by Max More
My membership with Alcor started 25 years ago, as of September 14. When I joined a quarter-century ago, I was the 67th member and Alcor had cryopreserved just six patients. Where will we be in another 25 years?
No one knows. But it’s not implausible that, if we make it happen, we will be on a more financially secure footing for the very long term; we will be using advances such as medical monitoring, new means of accelerating initial cooling, intermediate temperature storage, and will be caring for hundreds of patients. Or, Alcor might no longer exist, having been shut down by regulators or having gone bankrupt. Or we might be hanging onto to existence while providing sub-optimal cryopreservations. Which outcome is realized is at least partly up to us.
At the annual Strategic Meeting a couple of weeks ago, I outlined my strategic priorities. The deluge of tasks that need attending to makes it tough to focus sufficiently on what matters most. Creating explicit strategic priorities helps create and maintain that focus. The four priorities, broadly defined, are robustness, growth, finances, and research.
Robustness includes succession planning, documentation of processes, patient security, political protection and relationship-building, continuous improvement of operations, and a media action team to respond to criticism. Growth includes a speakers’ bureau, presence at conferences, updated and improved promotional material, use of social media, online video, and development of international membership and response capability. Finances include maintaining a balanced budget, pursuing a solution to underfunding and supporting implementation, and finding new benefactors. Research starts with getting broad input into possible research goals consistent with Alcor’s mission, especially high-value projects that are not being done by others.
With great regret, I authorized 11 membership terminations. (Although one of these 11, at the last moment, responded to our messages and made arrangements to pay their dues.) Originally there were 30 members scheduled for membership cancellation, but the number was whittled down by Diane and Bonnie’s efforts. These are members who not only have not paid dues in a long time (often two years or longer), but mostly were not even responding to attempts to reach them.
We are in the process of reducing our liquid nitrogen costs. Our supplier has agreed to a lower price, even if we make no other changes. We will discuss with the PCT board options for further long-term savings by leasing or buying a 3000 gallon bulk tank.
Communications, promotion, and growth
Barry Aarons and I met to discuss two main items. The first was the need to continue the practice of Alcor leaders meeting with local politicians, so that they know our face and are less likely to introduce or support legislation or regulations harmful to our operations and our patients. We also discussed having speakers from Alcor (primarily but not limited to myself) give talks to organizations in the area.
Over the last month or so, I made three major trips. The first of these was a networking trip to Northern California. There I visited and talked to those involved in four organizations, each of whom included several Alcor members: Halcyon Molecular, Singularity University, SENS Foundation (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence), and BioTime. Halcyon has a number of Alcor members. The principals of the company and I discussed the possibility of making Alcor membership a company benefit (subsidizing or covering the dues).
The second trip was to Cambridge, England for the fifth SENS conference, organized by Alcor member Aubrey de Grey. On the afternoon of Saturday September 3, I gave a talk on “Cryonic Life Extension”. This placed cryopreservation in the context of regenerative medicine and our shared goals. All signs suggest that the talk was well received—something I was unsure of, given that much of the audience now consists of mainstream researchers who may have been unfamiliar with the idea. Several people said they had been thinking about signing up, but would now definitely do so. We may even receive funding for research or other projects.
Several people based in Europe (England, Italy, Switzerland, and other countries) said they would like to see Alcor better support Europeans, and some of those people expressed willingness to help develop our European capabilities.
The third trip was a visit to Cryonics Institute in Michigan. Here’s a short, personal summary: With Mike Perry, I took the 6:10am plane to Detroit, arriving at 12:59pm on Saturday September 17. After picking up a rental car, and driving the 37 or so miles from the airport, then checking in at a nearby hotel, we drove to CI at around 5:00pm.
Andy Zawacki opened the door and showed us in. His friendly welcome set the tone for the weekend. I was shocked to find that Ben Best was lying down, looking in very poor shape. Two days earlier he had fallen off a tall ladder and badly hit his head. His injuries looked serious and over the weekend he was confined to a wheelchair, since he had also hurt his leg. Hopefully he has finally been checked out at a hospital and is on the mend.
At 6:00pm there was a dinner attended by perhaps 20 people, including Mike and myself. I sat across from David Ettinger (and next to Connie Ettinger), who clearly enjoyed telling stories. Conversation was pleasant and the meal was adequate, although I couldn’t bring myself to order the jellyfish.
On Sunday September 18 was the Annual General Meeting from 2:00pm, followed by the memorial for Ettinger at 4:00pm. Mike and I arrived at CI at least a couple of hours before the AGM, giving us time to talk to those present and to explore the building. There’s a small front office area, with no real reception space, and a few smallish rooms, once of which includes a conference table. The patient storage area is a large space with two rows of 8 cryostats each. Apparently, with CI’s 107th patients (coincidentally exactly the same number as Alcor), the 16 cryostats have room for another 27 patients. They will probably be filled in four or five years.
I met and talked with quite a few CI officials and members. All were friendly. At the AGM, I was particularly interested in the financial reports. At the end of 2010, CI had $460,000 in a fund required by the Cemetery Board. They also have less than $1.4 million invested for long-term care outside the Cemetery Board minimum requirement. Returns on investments have been much lower than expected (less than 1%), but liquid nitrogen costs have also been lower. CI has less $15,000 per patient for long-term maintenance and eventual revival.
In their research report, Aschwin and Chana de Wolf discussed levels of care and ischemic damage, noting that two-thirds of CI members suffered considerable cold and warm ischemia, severely compromising their condition. I was struck by the complete lack of response to that slide. No one objected, no one contradicted them, and no one even seemed bothered by it.
The memorial for Robert Ettinger started around 4:00pm. Several CI officials expressed their perspectives on the man. The most extensive (and entertaining) comments were by David Ettinger. He talked of his father being courageous to the point of being reckless. Among his stories was one of Ettinger being mugged outside the old CI building. He gave the mugger $20 but refused to give him the rest. After a struggle, the mugger ended up with no money and no gun. With his friend Dave Shore, he made rocket fuel in the attic of his parent’s house. In the Battle of the Bulge he disobeyed orders and stood up; shrapnel got his legs but would have hit his head if he hadn’t got up. David said his father was “Intermittently very lazy. Sloppy. Dressed like a bum. Dogmatic. Strong and awful sense of humor.” I was disappointed at not being invited to say anything (as I had expected), but no one else was invited to speak about Ettinger.
Overall, not only was it interesting to see CI for the first time, I thought that the attitudes expressed indicated a more friendly relationship between Alcor and CI.