Funeral Director Participation in Cryonics

Originally published in Cryonics magazine, 1st Quarter, 2020

Joseph Klockgether’s 1970 address about the potential collaboration between funeral directors and cryonics organizations is a product of its time in terms of optimism about the growth of cryonics, but remarkably up-to-date in terms of what funeral directors can do to assist in a successful human cryopreservation.

Funeral Director assistance in cryonics can come roughly in three forms:

1. Ad-hoc utilization of cooperating funeral directors to assist in procedural, logistical, and regulatory aspects of a cryonics case. Often these funeral homes are identified after contacting several of them in the course of managing a cryonics case.

2. Repeated cooperation with a known funeral director. In such cases, a cooperating and dependable funeral director was identified prior or during a case and this relationship is continued in future cases.

3. The cryonics organization has a close relationship with a funeral director. In the most favorable situation, the funeral director is strongly supportive of cryonics or even has cryonics arrangements himself. The funeral director (or his staff) attends cryonics meetings and training and actively collaborates to optimize his role in a cryonics case.

Funeral director cooperation of the first kind cannot always be avoided but basically reflects poor planning of the cryonics organization or regional group. Or perhaps one might say that it reflects a lack of interest of the cryonics organization to encourage local groups or individuals to establish enduring and productive relationships with local funeral directors. In cases of ad-hoc or sporadic contact, a funeral director cannot be expected to correctly comply with any kind of cryonics logistical or shipping procedures unfamiliar to him. This is not a fault of the funeral director; it is simply unrealistic for a new funeral home to properly educate themselves about cryonics procedures and shipping instructions. Such circumstances call for detailed documentation, good communication, and having (local) people onsite to ensure compliance with cryonics organization directions.

If a funeral director is well known to the cryonics organization, such requirements can be somewhat relaxed but having people onsite and providing photographic evidence of proper compliance and local verification remains a must.

If a cryonics organization has a strong, enduring, relationship with a funeral director (or the funeral director is a cryonicist himself) the kind of scrutiny that would be proper would be similar to the kind of scrutiny that would be recommended for cooperating with existing SST (Standby, Stabilization and Transport) organizations.

Three issues that need considerable attention in cooperating with funeral directors are (1) transport from the hospital (or hospice) to the funeral home (2) surgical assistance (3) shipping of the patient. There is such a vast difference between comprehensive cryonics stabilization procedures (rapid cooling, cardiopulmonary support, and medications administration) that basic patient pick-up and transport would only be an option in case the cryonics organization (or its contractors) cannot arrive in time and local assistance is not available. The only exception to this rule is where a funeral home is an active, well-staffed, component of existing SST operations (a rarity). A similar argument applies to surgical assistance. If no appropriate medical staff can be deployed in time, a funeral director can be asked to assist in establishing vascular access under the supervision of the cryonics organization and on-site team members. This would usually entail neck vessel or femoral surgery to assist in washout or field cryoprotection.

One of the most important and sensitive topics is the assistance of a funeral director in cooling and shipping. These tasks often seem so intuitively simple that there is a tendency to trust funeral directors to comply with the cryonics organization’s directions. Unfortunately, cryonics organizations have learned the hard way that verbal directions or even detailed written instructions are not sufficient to ensure compliance. As much as there are overlapping areas of interest of funeral directors and cryonics organizations, funeral directors are usually not in the business of applying rapid (emergency) procedures. One issue of particular concern is a misunderstanding of ice packing instructions (too little, too late, water ice vs dry ice) and long-distance shipping requirements (insulation, leaking prevention, replenishing the ice used during the cooling process prior to shipping). Local assistance, oversight, and photographic documentation prior to authorization shipment are essential to avoid disastrous outcomes (warming or thawing of the patient).

The observations above may make it seem that the productive relationship between funeral directors and cryonics organizations is more akin to getting out of each other’s way than the magnificent cooperation envisioned in the Klockgether article. Given the low popularity of cryonics it is not likely that any funeral home can expect to substantially grow its operations and profits in dealing with cryonics organizations. Carefully nurturing enduring (local) cooperation between cryonics organizations and cryonics providers remains important, however, and avoiding last-minute, ad-hoc utilization of funeral directors should be a last resort. In smaller countries having an actively interested and proactive funeral director can be key for delivering cryonics services in particular.