Saturday, December 4, 2010

Cryonics Meets the Tobacco Industry

A while back, I had to turn off the comments, on this blog, due to the malicious links being posted, in that section, on a regular basis. This morning, I received the following, from someone who had attempted to comment on this post: (I am temporarily omitting the name of the author, while awaiting his permission to include it.)

"Bravo for this post. It is good to see people taking on the cryonics industry--and indeed is is an industry like any other--and shining light on it.

There is a deluded notion by those who are so fearful of dying and so desperate for any alternative, that organizations like Alcor are altruistic and can be trusted to do the right thing without supervision. In truth, much of this is the modern version of snake oil.

And what most people don't realize is that people like Brian Wowk have major financial stakes in ensuring cryonics and cryonic-related organizations remain untarnished. They are paid through grant money, donations, etc from foundations or the public.

Even though Suspended Animation does not directly impact Wowk or Steve Harris (of Alcor), if the field of cryonics is shown to be full of con-men and incompetents, then their own funding (and paychecks) are likely to be cut. They have got a very, very large financial stake in all of this.

It is similar to Big Tobacco--none of the major tobacco firms wanted any of their competitors to get nabbed or regulated for their abuses of the public trust or deception/manipulation of the science, because if one tobacco company fell, they would all fall. That's why you see the Brian Wowks of the world coming to the aid of Suspended Animation. They're covering their own asses. Just like Big Tobacco has always banded together against outsiders, even though the individual companies of the industry are direct competitors.

It is time these organizations come under strict legal jurisdiction and regulation. They must be accountable. There must be public light on their activities. Complete transparency and accountability. If they are honest, there should be nothing for them to fear from this.

I hope your efforts prove fruitful. Don't give up. We need to bring some honesty to these industries and the individuals behind them."

(End quote.)
I think that was an excellent assessment of the situation, with the exception being that these companies have much closer ties than the tobacco companies. Suspended Animation, Critical Care Research (Harris et. al.) and 21st Century Medicine (Wowk et. al.) are not competitors. I believe most, (if not all), of SA, CCR and 21CM's funding comes from Saul Kent/LEF. (Saul Kent is identified as the "owner" of 21CM on Alcor's 2008 form 990.)

Dr. Wowk and I are having a debate, on, and I'm not liking his tactics. I'm not sure if Dr. Wowk is attempting to mislead people, or if he has been mislead, himself, but some of his remarks are way off the mark.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Cryonics' Well-Oiled Propaganda Machine

Why does Brian Wowk PhD write, “Lies travel halfway around world while the truth is putting on its shoes,” in response to someone's comments about my blog, and then temper it with, “(t)his reply is mostly directed to David Gerard, whose comments have been generally sensible except for some misinformation”? (See Dr. Wowk's comments, under the "lesswrong" post, here:

Does Brian Wowk even know what the truth is, in regard to the information to which he would like to object? Like Steve Harris MD, (Chief Medical Advisor to Alcor and someone who posted blatant lies about me on the Internet, in response to my criticisms of Suspended Animation), Dr. Wowk was working in California, while I was working at Suspended Animation, in Florida. He doesn’t know what was going on at SA when I was there, any more than Harris did, and he very likely does not know what really goes on there, now. He also did not work at the Alcor facility, with Larry Johnson, but that didn’t stop him from calling Johnson’s book “400 pages of lies,” (under oath, no less).

Like Steve Harris MD's Critical Care Research, Dr. Wowk’s organization, 21st Century Medicine, receives substantial funding, courtesy of Life Extension Foundation, the same company that funds Suspended Animation and makes generous contributions to Alcor. Both these men live and work in California, so why have they they been two of the primary defenders of SA, a company in Florida? Why don’t Jennifer Chapman (President and Executive Director of Alcor) and Catherine Baldwin (Manager of Suspended Animation) defend the organizations they lead? Why should a PhD and an MD, who are not employees of SA and/or Alcor, defend those companies against accusations of incompetence and unethical behavior? Could it be that many with close ties to Saul Kent, Life Extension Foundation, SA and Alcor are lacking in credibility? Will Dr. Wowk’s efforts to defend those who fund his generous annual compensation, soon leave him with a similar reputation?

Suspended Animation is a secretive organization, which has not produced their “monthly” News Bulletin in nearly two years, and which refuses to identify their personnel, or the qualifications, (or lack thereof), of those personnel. Their case reports, (even the most recent ones), CLEARLY indicate an extreme level of incompetence in performing medical procedures, which were virtually perfected many decades ago, and any defense of their ability to properly perform these procedures would not hold up to the scrutiny of expert witnesses in a court of law, or in front of a regulatory agency.

Dr. Wowk wrote,
“In Johnson's case there were also other issues that no decent organization could allow uncontested, such as selling alleged photographs of the remains of Ted Williams on the Internet. Not suing for something like that would expose the organization itself to liability.” I’m baffled by Dr. Wowk’s remarks. As I recall reading, Johnson posted the Ted Williams photos for a very brief time, (minutes, or hours, many years ago), before he realized it was pretty tasteless, and then took the photos down. Alcor did not sue anyone for that activity, when it occurred, as far as I know. Does everyone know what the “decent organization” of Alcor did in response to Larry Johnson’s first whistleblowing, all those years ago? They attempted to pay him $17,000 to keep his mouth shut. They drafted an agreement, but Johnson later changed his mind, didn’t sign the formally-typed version of the document, sent back the $17,000 check, and wrote a book. (Unfortunately, for Johnson, an Arizona judge has ruled the handwritten agreement is binding, something I believe Johnson’s attorneys may be appealing.) In my opinion, Johnson had, not only a right, but an obligation, to inform the public of the activities he witnessed at Alcor, and he should be protected as a whistleblower.

Does anyone think Johnson made more than $17,000, on the book? Think again. He first contacted me, when the book was about to be released. He told me he would never make a profit on the book, because Alcor would sue him for every penny he made, and more. Recent New York court documents state a measly 33,000 copies of Johnson’s book were sold, (an amazingly low number, in light of the generous publicity), yet Alcor is orchestrating ongoing legal battles with Johnson et. al. in three states. With that in mind, I think it's safe to assume Johnson’s prediction rang true, many months ago. Taking the $17K and keeping his mouth shut would have been the fiscally-wise decision, but I believe Johnson felt morally-obligated to expose the events he claims to have witnessed, at Alcor, (a frame of mind I can identify with).

While Dr. Wowk is correct, in that I have not worked for SA in years, and never under the current management, I have read their most recent reports, and I stand by my criticisms of that organization, and of cryonics activities, in general. If Dr. Wowk’s semi-veiled threats about possible “legal redress,” were meant to intimidate me, it was a waste of keystrokes. Personally, I welcome any opportunity to draw attention to the urgent need for the stringent regulation of cryonics organizations, (something I was previously opposed to), and am thankful to Dr. Wowk for presenting this particular opportunity. If these people cannot be trusted to consistently behave in a professional and ethical manner, without someone looking over their shoulders, (and I see little evidence they are capable of doing so), strict regulation is the logical answer. Dr. Wowk showing up, in recent months, to defend what I consider to be extremely unprofessional activities, has been something akin to the “last straw,” for me, in regard to believing anyone working in these organizations can be trusted to be forthcoming, in regard to the truth about Alcor’s and/or SA’s activities and/or capabilities.

For example, Dr. Wowk writes, "SA in fact contracts with professional perfusionists and surgeons." Why did Dr. Wowk leave out the fact that none of these people are guaranteed to show up for cases? When I was working at SA, they had a contract with a group of paramedics, too. That contract involved the paramedic group receiving a monthly retainer and extremely generous compensation for showing up for training sessions, but did not require them to show up for actual cryonics cases, a situation that resulted in SA sending three laymen, with no medical experience whatsoever, to perform (botch) their procedures. On the Cold Filter forum, Steve Harris informed us the perfusion group SA contracts with, costs them a bundle. Not only does SA pay for the perfusionists, but they lease some very expensive equipment from the perfusion group. Mathew Sullivan verified, (also on the Cold Filter forum) that, like the paramedics, the perfusionists are not required to show up for cases, unless they are available, (meaning they are not needed for conventional medical procedures, when SA calls them). In my opinion, contracted medical professionals, who are not obligated to attend cases, are nothing more than “window dressing".

If SA has qualified surgeons available, as Dr. Wowk claims, why was historical cryonics figure, Curtis Henderson kept at relatively warm temperatures, for MANY hours, and subjected to numerous incisions, last year, by SA’s manager, Catherine Baldwin, who is not a physician, much less a surgeon, (though she falsely referred to herself in SA’s published case report as a “surgeon”)? It seems she couldn't even FIND, much less cannulate, some of the largest blood vessels in the human body. (Afterward, someone from SA's perfusion group said, to me, "You were right, they can't do a cannulation.") I’m sure Dr. Wowk is aware of that case, and an Alcor case, which occurred at about the same time, in which another SA pseudo-surgeon, (someone who is also NOT a physician, much less a surgeon), is said to have cut well into the abdomen of an Alcor member, while attempting to perform a femoral cannulation. Is Dr. Wowk not aware that two of SA’s “surgeons,” (who, again, are NOT physicians, at all), butchered these two people, just last year, while trying to perform vascular cannulations, for SA?

SA’s contracted perfusionists did show up for each of those cases, but a perfusionist without a surgeon to perform the cannulation is basically useless. SA might as well have taken along the usual laymen to perform perfusion, since they didn’t have anyone to perform a proper vascular cannulation. It’s pretty meaningless, (and even deceptive), for Dr. Wowk to be claiming SA has “professional perfusionists and surgeons,” when there is no guarantee either will show up for a case, and one is no good without the other. The truth is, NOT ONE staff member of Suspended Animation, or Alcor, is a medical professional qualified to perform vascular cannulations or perfusion, the two medical procedures required to deliver cryonics washout and/or vitrification solutions...the procedures for which SA and Alcor charge $60,000 to $200,000.

Does it make sense to Dr. Wowk, for two companies, (each with a seven-figure annual budget), said to be in the business of delivering medical procedures that require competently-performed vascular cannulations and perfusion, to have staffs of six-to-ten persons, each, without either one having even ONE staff member professionally-qualified to perform the medical services they are selling, with price tags up to $200,000? Why is it the self-proclaimed “world leader” of cryonics, and the company that seems to be their primary standby team, don't have competent, qualified personnel, but contract with professionals who are not guaranteed to show up, instead? (Note that there were no contracts with professional perfusionists, prior to harsh public criticisms of allowing laymen to perform these procedures.)

I believe Dr. Wowk’s comment, in regard to someone attempting to “sabotage” SA’s relationship with their contracted perfusionists, is a reference to me. Perhaps Dr. Wowk does not know that I was acquainted with one of the leaders of that perfusion group, for quite a few years, prior to SA contracting with them. If one of Dr. Wowk's peers, someone he was acquainted with, was to be placed in a potentially career-damaging position, would Dr. Wowk not apprise them of the situation? Perhaps Dr. Wowk does not know that it was I, who first suggested SA contract with that same group, (a suggestion that was shot down, when I made it, back in 2006). Dr. Wowk certainly does not know that, even if I had been happily employed at SA, at the time the perfusion group was contracted, I would have made full disclosure of the situation, to them. I would have warned them they might show up for cases and not have anyone to perform the needed cannulations, because that would have been the professional thing to do. I would also have warned them that there had been a lot of scandal associated with cryonics, and expressed my concerns regarding certain issues related to cryonics procedures, (such as issues related to SA's medications, and state laws regarding performing procedures on the deceased). Finally, I would have asked their permission to post their company name on the SA website, before placing it there, something Catherine Baldwin failed to do. (After I informed the group their company name was listed on the SA website, (ironically, while SA was not willing to disclose the identities of their own staff members), the perfusion group requested their name be removed from the site.) Dr. Wowk can call my gestures “sabotage,” if he likes, but those professionals deserved to know the truth about what they were getting into, and Catherine Baldwin should have been the one to inform them. I wrote about my communication with SA’s perfusionists, here:

Dr. Wowk remarks that “Alcor's Chief Medical Advisor, Steven B. Harris, MD, has sat on the Editorial Board of Skeptic magazine for many years and is respected for his contributions to scientific skepticism.” Steve Harris is the head of another secretive LEF-funded organization, Critical Care Research (CCR). The last known staff members of CCR, (a company that receives nearly a million dollars a year in funding, from the same company that funds SA and 21stCM), were Harris and three of his family members. Harris has publicly distributed a mountain of questionable medical advice, and doled out numerous blatant lies, in attempts to defend the companies his benefactors fund. I’ve written about him, extensively, on this blog. (Check the index, on the right side of the page.) I think Dr. Wowk will understand why I am unimpressed, though I'm guessing he hoped other readers would be. Anyone of reasonable intelligence, and having general knowledge of perfusion procedures, and being aware of some of Harris' many bizarre responses to my criticisms of Alcor and SA's perfusion procedures, would be skeptical of Harris.

Until recently, I had a fairly high regard for Dr. Wowk’s integrity, but in my opinion, he’s starting to look like someone fairly close to the hub of a well-oiled propaganda-spewing machine.