the Coroner] it was well-attended. At one point there was applause for the six of us who were detained on Thursday. An evening meeting with an attorney brought forth some interesting points. [On the subject of the confiscated diary, he expressed the opinion that it would be difficult to use that kind of information against us, which was some small relief, though I still felt badly.] I made the remark afterward that it would be nice to have him here all the time. Mike's foot is still sore, and he was wearing slippers.
Dave Pizer called.
Called [my parents] late evening. Reassuring to hear from them again.
Jan. 11. Another quiet day. Liquid nitrogen delivery -- we now have plenty. Some heartening expressions of support. Waiting and hoping for more positive developments.
Late evening. An ominous quiet has settled over everything -- Hugh says "evil little minds are at work."
Jan. 12. At 8:28 a.m. there was a call: "Rick Bogan of the Coroner's office" announcing another search. I asked if I could put on my clothes, he said okay. I got about half dressed and there was pounding on the [front] door and shouts to "open up!" I let in the Coroner's people. One of them, a tall hispanic named Portillo, grabbed me by the belt and had me take him to every room in the facility, asking as we paused in each doorway, how many people were in the operating room or the sleeping room or whatever. (Hugh was outside at this point -- I believe he was already outside when the call came, and they had me conduct the tour.) So I would ritually reply each time, "there is nobody in the ----- room." Then, after they were satisfied there was no one in the facility, they conducted me outdoors in my bare feet and settled down to serious ransacking. Hugh showed me their search warrant -- and grinned. Mainly it was stuff of Jerry's including all materials stamped UCLA which might be "stolen." (They were mostly acquired at surplus sales, Hugh said.) As usual I was terrified that they would harm the patients but otherwise calm. On the whole they were polite, bringing me a jacket (at Hugh's insistence) and then my shoes. Soon Hugh persuaded them to open the patient care bay and we positioned ourselves in front of it to keep watch. They later brought out some doughnuts which I sampled, not seeing anything morally objectionable. They tasted good but did funny things once inside--I am not able to handle junk food.
Some of the media people began to line up around the fence & Hugh & I talked to them awhile, thinking maybe we could gain a little sympathy for our side.
Finally in the afternoon, two of our attorneys, Christopher Ashworth and Gerald Polis showed up. Ashworth presented a brilliant defense of our position to the media, noting that the coroner had found nothing amiss regarding the woman's death and had issued a death certificate so stating, before trying to reverse his position, and that what happened was "crystal- clear" from our notes and that it vindicated us fully.
About then we were presented with another search warrant. I heard Mr. Polis say "oh s--t!" when he saw it. It related to seizure of "controlled substances" and other things. One of the other things was "magnetic media" I learned eventually, by which they were legally able to cart off every one of our computers. The two lawyers left shortly after the new warrant was served, around 4 I think, and Hugh and I were left to hold the fort. We were denied access to the building, as we had been all day, except for the patient care bay, one rest room and to some extent the crew room. We were offered the room for the night but Hugh decided he'd rather wait outside so he could observe the patient care bay, and I joined him. We piled some blankets in my car & settled in, me in the front seat, Hugh in the back.
Before moving into the car, though, we observed them carting off our stuff in a large flat-bed truck, and Hugh made an inventory. In addition to computers and things stamped UCLA, they took many of our drugs needed for doing suspensions.
Toward midnight, when Hugh & I were in the car (and I was asleep but Hugh was not) there was a humorous incident. The local police, seeing our gate lock had been cut and that people were inside looting, went in and rousted them out, before realizing it was the coroner's people.
Marce Johnson ordered a vegetarian pizza for us, which Hugh & I saved for tomorrow.
Jan. 13. The coroner's people completed their haul today and left around 2. Before that I had the privilege of attending a very important court hearing, in which a temporary restraining order was issued against destruction or damage of frozen human remains now maintained by Alcor, as well as the remains of Dora Kent, "if they shall be found and be found to be in cryonic suspension." This was engineered by Ashworth, with Polis tagging along. (Ashworth is a Constitutional lawyer, Polis, a criminal lawyer.) The order is good for 18 days, until a hearing scheduled for Feb. 1. The actual hearing [today] was held in closed chamber but I got word as soon as it was over. Press people were there as well as a few of the coroner's people including a man with a droopy mustache who almost never smiled, that I had often seen at the facility.
In addition to him there was another man and a woman, to round out our opposition's entourage. They didn't participate directly in the hearing, as far as I could tell, but were there only as observers. Ashworth went over and talked to them at one point, grinning and saying, "I don't believe in immortality either," before continuing with what I gather was a defense of his position.
Yesterday Hugh & I received word from Carlos not to talk to the media anymore and this was reiterated by Polis. (Ashworth was more amenable.) Arthur was even more insistent about it later in the evening. I saw in the Riverside "Press-Enterprise" where I was quoted as saying that the reason Alcor "refused to give up the head" was because we didn't want the remains to be autopsied, something I had not actually claimed and which could be quite damaging if the coroner took it seriously. I also learned that my picture was in the L.A. "Times" but didn't see the article.
So finally, evening descended. I made a good-tasting dinner of lentils, peas and wheat that took 45 minutes to cook in the microwave but was otherwise okay, and surveyed the damage. (Hugh had videotaped everything shortly after we regained control of the building.) Most printed materials I remembered were still there. Notable exceptions: copies of the two most recent issues of "Venturist Voice" that were out on a lab table in the central hallway, and an article on this whole incident written by Mike.
Jan. 14. Bill Faloon says they are getting a top forensic pathologist who is willing to testify that nothing would be gained by autopsying the head, and who will testify at the Feb. 1 hearing. Meanwhile the coroner (Ray Carrillo) held a press conference today. I received word from Carlos, at about 5:13 p.m., that [Carrillo] had fairly destroyed himself, and that the press were now on our side.
Epilogue: Behind-the-scenes events proceeded smoothly, and the Feb. 1 hearing was a great victory for Alcor and cryonics. A "preliminary injunction" was granted protecting Mrs. Kent and the other Alcor patients from autopsy. This was not the end of our troubles with the Coroner's office, however. The focus of attention shifted from destruction of the patients to trying to charge the staff with a crime. On grounds that certain metabolites were found in Mrs. Kent's body when the Coroner autopsied her body, it was concluded she must have been alive at the start of cryonic suspension; hence, a new death certificate was issued listing the mode of death as "homicide." Eventually Carrillo publicly accused the Alcor team of murder. (The metabolites were not inconsistent with the level of support, oxygenation, etc., that is normally given cryonics patients after death, something that is not covered in current forensic training.) There was an effort to force three of the participants (Scott Greene, Hugh Hixon and myself) to testify about what had happened. Since it was a homicide case, we were entitled under State law to "transactional immunity" or protection from incriminating each other with our testimony, a point our opponents disputed. The case went all the way to the California Supreme Court; our position was vindicated, and the attempt to establish homicide was abandoned. Another effort, however, was launched to brand the Alcor staff with "practicing medicine without a license" and Dr. Harris with aiding and abetting such practice. Eventually that too stalled, mainly for lack of evidence of substantial infractions. (It's hard to claim you're practicing medicine on a legally dead person, for instance. Another point raised was that the Good Samaritan was, by all indications, practicing medicine without a license; in other words, some significance attaches to whether actual harm was done or intended.) A third line of attack was to try to charge Alcor with "grand theft" of materials from UCLA. The Coroner might have had a case going against us, for awhile, because during the raids his people seized many of the receipts that proved we had legitimately purchased the "stolen" equipment! Thankfully that childish attempt, reminiscent of the worst trumped-up cases in totalitarian countries, also came unglued.
Meanwhile Alcor personnel had launched their own litigation against the Coroner's office for false arrest during the raid of Jan. 7. (Many of us hadn't been told we were being arrested or why, or advised of our rights, etc. Principal credit for the suit goes to David Pizer, who furnished a $6,000 deposit for legal fees.) The case was eventually settled out of court, in our favor, as reported above. Another consequence was that our confiscated property (including much of the foregoing record, along with many other things) was returned.
The election for County Coroner in 1990 was interesting. Carrillo's office had by then accumulated a record of silly mistakes: a mistaken cremation of a suspected homicide victim before it could be properly examined; employees using the picnic table in their back yard for autopsies and leaving 24 boxes of human body parts in the garage when they moved out of the house; alleged theft of valuables from bodies; mishandling of the Liberace affair -- and, Dora Kent. During the campaign, an unidentified individual dressed as a clown paraded in front of the Coroner's office, and claimed he was Ray Carrillo. Carrillo lost the election and his successor has been rather more conservative, living up to his stated intention to be a "quiet coroner."
A final legacy of the Kent case is that it probably to some extent fueled another legal struggle, between Alcor and the Department of Health Services. This developed because the next Alcor suspension after Mrs. Kent, in May 1988 when feeling was still running high, was a whole body. It thus was necessary to obtain a "disposition permit" or VS-9 form (neuros, on the other hand, can be conveniently treated as "tissue samples"). The DHS would not issue such a certificate, because one requirement is to specify the means of disposition, and "cryonic suspension" wasn't on the list when the current laws were drafted back in 1939. Cryonics, said the DHS, thus is "illegal" and the local D.A. should prosecute us. (And by implication, the patients should all be thawed and our dreams must end.) Another long legal battle ensued. Very recently, Alcor was completely vindicated. We can now practice cryonics with the same legality in which people are buried, burned, or sliced up for study. We hope for better than this, but it's certainly a start.