X-Message-Number: 19901
Date: Sun, 25 Aug 2002 11:40:38 -0400 (EDT)
From: Charles Platt <>
Subject: To Ralph Merkle and other risk analysts

Ralph suggests (plausibly as always) that the risk of iatrogenic death
would be reduced if physician-assisted premortem cryonics procedures are
permitted in the future.

I respectfully disagree.

While of course I would much prefer to choose when procedures begin,
instead of having to wait until literally my last gasp (which implies a
prolonged prior period of inadequate oxygenation of the brain), if we
reach a point where physicians are legitimately involved in the deaths of
patients who wish to be cryopreserved, I tend to suspect this will mean
that cryonics itself will become regulated as an extension of medicine.
This is one of my greatest fears, and would significantly affect all
aspects of the procedure and its economics.

Recently Alcor was able to switch to a totally new cryoprotectant, which
offers significantly reduced ice damage. This decision involved no
regulatory hurdles, no FDA approval, none of the millions of dollars of
testing and proof that would be required if cryonics were subject to the
same kind of oversight that we find in medicine. Likewise, we may choose
to store patients at a higher temperature than -196 for excellent reasons,
without having to justify this decision to a government body. And, we are
free to employ a variety of people as standby technicians and operating
room personnel.

While this lack of regulation may be scary to some potential clients, it
eables very rapid progress while maintaining very low costs. I believe the
cost of cryonics would become absolutely prohibitive for almost everyone
if government regulation were instituted, and all cryonics organizations
might be driven out of business if federal or state regulations were
created to govern not only perfusion but storage.

This is the kind of risk that cannot be estimated in advance, especially
because most government regulations tend to be created in response to one
highly publicized complaint, scandal, or witch-hunt--in other words, a
singularity (although not the type that Ralph is hoping for!). One highly
publicized error involving someone's pet poodle, or something equally
silly and unexpected, could bring down the wrath of a congressional
investigation of the poodle owner happens to be related to a legislator.

I consider it axiomatic that the most damaging development is the one that
you didn't foresee, or couldn't protect yourself against. The World Trade
Center attack is a classic example. In short, shit happens, and I can only
smile ruefully at attempts to quantify the amount of it that will happen
over a period of decades, and the potential impact that may result.

Of course Ralph's arguments are unassailable, within the context that they
apply. But I believe the world contains many more potential contexts, none
of which we can possibly imagine; and therefore any estimate of
probabilities will be incomplete; and therefore this entire thread has
been a big waste of time. Is anyone going to tear up his cryopreservation
documents as a result of reconsidering probabilities? I don't think so. Is
any cryoskeptic going to change his mind and sign up for preservation as a
result of hypothetical arguments about future risk? I doubt it. Thus, I
suggest our energies would be better applied elsewhere.


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