Special Guest Writers: John Schloendorn & Simone Syed
Sunday began with a panel discussion about the ethics of life and death, the relationship between cryonics and critical care medicine, and about the definition of death, which has profound implications for cryonics. The panelists were critical care physician David Crippen, Alcor COO Tanya Jones, and bioethicist Leslie Whetstine. Next, Steven Harris, MD introduced his perfluorocarbon-based rapid body cooling system, which has applications in cryonics and emergency medicine. Calvin Mercer, PhD addressed the relationship between religion and life extension practices, such as cryonics. Christine Petersen then provided a survey of existing life extension technologies, and, finally, Chris Heward, PhD wrapped up with an in-depth account of the aging measurement experiment being conducted at Kronos Science Laboratory.
David Crippen, MD, Tanya Jones, Leslie Whetstine, PhD (by Simone Syed)
Cryonics and Critical Care Medicine Panel
One of the main topics covered by this panel was the definition of death, which is currently fragmented. Does death result with failure of the heart or with brain death? The heart can still beat in a brain-dead person, and the brain can still work in a body whose heart has stopped. There needs to be a unified definition of death, instead of the splintered criteria currently utilized.
Death upon cardiac death helps in cryonics cases because cryonics technicians are concerned about the future viability of the brain. Clearly, brain death is not desired. Leslie, however, finds that she cannot rely solely on the cardiac definition of death because the person is certainly still revivable. Therefore, she does not consider them dead until they cannot be revived. Cryonic facilities must establish a rapport with hospitals to ensure that the stabilization process is started as soon as possible after cardiac arrest, instead of waiting around for the brain to die.
To rebut Leslie’s statement that the industry may be considered dishonest due to conflict with the legal terminology of death, Tanya Jones stated that cryonics patients are only “mostly dead,” therefore she does not believe that she is being dishonest in any form. Leslie also admits that she is very unaware of the implications of cryonics in a legal sense.
There was some discussion of the definition of death that clinicians must adhere to and the criteria that must be met for procurement of organs. Clinicians take the time to go through an entire list of criteria in order to establish, without a doubt in their minds, that the patient is in fact dead. However, it can be difficult to determine whether or not brain death has occurred, especially since there are always emerging standards and methods of determination.
Dr. David Crippen stated that the person does not have to be only legally dead, but rather permanently dead. How do you know if someone is permanently dead, though? Waiting around for so-called permanent death wastes precious time in the process of cryonics, and as pointed out by one adamant questioner during the Q&A session, the point of cryonics is that the people who are being cryopreserved are at least partially viable and living on the cellular level, otherwise there would be no use in applying the cryonics protocol.
Tanya commented that it would be ideal for cryopreservation to become a medical procedure performed in hospitals under circumstances that allow for optimal viability of the brain. Acceptance in the medical community requires people to start a dialogue with their families and their primary care physicians. By familiarizing those around them with the concept of cryonics, it becomes a more visible and credible technology.
Steven B. Harris, MD (by John Schloendorn)
Rapid Hypothermia Induction Methods and Brain Oxygen Requirements in Resuscitation and Cryonics
Dr. Steven B. Harris is a medical doctor with board certifications in internal medicine and geriatrics. Steven talked to us about his investigational rapid body cooling procedure. At a temperature drop of more than 1 degree C/min in dogs, this is the fastest known procedure for cooling bodies. The protocol involves injecting a cooled perfluorocarbon-oxygen mix into the patient’s lungs, essentially using the lungs as a heat-exchanger for the body. The lungs are extremely well-suited for this, because their surface area is very large, and all the body’s blood circuits flow through it.
The perfluorocarbons then rapidly evaporate, cooling the blood in the process. Steven showed data suggesting that his procedure causes an efficient transfer of heat from the brain and the peripheral organs and touched on the applications of rapid cooling procedures in both resuscitation and cryonics. For instance, cooling can be used to reduce ischemic damage to heart attack victims until they can be transported to a hospital for resuscitation. Even using traditional, slower cooling techniques, mild clinical benefits of cooling in such cases have been demonstrated. For cryonics, rapid cooling is of course desirable in the initial stages because it reduces ischemic damage and other forms of damage to the patient’s brain. Steven took us through various instrumental improvements he has made to the system over the years.
Calvin Mercer, PhD (by John Schloendorn)
Cryonics and Religion: Friends or Foes?
Dr. Mercer started by stating that religions are incredibly powerful constructs in our culture. Therefore, whoever wishes to fare well in this world may consider interacting with people of various religious faiths. According to Calvin, life extensionists, in their perpetual quest for science funding, may desire productive interactions with large numbers of religious people. On the contrary, however, history shows that religion quite often opposes scientific progress or particular scientific procedures.
So, how can productive interactions with religions take place? As a historian of religion, Dr. Mercer notes that all religions have evolved over time and will continue to evolve. Thoughtful, religious people, in turn, should consciously direct this process. This process will be difficult and the outcome somewhat unpredictable due to the complex interactions between individuals belonging to various “camps” in each religious association. Examples include anthropocentric vs. theocentric, this-worldly vs. other-worldly, pragmatic vs. dogmatic, or revisionist vs. traditionalist attitudes. This complexity can frustrate “outsiders” seeking to interact with scholars of any particular religion. Mercer broadly divided these camps into liberal forces (terms preceeding the “vs.” above) and conservative forces (terms following the “vs.” above).
Liberal-leaning individuals are often open to the ideas of science and life extension, but they are often cautious of potential adverse social effects. The conservative camp, on the other hand, is mostly concerned with the possibility of a contradiction between life extension practices and their religious dogma. Violating such dogma may incur divine punishment, and conforming to said dogma may entice divine reward, thus providing a major force-driving decision in the life of a conservative. Based on this fear of punishment, Calvin proposes an intriguing way to show the conservative camp that life extension is compatible with their beliefs: If life extension could be understood as a way to gain more time to figure out how to best conform with God’s Will on this earth, conservatives might appreciate it as a way to reduce their odds of divine punishment and improve their odds of divine reward.
There was some discussion, as earlier in the day, about the definition of death. Like cryonicists, religious people have varying definitions of death. Most of these are spiritually-based, but they may have morally relevant correlations with cryonicists’ scientifically-based definitions. Flexible death definitions, too, could provide some of the mechanics needed to dodge head-on conflicts with conservative dogmas.
Christine Peterson (by Simone Syed)
Life Extension: Good News, Bad News, Surprising News
Christine discussed getting serious about life extension and how it can be a fun thing. We are trying to extend healthy life, not extend an unhealthy period of old age, and the term health extension does not imply increasing total years.
Christine states that it would be nice to be able to take a pill everyday for all the days that you want to live, and when you are finished living, then simply stop taking the pill. Unfortunately, we do not have such a pill now, and we do not have the science to make one either. But she quotes Bill Clinton as saying, “We want to live forever, and we are getting there.”
Various approaches give us many different ways to seek life extension, including living a healthy lifestyle and using nanotechnology to repair bodies on a cellular level and a molecular level. We would like true nanomedicine that is reliable to control processes on the biological level. Christine says that we need to start applying anti-aging methods in order to buy some time before the more complex methods actually become viable and advocates these ways to buy some time right now:
Physical risk reduction
Sex: quality for women, quantity for men
She also encourages people to get biomarker testing to get a baseline before starting a life extension program.
One aggressive approach to life extension is calorie restriction. This works in rats, but not in fruit flies, for instance. So, it is still unknown whether it will work in humans. However, the tests done on monkeys show that those that are on a restrictive diet look much better than those not on the diet. Regardless, being on a healthy diet is a good idea, and it should be implemented. Exercise is also important. Christine recommends walking about 10,000 steps a day to stay fit.
Christine Peterson takes a lot of time to discuss how she feels about food and eating. It was rather informative, particularly for people who have limited knowledge about life extension practices.
Christiopher B Heward (By John Schloendorn)
The Kronos Longitudinal Aging Study: The Measurement of Human Aging
The rationale behind the Kronos program for identifying biomarkers of aging is to measure human aging in as much detail as possible, so that pathology can be predicted before it occurs and the efficacy of anti-aging interventions can be monitored in near real-time. The program measures hundreds of variables throughout the body, including physiological, biochemical and metabolic parameters, which all deteriorate with aging. Each of the markers individually suffers within a huge amount of variance. Kronos seeks to use statistics to put their mutually dependent and independent markers together into one coherent image of the gradual physiological decline we suffer in aging.
It seems apparent that an organism can live only as long as its weakest critical system. Thus, long-lived persons appear to age not necessarily more slowly, but more uniformly in all organs. The Kronos program should become able to identify the fastest-declining system far ahead of time. It could then be pushed onto a slower track with a targeted intervention. This would require undergoing the biomarker testing at a reasonably young age.
Of special interest to cryonicists is Alzheimer’s disease, because it threatens to destroy personality before cryopreservation. Kronos has identified multiple new genetic variations that pre-dispose people to Alzheimer’s disease. This could lay the foundation for personalized preventative Alzheimer’s treatments.
Finally, Dr. Heward touched on the much-debated Women’s Health Initiative, which failed to offer the expected benefits of estrogen replacement in post-menopausal women. Kronos discovered that this study included only very old women, because they wanted to include death as an end-point. Kronos is now enrolling younger women, in whom estrogen levels have only recently declined, because the Kronos biomarker program can act as a substitute for the death end-point in the clinical trials. These younger women are arguably more likely to benefit from hormone replacement, because they will spend less or no time with depressed estrogen levels.