Posted: February 19, 2016 at 2:49 am
The Alcor Life Extension Foundation, most often referred to as Alcor, is a Scottsdale, Arizona, USA-based nonprofit organization that researches, advocates for and performs cryonics, the preservation of humans in liquid nitrogen after legal death, with hopes of restoring them to full health when hypothetical new technology is developed in the future.
As of January 31, 2016[update], Alcor had 1060 members, 201 associate members and 144 in cryopreservation, as whole bodies or brains. Alcor also cryopreserves pets. As of November 15, 2007[update], there were 33 animals preserved.
Alcor accepts bodies in the guise of “anatomical donations” under the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act and Arizona Anatomical Gift Act for research purposes, reinforced by a court finding (Alcor, Merkle & Henson v. Mitchell.) in its favor that affirmed a constitutional right to donate one’s body for research into cryopreservation.
The organization was established as a nonprofit organization by Fred and Linda Chamberlain in California in 1972 as the Alcor Society for Solid State Hypothermia (ALCOR). Alcor was named after a faint star in the Big Dipper. The name was changed to Alcor Life Extension Foundation in 1977. The organization was conceived as a rational, technology-oriented cryonics organization that would be managed on a fiscally conservative basis. Alcor advertised in direct mailings and offered seminars in order to attract members and bring attention to the cryonics movement. The first of these seminars attracted 30 people.
On July 16, 1976, Alcor performed its first human cryopreservation on Fred Chamberlain’s father. That same year, research in cryonics began with initial funding provided by the Manrise Corporation. At that time, Alcors office consisted of a mobile surgical unit in a large van. Trans Time, Inc., a cryonics organization in the San Francisco Bay area, provided initial preservation procedures and long-term storage until Alcor began doing its own storage in 1982.
In 1977, articles of incorporation were filed in Indianapolis by the Institute for Advanced Biological Studies (IABS) and Soma, Inc. IABS was a nonprofit research startup led by a young cryonics enthusiast named Steve Bridge, while Soma was intended as a for-profit organization to provide cryopreservation and human storage services. Its president, Mike Darwin, subsequently became a president of Alcor. Bridge filled the same position many years later. IABS and Soma relocated to California in 1981. Soma was disbanded, while IABS merged with Alcor in 1982.
In 1978, Cryovita Laboratories was founded by Jerry Leaf, who had been teaching surgery at UCLA. Cryovita was a for-profit organization which provided cryopreservation and transport services for Alcor in the 1980s until Leaf’s death, at which time Alcor began providing these services on its own. Leaf and Michael Darwin collaborated to bring the first cryonics patient, Dr. James Bedford, whose body was preserved in 1967, to Alcor’s California facility in 1982.
During this time, Leaf also collaborated with Michael Darwin in a series of hypothermia experiments in which dogs were resuscitated with no measurable neurological deficit after hours in deep hypothermia, just a few degrees above zero Celsius. The blood substitute which was developed for these experiments became the basis for the washout solution used at Alcor. Together, Leaf and Darwin developed a standby-transport model for human cryonics cases with the goal of intervening immediately after cardiac arrest and minimizing ischemic injury. Leaf was cryopreserved by Alcor in 1991; since 1992, Alcor has provided its own cryopreservation as well as storage services. Today, Alcor is the only full-service cryonics organization that performs remote standbys.
Alcor grew slowly in its early years. In 1984, it merged with the Cryonics Society of South Florida. Alcor counted only 50 members in 1985, which was the year it cryopreserved its third patient. However, during this time researchers associated with Alcor contributed some of the most important techniques related to cryopreservation, eventually leading to today’s method of vitrification.
Increasing growth in membership during this period is partially attributed to the 1986 publication of Eric Drexler’s Engines of Creation, which debuted the idea of nanotechnology and contained a chapter on cryonics. In 1986, a group of Alcor members formed Symbex, a small investment company which funded a building in Riverside, California, for lease by Alcor. Alcor moved from Fullerton, California, to the new building in Riverside in 1987; Timothy Leary appeared at the grand opening. Alcor cryopreserved a members companion animal in 1986, and two people in 1987. Three human cases were handled in 1988, including the first whole body patient of Alcor’s, and one in 1989. At that time, Alcor owned 20% interest in Symbex, with a goal of 51% ownership. In September 1988, Leary announced that he had signed up with Alcor, becoming the first celebrity to become an Alcor member. Leary later switched to a different cryonics organization, CryoCare, and then changed his mind altogether. Alcor’s Vice-President, Director, head of suspension team and chief surgeon, Jerry Leaf, died suddenly of a heart attack in 1991.
By 1990, Alcor had grown to 300 members and outgrown its California headquarters, which was the largest cryonics facility in the world. The organization wanted to remain in Riverside County, but in response to concerns that the California facility was also vulnerable to earthquake risk, the organization purchased a building in Scottsdale, Arizona in 1993 and moved its stored bodies to it in 1994.
Alcor has held seven conferences on life extension technologies, with participants such as Eric Drexler, Ralph Merkle, Ray Kurzweil, Aubrey de Grey, Timothy Leary, Barbara Marx Hubbard, and Michael D. West.
In 2001, Alcor adapted cryoprotectant formulas from published scientific literature into a more concentrated formula capable of achieving ice-free preservation (vitrification) of the human brain (neurovitrification). In 2005, the vitrification process was applied to the first whole-body subject (as opposed to brain-only). This resulted in vitrification of the brain and conventional cryopreservation of the rest of the body. Work is continuing towards achieving whole-body vitrification, which is limited by the ability to fully circulate the cryoprotectant throughout the body. The vitrification used since 2000 was switched to what Alcor said was a superior solution in 2005. Canadian businessman, Robert Miller, founder of Future Electronics, has provided research funding to Alcor in the past.
Alcor is governed by a self-perpetuating board of directors. Its Scientific Advisory Board currently consists of Antonei Csoka, Aubrey de Grey, Robert Freitas, Bart Kosko, James B. Lewis, Ralph Merkle, Martine Rothblatt, and Michael D. West.
Most Alcor members fund cryonic preservation through life insurance policies which name Alcor as the beneficiary. Members who have signed up wear medical alert bracelets informing hospitals and doctors to notify Alcor in case of any emergency; in the case of a person who is known to be near death, Alcor can send a team for remote standby.
In some states, members can sign certificates stating that they wish to decline an autopsy. The cutting of the body organs (especially the brain) and blood vessels required for an autopsy makes it difficult to either preserve the body, especially the brain, without damage or perfuse the body with glycerol. The optimum preservation procedure begins less than one hour after death. Members can specify whether they wish Alcor to attempt to preserve even if an autopsy occurs, or whether they wish to be buried or cremated if an autopsy renders little hope for preservation.
In cases with remote standby, cardiopulmonary support is begun as soon as a patient is declared legally dead. Some patients were not able to receive cardiopulmonary support immediately, but their bodies have been preserved as well as possible. Alcor has a network of paramedics nationwide and seven surgeons, located in different regions, who are on call 24 hours a day. If an Alcor patient is met by a standby team (usually at a hospital, hospice, or home), the team will perform CPR to maintain blood flow to the brain and organs while simultaneously pumping an organ preservation solution through the veins.
Patients are transported as quickly as possible to Alcor headquarters in Scottsdale, where they undergo final preparations in Alcor’s cardiopulmonary bypass lab. In the Patient Care Bay they are monitored by computer sensors while kept in liquid nitrogen in dewars. Liquid nitrogen is refilled on a weekly basis. Riverside County, California deputy coroner Dan Cupido said that Alcor had better equipment than some medical facilities.
Membership dues cover one-third of Alcor’s yearly budget, with donations and case income from cryopreservations covering the rest. Alcor receives $50,000 each year from television royalties donated by a sitcom writer and producer who are in suspension. In 1997, after a substantial effort led by then-president Steve Bridge, Alcor formed the Patient Care Trust as an entirely separate entity to manage and protect the funding for storage, including owning the building. Alcor remains the only cryonics organization to segregate and protect funding in this way; the 2% annual growth of the Trust is enough for upkeep of the patients. At least $115,000 of the money received for each full body goes into this trust for future storage, $25,000 for a brain. Some members have already taken steps to do this on their own. Possessions can also be stored, via a third party.
Preserved individuals include Dick Clair, an Emmy Award-winning television sitcom writer and producer, Hall of Fame baseball legend Ted Williams and his son John Henry Williams, and futurist FM-2030.
Notable current members include: researcher Aubrey de Grey, nanotechnology pioneer Eric Drexler, engineer Keith Henson and his family, entrepreneur Saul Kent, inventor Ray Kurzweil, casino owner Don Laughlin, film director Charles Matthau, PayPal founder and venture capitalist Peter Thiel, Internet pioneer Ralph Merkle, Canadian businessman Robert Miller, futurists Max More and Natasha Vita-More, entrepreneur Luke Nosek, mathematician Edward O. Thorp, talk radio host Mark Edge, and computer security CEO Kenneth Weiss.
Magazine publisher Althea Flynt was signed up to Alcor, but her body was not able to be preserved after her death, which resulted in an autopsy. One Alcor member died in the World Trade Center in the September 11 attacks.
Membership has grown at a rate of about eight percent a year since Alcor’s inception, tripling between 1987 and 1990. The oldest stored body (by age at decease) is a 101-year-old woman, and the youngest is a 2-year-old girl. Alcor has had patients from as far as Australia. One in four of its members resides in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The membership receives Alcor’s magazine, Cryonics, published 12 times a year, but it’s also available online for free.
Before the company moved to Arizona from Riverside, California in 1994, it became a center of controversy when a county coroner ruled that Alcor client Dora Kent (Alcor board member Saul Kent’s mother) was murdered with barbiturates before her head was removed for preservation by the company’s staff. Alcor contended that the drug was administered after her death. No charges were ever filed; former Riverside County deputy coroner Alan Kunzman later claimed that this was due to mistakes and poor decision-making by others in his office.
A judge ruled that Kent was already deceased at the time of preservation, and no foul play was involved. Alcor sued the county for false arrest and illegal seizure and won both suits. The incident is credited with spurring a growth in membership for Alcor due to the resultant publicity.
In 2002, Alcor drew considerable attention when baseball star Ted Williams was placed in cryonic suspension; although Alcor maintains privacy of its patients if they wish and did not disclose that Williams was at the Scottsdale facility, the situation came to light in court documents that grew out of an extended family dispute over Williams’ wishes in regard to his remains. While Williams’ children Claudia and John Henry contended that Williams wished to be preserved at Alcor, their half-sister and oldest Williams child Bobby-Jo Ferrell contested that her father wished to be cremated. Williams’ attorney produced a note signed by Williams, John Henry, and Claudia saying: “JHW, Claudia and Dad all agree to be put into biostasis after we die. This is what we want, to be able to be together in the future, even if it is only a chance.” John Henry later said, “He was very into science and believed in new technology and human advancement and was a pioneer. Even though things seemed impossible at times, he always knew there was always a chance to catch a fish — only if you had your fly in the water.”
In 2003, Sports Illustrated published allegations by former Alcor COO Larry Johnson that the company had mishandled Williams’ head by drilling holes and accidentally cracking it. Johnson also claimed that some of Williams’ DNA was missing; the article alleges that Williams’ son, John Henry Williams, desired to sell some of his father’s DNA, a charge John Henry denied. Williams’ attorney called the DNA allegations an “absurd proposition” and accused Johnson of trying to grab headlines. Alcor denied the allegations of missing DNA.
John Henry Williams subsequently died of leukemia, and his remains are also stored at Alcor. After John Henry’s death, Ferrell again filed a lawsuit, but representatives of Williams’ estate repeated that he wished to be at Alcor.
In addition to his Williams allegations, Johnson handed over to the police a taped conversation in which he claims Alcor facilities engineer Hugh Hixon stated that an Alcor employee deliberately hastened the imminent 1992 death of a terminally ill AIDS patient, with an injection of Metubine, a paralytic drug. In 2009, Carlos Mondragon, (Alcor’s CEO at the time of the incident), told ABC News he had been made aware of the allegations, at the time of the case, and as a result, had severed Alcor’s ties with the employee who allegedly hastened the patient’s death. Mr. Mondragon failed to inform ABC News that the same person later performed Alcor’s surgical procedures, including the suspension of Ted Williams.
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