Dear Editors of the New York Times:
As the executive director of the Cryogenic Society of America (CSA) and a subscriber to the New York Times, I was very concerned with the story you ran on Sunday, September 13’s front page and on two following pages, “Hoping to Transcend Death, via Cryonics: Young Woman’s Brain Is Preserved on Chance It May One Day Be Revived,” by Amy Harmon, about Kim Suozzi, the young woman who decided to have her brain put in storage by cryonics.
This young couple seeking to preserve their relationship and hoping in some way to store and eventually restore the functioning of the woman’s brain are not as unusual as the story implies. For years Alcor Life Extension Foundation has publicized many stories of persons who felt they needed to be preserved with the hope that they could be revived sometime in the future. Other sources, including a Discovery Channel TV special entitled “Immortality on Ice,” have reported similar situations. I also have had calls from persons considering the process, even from a woman who wanted to preserve her beloved dog (though CSA does not endorse cryonics in any way). The stories are often equally heart-tugging. It is an impulse born from caring for another. But the hope at this time is really futile and it seems to me wrong to exploit those emotions, which run high at the time of the loved one’s death.
Because of CSA’s association with experts working every day with liquid nitrogen (and the even colder liquid helium), I am well aware of the effects of that cryogen on living tissue, let along on organs. While it would be wonderful if we were now able to freeze tissue without the formation of ice crystals that tear apart the cells, and then also great if we could freeze organs, with their disparate tissues that freeze in different ways and in different time spans, it is not really possible. Nor is it possible to avoid the further destruction of tissue and organs from defrosting. Your reporter should have investigated further and would have found out that the “antifreeze” used by cryonicists does not prevent crystal formation entirely.
For that matter, companies working with food freezing are still struggling with this problem!
In fact, Ms. Harmon does say that “current methods for cooling and preserving brains at cryogenic temperatures, the only other known means to forestall decay, [do not] ensure that their fragile wiring was not damaged.” Indeed.
The story’s appearing on your front page as well as two more pages, of the Sunday paper, gives much more credence to the questionable pseudo-scientific organizations than they deserve, especially from our newspaper of record. The coverage is really not objective, in that the reporter did not seek out respected persons in the cryogenic field to comment on Alcor’s claims, nor others to comment on the brain “researchers” cited. She seemed to go along with her sources picking and choosing “facts” to support their claims.
I wonder where is the proof behind the claims of “experts” to eventually reconstruct “the mind.” It is clear that much progress has been made in studying the human brain, but the practical research cited is on tiny pieces of tiny animal brains, if that. Is it proven that this leads to understanding, let along reconstructing, of the mind? It is clear the young couple were grasping at these tiny rays of hope, but to give the researchers the amount of credence this story does is not the kind of professional journalism we expect from your newspaper.
After all the publicity the writer gives to the cryonicists, very little is made of the fact that they did not live up to their promise to be there on the spot to pick up the body and they failed to freeze the whole brain! Don’t you think this is a pretty significant failure in light of the third of the $80,000 that “pays for medical personnel to be on call for death,” and the rest of the money that paid for what should have been successful processing and care of their customer?
Finally, I want to point out a basic fact that is totally ignored by all the parties mentioned in this story, except for the girl’s father: the subjects of cryonics are DEAD. Not in suspended animation. Their bodies are partially vitrified! What research is out there that promises we can bring them back to life? Electrical impulses coursing through a computer? That is not life. I believe this should be mentioned when discussing the promises of cryonics.