X-Message-Number: 20113
From: "Steve Harris" <>
References: <>
Subject: Commentary on Miami Herald Article Quotes, by Steve Harris
Date: Thu, 19 Sep 2002 19:23:44 -0600

I had some problems with the views quoted by some of the establishment
experts in the Miami Herald article. Therefore below find:


Preserving bodies for the future - science or science fiction?"

With COMMENTS by Steven B. Harris, M.D.

"Critics -- which include nearly all mainstream scientists -- dismiss the
optimism of cryonicists as wildly exaggerated and fanciful.

''They are effectively destroying the body and preserving the pieces, hoping
someone in the future can put the pieces back together,'' observed Georgia
Institute of Technology professor Jens Karlsson, an expert in cryogenic
tissue preservation. Cryonics, he said, ``is generally viewed as a fringe

As was the idea of manned heavier-than-air flight, heart transplant,
artificial hearts, laser weapons, space travel, cloning of mammals, and so
on. Once upon a time, they were all "science fiction." No longer. There's
nothing "pseudo-scientific" about speculating about advances in science in
the future, and planning for them. For example, DNA samples from endangered
species are now being preserved, in hopes that we will later be able to
clone them, even though we're nowhere near being able to do so now, in many
cases. But is THAT experiment "pseudoscientific"?  No more so than the
standard practice of archeologists, who deliberately preserve some part of
every site untouched, in the expectation that archeological techniques will
improve in the future. They can't prove that such techniques will improve in
the future, but in the past, they always have. So, is this practice foolish?

Cryonics is a long-term medical experiment (an experiment in neural
archeology, if you will). Cryonics is of course NOT accepted, standard,
proven, orthodox medicine. But nobody ever claimed it was. The question
before us is not whether 9 out of 10 doctors recommend it, but whether or
not it is foolish.

"Most cryobiologists -- scientists who study the effects of cold on animal
and plant tissue -- abhor the topic."

So?  It is also true that others don't abhor it. The majority in a
scientific field isn't always right. EVERY new and revolutionary idea in
science, from Pasteur's disease/germ theory to Einstein's relativity theory,
started out being held by only a minority of experts. Max Planck proposed
that science progresses only "funeral by funeral" (of old scientists). He
wasn't completely right, but there's enough truth in the statement to make
it pithy.

''The largest society in the field, the Society of Cryobiology, explicitly
states in its bylaws that those practicing cryonics are not allowed in the
society and will be removed if discovered,'' said a prominent cryobiologist
and member of the society's board of directors, who asked that he not be

A dozen years ago he'd have been proud to be identified.  Why not now? When
an organization starts to be secretive about just who thinks what
"officially" about an issue, that is evidence that the position is starting
to be get controversial (i.e., there is some significant disagreement about
it). The Society of Cryobiology has never exercised that clause to exclude
any member, even though it does contain members sympathetic to cryonics, and
everyone in the Society knows it. The present working policy of the
organization is in fact closer to "don't ask, don't tell."  That represents
social change.

"Skeptics consider Alcor's $120,000 price tag for full-body preservation
wasted money."

And that's fine. For ANY given piece of research spending on a very
long-term payoff, from the Superconducting Super Collider to the
International Space Station, one can find many skeptical professionals in
the field, who believe it to be wasted money. All large projects emerge from

However, cryonicists are not spending government money, but instead are
paying for their own medical experiment. Yes, many people don't think they
are being wise. However, again, so what? Remember, the March of Dimes paid
for the first polio vaccine research by Salk because the federal government
wouldn't-- the establishment thought such research was premature, and would
be wasted money. They were wrong. This last century holds a long list of
people later proven right, from Robert Goddard to Craig Venter, whose
research the federal government initially thought was a waste of money, and
refused to fund. History is the judge of truth, not government grants
success, nor present academic majority opinion.

''They couldn't pay me to do it,'' said Donna J. Osterhout, an assistant
professor of neuroscience at the State University of New York Upstate
Medical Hospital in Syracuse. ``It's such folly at this point in time."

If it's folly, this author wants to know first why anyone couldn't PAY Dr.
Osterhout to do it? This makes no sense. She could use the money to go to
movies, or donate it to the poor. If cryonics is not going to work, what is
she scared of?

"It's such folly at this point in time..." ?? What if it doesn't turn out to
be folly, in the future, Dr. Osterhout? How are you planning to apologize,
given the consequences?

[Dr. Osterhout]: "Knowing what we do about science at present and what we
need to learn, it won't work.''

If Dr. Osterhout knows something about neuroscience that is good evidence it
won't work, and can't ever be made to work in the future, this author would
very much like her to come out with it. Perhaps she told the reporter, who
refused to print it?

And now for the leftist sociological arguments:

"It won't matter much to those now in cold storage if cryonic preservation
fails -- they'll still be dead. But some question whether promoting the
promise that a deceased loved one could live again is a cruel thing to do to

''We already have a problem dealing with death,'' said Kenneth Goodman,
director of the University of Miami's Bioethics Program. ``My fear is that
it will increasingly prevent people from arriving at mature views about
death and dying.''

Dr. Goodman no doubt thinks his own views on death are "mature," except that
he forgot to say what they are. Was that out of cowardice at being out of
the mainstream?

As Dr. Goodman must well know, the majority of Americans NOW think that
consciousness survives destruction of the brain, and they hope for a
physical resurrection of the body. If that position on theistic resurrection
is not "mature," it follows that this set of beliefs, because so prevalent
in the population, must surely do more harm to a society which cannot "deal
with death" than will belief in the tenets of cryonics, which are held only
by a small minority of people. In that case, Dr. Goodman's path is clear: he
needs to attack mainstream religion.  If Dr. Goodman is an
atheist/materialist who thinks death is and always must be the end, and that
those who think otherwise are not "mature" people, and who do harm to
society by thinking otherwise, then Dr. Goodman has a long list of
mainstream foes to get through before he gets down to the few people who are
cryonicists. My suggestion for him: let him have the guts, in that case, to
come out with his full agenda. Is he holding back in speaking out against
most Christians (say) for the same reason that animal rights activists throw
paint on women in fur coats, but not bikers in leather jackets? It's always
easy to go after relatively powerless minorities first, is it not?

On the other hand, if Dr. Goodman himself actually agrees with the majority
and thinks that those who hope for theistic resurrection of cremated brains,
are "mature," while at the same time those who hope for technological
resurrection of cryopreserved brains are "immature," then this author
believes he still has some explaining to do. For example, how does he feel
about those who place hopes in Santa Claus, say-- or the Tooth Fairy?

''I personally feel that it is inevitable that we will perfect suspended
animation in 10 to 20 years,'' said Bill Faloon, a founder of Fort
Lauderdale-based Life Extension Foundation, an organization for people
interested in extending the human life span.

Not likely, say mainstream scientists.

''This doesn't pass the straight-face test,'' said UM's Goodman. ``There
just is no science there. The idea that some time in the future scientists
will be able to reconstitute people with the same memories and knowledge --
they're not just talking about violating the laws of nature. That's optimism
on steroids.''

Any given timeline, of course, may indeed be optimism. The idea that we'd
have men on the moon less than half a century after Robert Goddard started
fooling around with small liquid fueled rockets, was optimism on steroids.
But it violated no physical law. This author would like to know what
physical laws Dr. Goodman thinks would be violated by a success in cryonics.
Without a violation of physical law being involved, why should it not just a
matter of time (albeit perhaps a long time) before technology solves this,
or any other, naturally solvable problem in medicine?

"Experts can't even say for certain what makes people who they are, Goodman
argues. Even if a cryopreserved human could be reanimated, would it still be
the person who was frozen?

''Think of a memory from childhood,'' Goodman said. ``Where'd that come
from? What combination of cells and electrical impulses was able to summon
that up? That's a scientific mystery.''

Indeed. So this author believes, also. But given that Dr. Goodman does, one
would think that he would therefore be humble enough to say that he doesn't
KNOW if those memories are still preserved in a cryopreserved brain, or not.
In this latter matter we appear to have Dr. Goodman arguing against the
neuroscientist Dr. Osterhout, who is sure that "[k]nowing what we do about
science at present and what we need to learn, it [cryonics] won't work.''
One wishes that Dr. Osterhout will travel from Syracuse down to Miami to
educate the bioethicist Goodman, so that they may present a united front
against those of us who remain in the dark as to just what memories are
stored where, and how, in the structure of the brain.

And now, for the thing that REALLY scares the bioethicists:

"If cryonics ever does work, there would still be pressing ethical questions
to consider.

Who would perform the first reanimation experiments, and upon which clients?
Would people in the future even want us there? Would their notions of
ethics, morality and quality of life even permit reanimation? `SUPREME
EGOTISM' ''There is a supreme egotism in the idea of immortality,'' said
John Baust, director of the Institute of Biomedical Technology at the State
University of New York at Binghamton. ``The individual who freezes himself
or herself to come back in the future makes the assumption he will be a
contributor to that society and that they would want him.''

And why does THAT follow, we'd like to know? Being "frozen" (or
cryopreserved by other means) is a proposal and experiment, not an

But let's back up. To begin with, this author is shocked, positively
shocked, that a biomedical academic might be arguing by inference that human
beings do not have intrinsic value just on the basis of their humanity, but
rather instead only value assigned to them by others, on the basis of
whether they "contribute to society" or whether others "want" them. If Dr.
Baust made this suggestion as regards the continued survival of the
handicapped, the elderly, or those who have progressive mental or motor
diseases, the bioethical community would pillory him for a fascist. It is a
measure of the bigoted disregard which many academics hold for cryonicists
that any of them feels free to suggest this in public, as regards this group
of people. For shame.

If preserved cryonicists are ever reanimated, which is the premise here,
that means they were never truly dead to begin with, but were simply people
in a deep coma who had the potential to be wakened, and who had expressed
the desire to be wakened, when possible. The ethics of this situation, one
would think, are fairly plain. One wonders what is bothering the
"bioethicists" here.

Let the reader remember that cryonicists are paying for the trip to the
future out of their own pockets; they demand nothing proactive of the
taxpayer, or indeed of anyone who thinks the practice is folly. Cryonics is
a proposal by people who will one day be helpless-- rather like someone
under surgical anesthesia-- but who beforehand have taken whatever steps
they can to help themselves through the ordeal. The funds of some
cryonicists may or may not one day be able to pay for their own
reanimation-- we don't know. If not, in some or all cases, that doesn't mean
that charity from the future cannot be fairly ASKED for, or freely given. It
's not egotistical (in the usual sense of the word) for the drowning man to
hope to be thrown a line, instead of modestly choosing to sink. If no one,
including fellow cryonicists in the future, is willing to assist a given
cryonicist suspended today, then the problem will take care of itself,
without the use of force. So where is the problem?

This author asserts that we all ultimately march into the future every day,
wondering how much others will value us there, and what we can contribute.
Each day, we choose to live and not die, believing at least somewhat in our
own worth. As for charges of "egotism"-- if human beings really do have
intrinsic worth, it is hardly egotistical for any one human to hope that
other human beings in the future will recognize this value. Indeed, this
author suggests it would be cynical and self-hating for any person to refuse
medical care that they can afford, in order to let themselves die-- simply
out of fear that perhaps one day nobody will value them at all. How sad to
do this, as well. Dr. Baust, of course, is free to follow that path for
himself, but this author would suggest some counseling and a trial of a good
antidepressant first. As a first step in self-help, Dr. Baust may want to
took into his bathroom mirror and repeat "I'm valuable as a person.  I'm
alive, and I'd like to stay alive. And that's ..... OKAY."

"Ettinger's book captured the imagination of futurists, survivalists,
science-fiction lovers and technology buffs. Even today, the typical
cryonics client is better educated, richer and geekier than the general

This last may be true, but it's also true of nuclear physicists and
bioethicists. Let's all try to be nice to each other anyway.

Then in 1992, Darwin himself broke with Alcor and other cryonicists,
accusing them of slick marketing rather than scientific inquiry.

Let's not create false impressions. Darwin broke with some cryonicists, but
not all of them.

''I am becoming convinced that our . . . critics are quite right in
asserting that cryonics is not good science or even science at all,'' Darwin
wrote in a farewell letter now posted on the Internet.

Dramatic as the letter sounds, it turned out to be a farewell letter to
Alcor, not to cryonics. The facts are that Darwin and others (including this
author) then proceeded to form their own independent cryonics organization.

[Mike Darwin] ``At what point do we look at ourselves and ask whether what
we are doing is rational or purely a religious exercise? At what point do we
wake up and discover we are a cult?''

The answer suggested by this author is that cryonics will become a cult at
the point when all cryonics providers in the world stop doing quality
control on body cryopreservation cases, and quit worrying over whether or
not they are doing an ever-better job with each one. That has yet to happen.
The rest of the story on Mike Darwin, is that the people who took over Alcor
's cryopreservation practices in the early 90's from Darwin, thus provoking
Darwin's public comments, are now themselves gone from Alcor. In turn, many
of those who left Alcor to form their own cryonics organization at that time
because of perceived neglect of these issues, have since returned to Alcor
(those people include this author, but privacy concerns prevent being
specific about others). So long as cryonics as a global institution
somewhere retains mechanisms to be self-correcting in the face of new
physical data on cryopreservation techniques, it will never be a true
religious cult.

"Viewed one way, cryonic preservation is just another post-mortem
alternative to cremation or burial.

"Still, doubters consider any money spent on the practice a wasted

''If you have enough money to turn yourself into a Ted-sicle, then you have
enough money to help somebody in need today,'' said Goodman, the UM

And of course this is also true if you have money to pay for tennis or music
or ski lessons, or for orthodontics, or for nicer-than-minimum housing,
cars, clothing, etc, etc. If Dr. Goodman will permit this author a visit to
his home, it's probable that we can trim much fat from his lifestyle, so
that the money can be sent to needier people than Dr. Goodman, somewhere.
And if we are allowed to cut all expenses in Dr. Goodman's health practices
and medical benefits that can't be strictly supported by the hardest
standard of scientific evidence, we can no doubt find even more to spend on
the poor. This author is pretty certain that professional academic
bioethicists don't in general live like Franciscan monks.

To be sure, Dr. Goodman might complain, if we did this, that we were trying
to mind his business, instead of our own. But of course, that's just the
point.  How did cryonics spending get to be Dr. Goodman's business as a
"bioethicist"? Does any money spent selfishly on ANY aspect of living by
anyone become fair game for censure by professional "ethicists," if they
merely stick "bio" in front of their titles? How odd.

One cannot find Dr. Goodman attacking Martha Stewart Living in the
newspapers, though. That's the problem. What this author wishes to ask is
just what is it about CRYONICS which makes otherwise tolerant and liberal
people suddenly become snidely and virtuously self-righteous about how other
people spend their own money? The average cryonicist, however misdirected he
may one day turn out to be, is after all spending money trying to save his
own life, and the lives of his family. The amount of money required on
enough extra life insurance to cover cryonics is less than money spent on
the average smoking habit, or the entertainment budget for many families,
and is certainly less than the 10% tithe asked for by many churches. And yet
money spent for cryonics insurance-- which certainly produces many of the
psychological benefits that entertainment and tithing do-- bothers
bioethicists far more than entertainment and tithe spending. Why IS that,
Dr. Goodman? What's REALLY bothering you?  Are only "mainstream"
entertainments and spiritual quests and missions ethically permitted to
people? Why do some "bioethicists" think so? It's a mystery that only people
like you can explain.

It's always hazardous to speculate upon the hidden motives of other people,
but the reactions of many bioethicists and other official scientists to
cryonics don't really make sense unless interpreted in some other way. This
author's supposition is that perhaps bioethicists as a group are bothered
more by cryonicists than they are by (say) people who have themselves
cremated and launched into space, not because they don't think cryonics will
work, but because at some hidden level, they are afraid it might. That would
be intolerable from the position of the bioethicist (consider the
implications!), so it must be quite vigorously rejected. Dr. Osterhout, the
neuroscientist, is quoted as saying they couldn't PAY her to be
cryopreserved. Is she being literal? If so, again, why not? And what about
Dr. Goodman, if the money were given to his favorite charity? If he's
"mature" enough in attitudes about his own death to have already made
arrangements to have himself dissected at his local Miami medical school
(bravo if so), perhaps we can arrange for only his head to be cryopreserved,
and just his body dissected?  How about it?

Steven B. Harris, M.D.


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