From Cryonics May 1987
An event doesn’t exist until the media announces it. Once the media announces it, it is an event whether or not it exists. — Jerry Rubin, 1960’s Berkeley radical
Unless you’ve been living in a cave recently, you’ve no doubt heard the story and seen the headlines: “Frozen Dog A Hot Topic,” “Dog Spunky After It’s Frozen In Test,” “Beagle Placed Into Suspended Animation Lives To Wag About It” Some of you even called to inquire “if ALCOR was aware of the American Cryonics Society/Trans Time breakthrough?”
THE REAL STORY
So, what’s the story? The media has gone wild but what does it mean? To careful readers of CRYONICS the answer(s) to that question will be obvious. To newer readers the answers may not seem so clear. Hopefully all of our readers, new and old, will profit from a brief review.
First of all, the facts. ACS researcher Paul Segall and his associates carried out a total body washout on a beagle dog, flushing most of the blood (down to a hematocrit of about 4%; the hematocrit is the percentage of blood which is red cells, in a dog about 48% is normal) and cooling it to 3°C. They held the animal at that temperature for 20 minutes and then rewarmed it, reinfused blood, and restored heartbeat and breathing. The dog is now alive and in apparent good health. Those are the facts and they are not in dispute.
Now for the hype. As the newspaper headlines throughout this indicate, this work has been billed as a “major medical advance.” It isn’t. First of all, as most readers of CRYONICS will know, ALCOR has been cooling dogs down to the same temperature, doing a complete blood washout (hematocrit less than 1%!), continuously perfusing the animals for 4 hours and then rewarming them to long term survival. ALCOR’s perfusate is a far more sophisticated one than the ACS solution, and ALCOR has not yet established the upper limit on how long this solution can be used to maintain animals in such a chilled, bloodless state. That is a major advance, if not a “breakthrough.”
But even beyond ALCOR’s work, as long as 20 years ago researchers were washing out dogs and even humans using techniques very similar to the ones Dr. Segall et al employed. In 1972 Gerald Klebanoff of Lackland Air Force Base successfully treated Stage IV hepatic coma by washing all the blood out of human patients and deep cooling them. Klebanoff was also successful at extended bloodless perfusion of dogs, in some instances recovering animals from up to 8 hours of continuous bloodless perfusion (J. Surgical Research, 19, 13-19 (1972)). While Klebanoff carried out his work at temperatures a few degrees warmer than Dr. Segall has, the difference is not clinically or medically significant. As far as temperature is concerned, recent work by Haneda et al (Cryobiology, 23, 483-494 (1986)) has achieved three hours of cold circulatory arrest at 3°C using dogs. Segall’s work is NOT any kind of medical, scientific, or technological breakthrough. What it is is a lot of hype, pure and simple.
Many of our readers have called to ask “How did this come about?” How did it happen that Segall and his associates were able to capture the attention of the national media and be taken as seriously as they have been? It’s a complex story, and we can only summarize it here. It starts with Dr. Segall’s Ph.D. and his connection with the University of California at Berkeley, one of the world’s most prestigious schools. With these connections, Segall was able to get his paper sponsored for presentation at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) annual meeting which was held in Washington D.C. in late March. FASEB is one of the most prestigious scientific bodies in the United States. It is important to understand this because someone in FASEB who was unfamiliar with the field of cryobiology in general, and bloodless hypothermic perfusion in particular, did not realize that Dr. Segall’s work was neither new nor of any particular importance. Not only was Dr. Segall’s abstract accepted, it was selected by FASEB for special media attention and Dr. Segall was encouraged to write up a media summary. This was released at a FASEB press conference. Perhaps most shocking of all is that this was done by FASEB on the basis of only one experiment. Normally a scientific paper claiming a “breakthrough” of this type would need the procedure performed on at least five animals before the credibility of the paper is not questioned.
The result was a chain reaction of major media attention. Dr. Segall’s work was featured on the front pages of many newspapers across the country, he was given a short interview by Jane Pauley on Good Morning America and was subsequently featured in major national publications such as People magazine and National Enquirer. At the time of this writing we have been given to understand that both Time and Newsweek will also be featuring reportage on the “miraculous frozen dog.”
The coverage of Segall’s work was typical of the publicity that ACS generates. There were no careful distinctions made between deep chilling (hypothermia) and freezing (where body water is converted to ice). And Segall, despite extensive knowledge of both Klebanoff’s and ALCOR’s far more extensive dog washout work, failed to properly cite or credit these investigators. At the FASEB presentation Segall et al also announced hydroxyethyl starch (HES) as a major discovery in hypothermic preservation of organisms, citing its effectiveness in eliminating fluid accumulation in the lungs (pulmonary edema) and other tissues, without crediting Jerry Leaf and the ALCOR research team who were the first (by several years) to discover this!
In the days following the initial FASEB press release we understand that Drs. Segall, Waitz, and Sternberg gave over 100 radio and TV interviews. We have heard and seen a number of these. At no time did Dr. Segall “set the record straight” with respect to the real (in)significance of the work by putting it into proper perspective and crediting previous investigators.
Of course, to credit previous investigators would amount to discrediting the importance of the work that Segall and his associates had conducted. What would the scientific community and the media think if they knew that other investigators had cooled animals to the same temperature, perfused them for four hours, and what’s more, perfused them with an intracellular solution (one which mimics the electrolyte and osmotic environment inside the cells) which has the potential of allowing far longer periods of ice-cold storage than the 4 hours achieved so far?
In the February issue of CRYONICS Mike Darwin noted that “the glamour acts would soon be on the scene.” He appears to have been right on target. While the possibility of this kind of thing is hardly news to ALCOR Officers and Directors we confess to being somewhat demoralized by it. Yes, we knew that this kind of thing was going to happen sooner or later, and yes, we know it’s going to continue to happen.
Nevertheless, it is irritating and demoralizing. It’s demoralizing because it means that many innocent people will be misled about the real prospects for cryonics and cryobiology. It’s demoralizing because it will no doubt confirm in the minds of our critics their worst fears about cryonics: that we are not committed to the truth or to the responsible use of science, but rather that we are willing to do anything, including using hype or deception, to achieve our ends.
The problem with hype and deception in an enterprise like cryonics is that they simply won’t work. Undoubtedly, in the short run in many undertakings they can “work” quite well. As long as you can get into and out of the system before you get caught (and there’s a steady supply of suckers who can’t communicate with each other), this approach can work remarkably well. Of course, the problem is that this approach to life rather limits what you can do.
Cryonics is the ultimate in long term efforts. In fact, what distinguishes cryonics from most other human endeavors is the expansion in time scale it represents. Very, very few human undertakings have called for major, costly, contemporary action based almost completely on a long- term evaluation of our potential future capabilities. Unfortunately for cryonicists, almost no one living today is capable of seeing far enough into the future or of taking seriously what might happen 50 or 150 years from now and to understand the utility and importance of our message. For most people the inability to function in a cryonicist’s time scale blinds them to the rationality and the immense possibilities of what we are doing.
This is a critical point. A good illustration is to look at what are now considered abnormalities in human behavior which hinge on time scale problems. Some people live from moment to moment, unable to plan for anything — sometimes not even able to plan far enough in advance to figure out where their next meal is coming from or where they’ll spend the night. Some people rob banks or shoplift simply because the only thing they can hold in their heads for any length of time is immediate gratification. This is a devastating handicap for an individual embedded in a society in which the normal time scale for human planning is a period of decades and encompasses things like buying a home with a 30-year mortgage, sending children through college, and engaging in activities like space exploration. Cryonics represents another expansion in time scale which differentiates us from the rest of the world as greatly as a vagrant or hold-up man is differentiated from contemporary society.
This discussion is relevant to the misleading press surrounding the ACS/Segall affair because the same kinds of issues are at stake. In the long term, distortive “sizzle-type” marketing is an invitation to disaster. Because of the long time period between action and feedback in cryonics it is especially important to pursue it carefully. In almost no other human undertaking is there a greater potential for fraud. The corollary to this observation must be extreme vigilance and conservatism in undertaking cryonics. We simply cannot afford a misstep. This would be true even if we lived in a world absent of bureaucrats and attorney generals. If we are to be taken seriously in such an inherently suspicious undertaking as cryonics, we must act and be serious, ever mindful of the tremendous responsibility we bear to both ourselves and others. In short, what this means is that cryonics must be handled and promoted in a fundamentally new way, with the focus being more on the long term consequences and objectives to a greater extent than has been the case with any other human endeavor to date.
Yet another demoralizing thing about the Segall affair is what it says about the world we live in. Those of us who are on the “inside,” who have worked hundreds of grueling hours on the dog total body washout work here at ALCOR, doing animal after animal and carefully exploring every aspect of the physiology and biochemistry of the model we have been using, find ourselves stunned. We knew, in principle, that this kind of thing was possible. We even knew it was likely. But nothing prepared us for the emotional reality.
And finally, there is the issue of what the long term consequences of this will be for cryonics as a whole. Hype and distortion have a way of being discovered; if and when this one wears thin will we cryonicists be in any position to defend ourselves against charges of fraud or to argue for rational government regulation when it is thrust upon us? Even worse, will we be able to prevent it when angry citizens call for all cryonics to be prohibited by law?
At this point, just about the only things we feel sure about are that when judgment day comes (and it will come), the media will be there too. Next time, we guarantee it won’t be nearly so much “fun.”