“If you think back half a century or so, if somebody stopped breathing and their heart stopped beating we would’ve checked them and said they’re dead,” said Max More, CEO of the Scottsdale-based Alcor.
“Our view is that when we call someone dead it’s a bit of an arbitrary line. In fact they are in need of a rescue.” That “Rescue” begins the moment a doctor declares a patient dead. Alcor’s team then prepares an ice bath and begins administering 16 medications and variations of antifreeze until the patient’s temperature drops to near freezing.
“The critical thing is how fast we get to someone and how quickly we start the cooling process,” More said.
In order to ensure that can happen, Alcor stations equipped teams in the U.K., Canada and Germany and offers members a $10,000 incentive to legally die in Scottsdale, where the record for getting a patient cooled down and prepped for an operation is 35 minutes.
Next, a contracted surgeon removes a patient’s head if the member selected Alcor’s “Neuro” option, as it’s euphemistically called, in hopes that a new body can be grown with a member’s DNA once it comes time to be thawed out.
More says the trust currently boasts a total of over $10 million, which is supported by Alcor’s most recent nonprofit 990 filings. When More came to the U.S. in 1986 from Britain to train at Alcor, it was run by volunteers and he signed up as Alcor’s 67th member. The company has hired a full-time staff of eight employees, boosted its membership to more than 1,000, and is looking into doubling the size of its patient care bay.
While Alcor said its membership includes billionaire tech sector investor Peter Thiel and popular tech stock, Google Chief Engineer Ray Kurzweil, high-profile names have led to scrutiny in the past. The company found itself at the center of a media firestorm after a former employee raised allegations that Alcor mistreated the remains of baseball great Ted Williams.
The company’s subsequent defamation suit, which challenged the ex-employee’s account, was dismissed but Alcor has sought to reinstate it. Elaine Walker, 47, is a single mother and part-time college instructor at Scottsdale Community College who signed up to have her head frozen at Alcor nine years ago, after discovering cryonics in an online newsgroup back in the pre-Google days of the 1990s.
Having just come out of college, she initially saw the cost of Alcor’s services as prohibitive, until the company allowed front-funding requirements with life insurance policies.
“I mean unless it’s extremely physically painful or something, and I’ll ask the cyborg next to me, ‘what happened, did we make it to Mars?'”
Can cryonics work? In the eyes of the law, Alcor is under no commitment to deliver life after death.
After legal death has been declared the government views Alcor’s 147 “Patients” as nothing more than bodies and organs donated to science under the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, which means even though Alcor signs a contract with its members saying it will deliver its cryonics services, it is under loose obligations to do so.
As Michio Kaku, futurist and professor of theoretical physics at the City College of New York said: “When people ask me a scientific question I have to give them results that are testable, that are reproducible and falsifiable. Unfortunately cryonics offers none of the above.” While advocates of cryonics point to successful in-vitro fertilization of frozen embryos and experiments with simpler animals, Kaku points to the lacking human evidence.
Pointing to the existence of over 100 billion neurons and the minute fraction so far mapped by science, Columbia neuroscientist Dr. Ken Miller likened cryonics to “Selling tickets to a ride you can’t go on.”