In 2003 Charles Platt organized a week-long standby training in Arizona to teach a gathering of long-time and new Alcor members basic and advanced standby procedures. This well-attended meeting was one of the most ambitious gatherings to educate U.S. and international Alcor members in the knowledge and skills to participate in a case, from communicating with hospital staff to remote blood washout. Retrospectively, the timing of this event was problematic. For right then there were two ongoing developments that would largely render this model of doing cryonics procedures obsolete: the creation of Suspended Animation in Florida and the hiring of medical professionals at Alcor.
The rationale behind this transition is eminently understandable. If resources permit, why not run cryonics cases with medical professionals instead of motivated members and volunteers? If cryonics is a medical procedure, should it not also be conducted by medical professionals? As we look back on the rise of medical contracting in cryonics, however, I think some caveats and sobering observations should be made.
As Charles Platt astutely observes in his article “The Most Challenging Procedure” in this issue of the magazine, consistently deploying successful standbys in cryonics is a monumental challenge. Unless an organization has the resources to employ multiple medical professionals (paramedic, perfusionist, etc.) full-time, a typical case becomes a complex juggling act to ensure
enough medical professionals (who often are meaningfully employed elsewhere) can be at the bedside at the right time. In addition, medical professionals may have the skillsets to perform a subset of cryonics procedures but not all elements of a cryonics case are routinely taught in medicine. Case reports sometimes reveal a lack of understanding about the rationale of cryonics procedures and how to prioritize them in specific circumstances. Engaging medical contractors in extensive education about cryonics procedures and its subtleties is necessary but time-consuming and costly.
One unfortunate consequence of the medical professional contractor model of cryonics is that it can lead to the decline of member engagement in casework, neglected readiness resources and people at the main cryonics organization, and the atrophy of local cryonics groups. Cryonics organizations are especially vulnerable to this outcome when they agree to exclusively contract with an organization for their standbys. This is quite troubling from a community perspective but it also threatens the basic local standby infrastructure that that even professional standby organizations often need to draw upon to be effective.
In mainstream medicine there is a need for non-professionals to perform “first aid” before professionals arrive. In cryonics there is an even stronger need for such “first aid” because the professionals often are deployed out-of-state and may arrive too late. In such cases, local cryonics first aid responders will be forced to conduct the most important stabilization procedures such as rapid cooling and circulation. If professional standby organizations are not willing to take “post-mortem” cases, a compromised local cryonics infrastructure can be (literally) deadly.
What I want to propose here is to move toward a “hybrid” model of cryonics standby. The first layer of such a standby is the employment of several medical professionals at the cryonics organization who remain available for local and remote casework. The next layer is the establishment (or rejuvenation) of vibrant local member groups that can do basic cryonics first aid procedures and aid the cryonics organization or contract standby organizations. The third layer is to have in place a number of non-exclusive contracts with professional standby organizations to conduct casework or assist in Alcor-run cases. When this hybrid model is pursued with accountability and sound quality control, the benefits of both models of cryonics can be reaped.
Originally published as a column in Cryonics magazine, January -February, 2018