Editorial: Cryogenic practices need policy

The Chewbacca strategy.
The Chewbacca strategy.
The Chewbacca strategy.

With the recent “Captain America” movie, cryogenics and the practice of freezing human bodies until medical science can revive corpses is brought into question. How close is the world to freezing bodies until a cure for death can be found? The answer is not far at all. In fact, the first body was cryogenically frozen in liquid nitrogen in 1967.

Most recently, however, surgeons at the UPMC Presbyterian Hospital, closely affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences, have been given the go-ahead to try to use much shorter forms of this suspended animation. This would buy shooting victims some time while the surgeons attempt to repair the wound.

This technique is something UPMC surgeons hope will give them time to treat patients, who’s injuries would normally give them a less than 7 percent chance of survival. Patients eligible for the procedure would have suffered a cardiac arrest after a traumatic injury and not responded to attempts to restart his or her heart.

In this trial, patients who come into the hospital and meet the above criteria may be subject to this course of treatment.

The first step is to flush the patient with a cold saline solution through the heart and up to the brain. The saline is eventually pumped around the whole body, and it takes about 15 minutes for the patient to be clinically dead. This gives surgeons approximately two hours to fix whatever is wrong with the body. Then the saline is replaced with blood, and if the heart does not restart by itself, the patient is resuscitated. The blood will slowly heat the body back up.

This is a great idea, but policies must be put into place. In this situation, we cannot allow policy and law to hinder progress nor can we allow people to take advantage of the lack of policy.

The benefits are pretty simple. This method, if it is successful, would give victims the time element needed for a surgeon to successfully operate on them. Survival rates such as the 7 percent for gunshot wounds with cardiac arrest have the chance to be much higher.

However, there are also several negatives to take into consideration with this type of technique. First, there has not been any policy put into place for this. The line between legally dead and actually dead is still fuzzy. What happens when a person is legally dead?

Additionally, the US Food and Drug Administration considers this course of treatment to be exempt from informed consent.

This means neither the patient nor the patient’s family must be present to give the OK for the experimental trial. People can opt out online and can wear bracelets that signify their opt out, but no one has done so yet.

Therefore, someone who meets the criteria and is brought into the hospital may have this course of treatment given to them without their prior knowledge or consent.

Additionally, what happens if a person is murdered while they are in this state of suspended animation?
There is no policy stating whether this would be considered murder since the patient is legally dead, and you can’t murder a dead person.

There is potential here using suspended animation as a treatment option for high mortality rate injuries; however, law and policy have yet to catch up with science’s advances. With this gap, there is ample room for abuse, and without some sort of policy put into place, this can lead to legalized murder or at the very least, a courtroom nightmare.