Has anyone had weird experiences with Alcor?

post by Jaevko · 2022-01-11T21:47:56.938Z · LW · GW · 16 comments

This is a question post.

After years of procrastinating, I've finally taken steps towards signing up for cryonics, thanks in no small part to things I've read here on LessWrong.  I view it as a very long shot, but worth a try nonetheless.

However, I'm getting some very weird signals from the Alcor representative.  The two default options for criteria for preservation were:

I wish Alcor to place into cryopreservation any biological remains that they may be able to recover, regardless of the severity of the damage from such causes as fire, decomposition, autopsy, embalming, etc. Similarly, members who have chosen Neurocryopreservation will have any remains of their brain placed into cryopreservation regardless of damage.


 I wish Alcor to place into cryopreservation any remains of my brain that they may be able to recover, regardless of the severity of the damage. If none of my brain tissue is recoverable, do not proceed with my cryopreservation.

I found neither of these satisfactory: if I died from a blunt impact to the head, or if my brain has been burnt, crushed, has a bullet through it, etc., I do not want to be cryopreserved, and I want the money to go to my spouse.  The instructions said to write out custom criteria if desired, so I wrote my criteria (in a lot more detail), and part of that was that my spouse should make the final decision if there was any possible doubt about my criteria in the event of my death.

The representative emailed back and stated that the second option above should meet my needs.  It obviously does not, so I insisted on my criteria.  She came back with "with the wording [I] asked for.  [She] changed it slightly."  Digging into the document, here is the "slight" change:

The Member might die under circumstances which would cause considerable damage to his/her human remains. Under such conditions, the Member specifies the following quantifiable and objective conditions under which his/her human remains should not be cryopreserved. The Member acknowledges and accepts that the Alcor Board of Directors shall have the sole and absolute authority
to determine if these conditions apply at the time of legal death. Further, the Member releases Alcor from any and all liability for its good faith decisions in this regard. Member requests Alcor to place into cryopreservation any remains of their brain that they may be able to recover, regardless of the severity of the damage. If no brain tissue is recoverable Alcor will not proceed with the cryopreservation.

Yikes.  We are now at two blatant attempts to mislead me and dramatically change my criteria.  They are coming off as dishonest and untrustworthy.  Given other sketchy things I've read about them (there is plenty of debate on this site and elsewhere calling them out for bad behavior), I'm starting to think the Alcor detractors were right.  I'm seriously considering aborting my application, canceling the insurance policy that funded it, eating my losses, and giving up on cryonics.  I view cryonics as a pretty long shot anyway, and if part of the "multiply chained nature [? · GW]" of the gamble is paying a sketchy company to probably not even attempt do the job right, I'd rather spend my money on other things.  Has anyone had similar experiences with Alcor?  I'd like to proceed, but am feeling creeped out and offended by this bad behavior.

Thank you in advance for sharing and discussing.

Answers

answer by mtaran · 2022-01-11T23:29:40.813Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Given that you didn't actually paste in the criteria emailed to Alcor, it's hard to tell how much of a departure the revision you pasted is from it. Maybe add that in for clarity?

My impression of Alcor (and CI, who I used to be signed up with before) is that they're a very scrappy/resource-limited organization, and thus that they have to stringently prioritize where to expend time and effort. I wish it weren't so, but that seems to be how it is. In addition, they have a lot of unfortunate first-hand experience with legal issues arising during cryopreservation due to family intervention, which I suspect is influencing their proposed wording.

I would urge you to not ascribe to malice or incompetence what can be explained by time limitations and different priors. My suspicion is that if you explain where you're coming from and why you don't like their proposed wording (and maybe ask why they wanted to change some of the specific things you were suggesting) then they would be able to give you a more helpful response.

Given other sketchy things I've read about them (there is plenty of debate on this site and elsewhere calling them out for bad behavior)

I don't follow things too closely but would be interested in what you're referring to, if you could provide any links.

comment by G Gordon Worley III (gworley) · 2022-01-11T23:46:08.087Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

+1 on the wording likely being because Alcor has dealt with resistant families a lot, and generally you stand a better chance of being preserved if Alcor has as much legal authority as possible to make that happen. You may have to explain that you're okay with your wife potentially doing something that would have been against your wishes (yes, I realize you don't expect that, but there more than 0% chance it will happen) and result in no preservation when Alcor thinks you would have liked one.

This is actually why I went with Alcor: they have a long record of going to court to fight for patients in the face of families trying to do something else.

Replies from: Jaevko
comment by Jaevko · 2022-01-12T09:28:48.684Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for this; I will simplify and do as you suggest, leaving it entirely in my wife's hands. 

yes, I realize you don't expect that, but there more than 0% chance it will happen

Fair enough, but if I'm that wrong about her, I have much bigger problems than this extremely-unlikely-to-work process (my analysis, I know many people think cryonics is more likely to work than I do) becoming less likely to work than before :)

comment by Jaevko · 2022-01-12T09:18:02.368Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for your kind and thoughtful reply; I really appreciate it.

Here's the quote:

If significant damage to brain tissue (beyond the normal amount from dying) has occurred or has likely occurred, from a source such as fire, decomposition, physical impact, neurodegenerative disease, etc., I do not wish to be cryopreserved.  Define "significant damage" as damage that would drastically and likely permanently alter my personality, memories, or ability to live a normal life, if I were magically immediately revived and all non-brain-damage to my body was reversed.  For example, a car crash, in which the primary cause of death is head trauma, would constitute "significant damage".  Similarly, a car crash in which the primary cause of death is blood loss, and in which there is no good reason to believe that massive brain damage has probably occurred (beyond the typical amount from blood loss and death), would not constitute "significant damage".  In the event that there is a question of whether some amount of damage constitutes "significant damage", my wife, [name], should make the decision regarding whether or not my remains should be cryopreserved.

As you can see, it's a pretty big departure.  Given the excellent points you and others raise, I think I will try giving them the benefit of the doubt, and simplify my criteria for Alcor, putting the decision solely in my wife's hands, with the provision that I should be preserved if she is not present and cannot be immediately reached.  If I do not get any more seemingly underhanded pushback (them pushing back a little/stating their concerns is fine, but any more sneakily making huge changes would increase my concerns), then I'll write this off to the factors you suggest, and proceed.  Thank you!

answer by James_Miller · 2022-01-12T14:48:26.202Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Keep in mind that Alcor faces the following challenges:  (1)  Concern about lawsuits harming their future financial stability. (This is not a threat to patients already in cryo-suspension since funding sustaining them is in a separate legal entity from Alcor.)  (2) They often have to make very fast decisions about what to do when a patient legally dies.  (3)  Sometimes family members go against the wishes of the patient.  Alcor tries to structure everything to minimize the harm of these three challenges.  Note, I've been an Alcor member for more than 15 years.

An agreement where a patient's wife has to approve what happens is perilous because approval given by telephone might not give Alcor legal protection if the wife later says she didn't agree so Alcor (I'm guessing) would want the wife to submit a notarized agreement, but such a submission would take time and so makes a full recovery less likely.  Alcor has to consider the possibility that your spouse is filled with secret disgust at your wanting to be cryopreserved and would love to sue Alcor.

comment by Viliam · 2022-01-12T22:37:43.347Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also: what if wife cannot be reached by phone, and the clock is ticking?

answer by J_Thomas_Moros · 2022-01-12T04:31:25.754Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am signed up for cryonics with Alcor and did so in 2017. I checked and the two options you listed are consistent with the options I was given. I didn't have a problem with them, but I can understand your concern.

I have had a number of interactions with Alcor staff both during the signup process and since. I always found them pleasant and helpful. I'm sorry to hear that you are having a bad experience. My suggestion would be to get the representative on the phone and discuss your concerns. Obviously, final wording should be handled in writing but I think a phone conversation would help you both understand what would be acceptable to both of you.

In my opinion, the responses you have gotten probably arise from one of two sources. It is possible that she simply didn't read what you wrote carefully enough and fell back to boilerplate language that is closer to what their legal counsel has approved. She likely doesn't have the authority to accept major changes herself. If that is not what happened, then it is most likely that Alcor is trying to push the option they are pushing to avoid legal issues, the issues they have had with family in the past, and delay in cryopreservation. They want a clear-cut decision procedure that doesn't depend on too many third parties. If cryopreservation is to go well, it needs to be done in a timely fashion. Ideally, you want whoever is performing it to have a clear and immediate path to begin if it is warranted. Any judgment call or requirement to get consent could cause unnecessary delays. You might think it will be clear, but any chance your wife could claim that she should have been consulted and wasn't could cause legal problems. Thus, Alcor may be forced to consult her in all but the most clear-cut cases. Again, just schedule a call.

As a proponent of cryonics, I hope you will persist and work through this issue. Please message me if there are other questions I can answer for you. If you choose not to proceed, you can choose to keep the insurance policy and designate another recipient rather than canceling it.

P.S. Having researched all the Cryonics organizations, Alcor is by far the best. They are still small but they are working the hardest to become a fully professional organization. Their handling of the legal issues and financial structure is much better. The Cryonics Institute (CI) is run by well-meaning people who are less professional. They are more of a volunteer organization. Having attended a CI annual meeting I was disappointed by the insufficiently conservative and far-sighted investment strategy. I think CI may actually be underfunded for the goal of existing 100 years from now.

answer by Synaptic · 2022-01-12T02:07:04.048Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Putting aside the specifics about Alcor for a moment, what about this would this make you want to drop out of Cryonics entirely? There are other options.

  1. Cryonics Institute is another reasonable organization.
  2. Oregon Cryonics has fairly cheap choices if that is your concern.
  3. You could try to advocate for better options and/or wait for others to emerge before “giving up”.
comment by Jaevko · 2022-01-12T09:30:36.476Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good points!  I'm going to continue with Alcor for now (see other comments), but if they don't work out for any reason, I should probably give CI another look (and the others you mention) before giving up.  Thank you.

Replies from: joshjacobson
comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) · 2022-01-13T07:52:40.793Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

FWIW I’ve had a pretty opposite experience of what you describe with CI.

answer by PeterMcCluskey · 2022-01-12T05:33:00.164Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I haven't experienced anything that concerning. The closest was an email with the subject "URGENT REQUEST FROM ALCOR: Please Respond Today" that was rather far from urgent.

I have gotten the impression that there's some large differences in quality from employee to employee.

I suggest contacting someone else at Alcor to complain about the misleading nature of the response you got. I'm unsure how easy it would be to reach the CEO, but Max More's contact info is easy to find.

I'm unsure whether Alcor ought to accept your terms, but they ought to be clear about whether they're doing so.

answer by Dirichlet-to-Neumann · 2022-01-13T12:02:05.660Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It seems to me a simple solution for your problem would be to allow preservation in any case, and then let the decision to put you into long-term storage into the hands of your wife, when she has the time to decide what to do.
While you would need to eat up the cost of the cryopreservation part, you may be able to recover the money that goes into long term storage ? 

16 comments

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comment by Pattern · 2022-01-12T03:06:48.223Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
I'm seriously considering aborting my application, canceling the insurance policy that funded it, eating my losses, and giving up on cryonics.

Would it be difficult to:

  • abort the application to Alcor
  • AND apply to another organization?
Replies from: Jaevko
comment by Jaevko · 2022-01-12T09:32:24.208Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Excellent point, it's not Alcor or no cryonics, thank you.

comment by Pattern · 2022-01-12T03:08:38.414Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Might Alcor respond differently if the terms were the same as they started out in the event the OP's spouse is not alive (or they are not married)? (And other wise as the OP desired?)

(i.e., it's a non-transferrable right/no one else can get the money*)

*If that isn't what the OP wants, spelling that out in advance seems wise.

comment by Kenny · 2022-01-22T09:04:52.433Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What does this mean?:

She came back with "with the wording [I] asked for. [She] changed it slightly."