Monday, 31 May 2010

"Cryonics: What, Why, and How" at Oxford University

I had the pleasure recently of speaking to a group of 60 or so engineers, scientists, and philosophers at Oxford University, having been invited by Alex Flint of the Oxford Transhumanists group.

I had been asked to give an overview of cryonics in general, and the situation regarding cryonics in the UK in particular. This was quite pleasing to deliver, given the various recent positive developments in our area.

I called the presentation "Cryonics: what, why, and how" and set about answering those questions;

* What cryonics is - with an emphasis on outlining the basics in fashion that makes clear the premises
* Why cryonics, despite the fact a (fully developed) human has not (yet) been brought back from cryosuspension, is a demonstrably viable medical procedure
* How cryonics is implemented - with a focus on the (now good and rapidly excelling) situation in the UK

In terms of how I went about the above, I will give only a nutshell version notes here, but:

An important part of the "what" included my adjustment to the standard definition of cryonics; I redefined cryonics thus:

"Cryonics is the science of using lowered temperatures to suspend the biochemical processes that would otherwise further harm the body of a (legally) dead person."

This is an improvement on previous definitions that have generally involved such terms as "suspending the body of a..." which is not very clear and leaves room for ambiguity. It is much clear to elucidate what exactly is being "suspended", using the word in a more meaningful fashion.

It is also an improvement on definitions that just say "dead" rather than "(legally) dead". The term "dead" is remarkably nebulous if one does not include some kind of qualifier. By loose definitions, many people "come back from the dead" if they suffer clinical death that is successfully reversed by the application of cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Note well: if such a person (who was clinically dead and reanimated by CPR) had enjoyed the benefit of a doctor on the scene who noted the clinical death and pronounced him dead, then he would have been not only clinically dead but also legally dead as well - so, just like a cryonics patient. And, just like the cryonics patient, he had a good chance of revival if given the necessary treatment (in his case, CPR; in the case of a cryonics patient, CPS, cooling in a PIB, administration of medications, perfusion, and further cooling).

It also is a better definition than most because it omits the common "in the hope that future medical technology will be able to restore them to health"; since this is something that comes after cryonics, and is not cryonics itself, so why has it been previously included in the definition of cryonics? It is rather unreasonable to suggest that the definition of something should include mention of in what ways it is not the panacea that it never claimed to be.

One does not define a quadruple heart bypass surgery as "the process of disconnecting the heart of a terminally ill person and plumbing it back in again, this time attached with bits of leg, in the hope that medical care afterwards will be able to restore them to health".

So why has cryonics previously suffered such shoddy defining? The answer is obvious, and is analogous to how if you had performed CPR prior to the 1950s you'd have been arrested for molesting a corpse (which would also be a poor definition of that activity, by the way).

As for why cryonics is (despite a (fully developed) human not (yet) being returned from cryopreservation) a demonstrably viable medical procedure, I point to the obvious and abundant proofs of principle; including, but not limited to:

* Cryopreservation and later rewarming of human embryos such that the survival rate of cryopreserved embryos is quite good
* Studies demonstrating that time spent in cryopreservation does not affect the viability of stored embryos
* Studies in which small mammals (eg rats) have been suspended around freezing temperatures and restored to viability
* Studies in which large mammals (eg dogs) have been suspended to close to freezing temperatures and restored to viability
* A case study in which a dog was suspended below zero degrees Celsius and restored to viability
* Case studies of comatose patients that demonstrate that brain functions can cease totally and yet still be restarted later without extensive memory loss
* The fact that it has been demonstrated by example that an organ can be vitrified, rewarmed, and transplanted with viability.

Regards to the "how" element, I focussed on my own field, that of the standby, stabilisation, and transport side of cryonics services, being less qualified to speak on the finer details of the cool-down between -96 and -196 degrees, as the last my side of the work sees of the patient is at dry ice temperatures rather than liquid nitrogen (which is performed at the facility of the patient's chosen long term storage provider).

I gave an overview of the start-to-finish of the SST process, and spoke briefly on what occurs thereafter.

As part of the explanation of the SST process, I talked the audience through the following parts:

* Cardiac arrest
* Resuscitation failure
* Continued cardiopulmonary support (Michigan Instruments / Ambu-CardioPump / Zoll AutoPulse)
* PIB and squid
* Medications (and meds support kit use; IVs, F.A.S.T intra-osseous infuser, CombiTube, etc)
* Transport in specialised ambulance
* Washout and perfusion with vitrification solution (benefits cf. other solutions such as 8M glycerol, or even simply mRPS-2, as these had been our options prior to the availability of CI VM-1 in the UK)
* Further cool-down to -96 degrees
* Transport in Sinclair dry ice shipper

With respect to the final preparations made at the other end, I skirted through these briefly, and mainly used that section to talk about the very promising likelihood of viability, citing various studies that demonstrate this.

As I had the slides to hand from a previous speaking engagement, I also made mention of some peripheral aspects of CUK's recent activities, situations in the media, etc.

I additionally touched on the progressive implementation of reliable cryonics emergency standby, stabilisation, and transport capabilities through Europe, something that has been very slow progress but is very soon about to accelerate very rapidly indeed.

Upon coming to what would be the end of my talk, it occurred to me that I had not addressed any of the philosophical considerations, and spoken only of the engineering and scientific aspects. To this end, I gave a short overview of the various common philosophical objections to cryonics, and demonstrated how each of those objections was based on bad logic - contrariwise highlighting how the logical arguments in favour of cryopreservation are pretty much unassailable.

I thereafter fielded questions on the topic I had covered, and also on a few that I hadn't, but are peripheral to cryonics (such as uploading, and suchlike).

Some very insightful questions from members of the audience, addressing sociological aspects that tend to pass most people by. As the evening's primary topic (cryonics: what, why, and how) had attracted a lot of interest, I ended up in a very productive dialogue with the audience that took me up the two hour mark, by which time I had to dash to catch a train (the perils of a busy life; no rest for the wicked), rather than stay for more questions / continue in a pub as invited.

Perhaps next time!

All in all, a great evening.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Cryonics UK: One Year On

I spoke recently to the UK Transhumanist Association in London (on the 16th of May), on the topic "Cryonics UK: One Year On - An Update from David Styles".

As the title suggested, the purpose of my talk was to inform the world regarding what progress has been made during the first year of my tenure as Organiser for Cryonics UK. I was happy to report a lot of positive developments:

Further details of Cryonics UK can be found at