Cryonics (from Greek κρύος ‘kryos-‘ meaning ‘icy cold’) is the low-temperature preservation of animals (including humans) who cannot be sustained by contemporary medicine, with the hope that healing and resuscitation may be possible in the future.
Not many Funeral Directors, I would say, take Cryonics at all seriously. Maybe because it’s an ‘American Thing’. Pie in the sky dreams for gullible persons of more wealth than realisation.
Well, that’s up to them, but think on about cremation. Once a curious, if not downright unholy idea of left field Victorians.
The first known cremation in the UK was that of Honoretta Brooks Pratt at Hanover Square in 1769 (illegally)
The first legal cremation followed in 1885 In Woking, one of just 3 that year when 597,357 deaths are recorded. The following year 10 and in 1888 following the cremation of 28 persons the management at Woking saw fit to add a chapel, waiting room & other facilities for mourners.
In 1968 official UK figures show cremation overtook burial for the first time and today approximately 70% of all UK funerals are cremation, higher still in London and other urban areas.
So is Cryonic suspension going to be the next cremation? Probably not, but those Funeral Directors who at least take time to understand the process and requirements of Cryonics stand to be ‘ahead of the game’ should it take off, even modestly so.
In November 2014 Rowland Brothers Funeral Directors in South London hosted a meeting and training session with Alcor Life Extension Foundation of Arizona, USA. Rowland Brothers International act as worldwide agents to both Alcor and Cryonics Institute USA, as well as working in partnership with Cryonics UK, providing a European hub for the care of Members requiring repatriation to the States.
Until then Rowland Brothers International had offered repatriation services for UK members but, following a number of difficult cases in Europe and Asia, it became apparent that using London as a ‘Staging post’ could help meet the best practices sought by Alcor. These requirements are often in conflict with local legalities as seen in Reunion Island where an Alcor Member has been restricted from leaving the Island due to local laws forbidding any form of disposal other than burial or cremation.
The November meeting set out the ‘best practice’ for the preservation of the deceased as well as forming a ‘Rapid Reaction team’ with equipment and Infusion chemicals based at RB headquarters, London. RBI provides flying embalmers to accompany Alcor staff to the place of death and appoint one of their International Agents to make full use of local resources. Alternatively, Rowland’s staff will deploy should local facilities be limited.
So what are the ‘Best Practices’ referred to above? For those who wish to revise this in detail, downloads are available at the Cryonics UK website
Cryonics Institute USA
Unsurprisingly, the single most important aim is initial speed, not necessarily throughout the whole process, but at the very time of death.
Alcor provide representation on site to all members worldwide with the intention of being with the member at the moment of death. Ideally they would administer the infusion chemicals including Heparin and Ethylene Glycol at that very moment, should it be legal. Of course, legal process can makes this difficult, with Doctors needing to confirm death before any action can be taken. Thus we try to work with the family Doctor, to speed the process, through advanced preparation.
Max More, PhD CEO, Alcor Life Extension Foundation
Much of the discussion at the November meeting revolved around this specific issue, confirmation of death and the cause of death.
So, when exactly, is someone dead?
Death is now seen as a process, more than an event: conditions once considered indicative of death are now reversible. Where in the process a dividing line is drawn between life and death depends on factors beyond the presence or absence of vital signs. In general, clinical death is neither necessary nor sufficient for a determination of legal death. A patient with working heart and lungs determined to be brain dead can be pronounced legally dead without clinical death occurring. As scientific knowledge and medicine advance, a precise medical definition of death becomes more problematic.
This is the fundamental principle of Cryonics, not only are we giving in to old age and disease when, in due course, these things may be redeemable, but are we ever actually dead?
Going back to Cremation in the 1890’s, one of the perceived benefits over burial was the elimination of premature interment due to the overly simplistic criteria for medical determination. Although I am not sure how being cremated before true death has occurred should be ‘a benefit’
Aaron Drake of Alcor promotes the view that, as we can never determine the exact moment of death it should be permissible for the process of preparing for Cryonic suspension to be incorporated into the medical examination or even final medical treatment.
Life or death, however, is not that simple. For most of Europe the process of registering death and the subsequent treatment of the deceased continually throw up problems.
Post Mortem Examination (Autopsy) of course causes delay, as well as trauma to the deceased, but is often unavoidable. In the UK the Chief Coroner has now given permission for ‘Virtual Post Mortem Examinations’ a process of scanning the body for 3D analysis, but it is expensive. Alcor are prepared to pay the cost of such examinations if authorities will allow and the facilities are available. Hopefully, this technology will spread across Europe.
Another perennial problem, specific to Europe, appears to be a reluctance to freeze the body to the required shipping temperature of -70°C. This is a straight forward process of using Dry Ice (Solid Carbon Dioxide) packed around the body, inside the shipping casket, over a period of 3-4 days. Reasons given for not being able to carry out this procedure include local legal restrictions, lack of time available before the body must be shipped, and lack of facilities. Hence it has been decided to make London the European hub as no such restrictions apply in London and we have successfully completed a number of repatriations having lowered the body temperature as described.
Other factors in London’s favour include co-operation from the US Embassy who have agreed to issue transit documents despite death occurring outside their normal jurisdiction and Operator & carrier Variations. Restrictions on bookable airfreight including the use of Dry Ice tend to be less exacting from the UK.
In 2014 Rowland Brothers looked after five Cryonic cases in Europe – please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for any cryonic suspension enquiries.