Florida 1988: Bill Faloon persuades ME not to autopsy

On May 8, 1988, a long-time cryonicist and Alcor member was placed into whole-body cryonic suspension at Alcor's Riverside, California facility. The patient was a 72-year-old man with a long history of arteriosclerosis and congestive heart failure. In order to protect the privacy of the member's family, he will be referred to in this article by his first name only, which is Bob. What follows is a non-technical account of the suspension, and then an article about some of the political consequences of it.

It had been a long week and it was turning into a long weekend. Alcor Florida Emergency Response Team member Bill Faloon hadn't slept for over 24 hours when at 12:10 AM on the morning of May 8th his phone rang. On the other end of the line was Bob's 17-year-old son Steve, who informed Bill that his father had suffered a cardiac arrest a few minutes prior to his placing the call. Steve told Bill that the paramedics had been called and that he had already packed his father's head in ice from a supply he had purchased in anticipation of his father's impending ischemic coma (so-called "clinical death").

Bob had been in and out of the hospital for congestive heart failure a number of times during the preceding months, and had been hospitalized three times in the preceding week for discomfort and chest pain secondary to end-stage heart failure. He wanted no heroic resuscitative efforts, and in fact made the decision to experience legal death at home with his family in a nonmedical setting, fully aware of the risks that would expose him to. In the weeks prior to his ischemic coma, I had repeatedly spoken with Bob and explained the risks involved. Bob lived over an hour and a half by freeway from the nearest cryonicist with rescue equipment and skills.

Bob wanted very much to be with his family until the "end," since this was the last opportunity he would likely have to be with them (they are not cryonicists). Bob thus was willing to accept the virtual certainty that he would suffer a long period of ischemia.

I (Mike Darwin) first met Bob in April of 1980, and I had repeatedly urged him to establish a professional relationship with a local physician — someone who would be able and willing to sign a death certificate or speak to the medical examiner (ME) about Bob's prior history of severe heart disease and thus prevent Bob from becoming a "coroner's case" (and as a result being subject to the risk of autopsy and the certainty of a long delay until suspension could begin).

Bob didn't do this. No doubt part of the reason was that he had been assured by the hospital where he was being treated that the outpatient physician who was seeing him would sign the death certificate...

Unfortunately, Bob experienced cardiac arrest on a Sunday morning. The physician who had seen him last could not be reached and the Emergency Room physician refused to sign the death certificate. The paramedics contacted the police and Bob became a medical examiner's (ME) case (i.e., coroner's case; Dade County uses a medical examiner rather than a coroner).

When the police arrived they instructed Steve to take the ice off his father's head, which he refused to do. They also told Bob's wife Deborah that there would be an autopsy. Despite badgering from the police, Steve steadfastly refused to remove the ice and Deborah told the detectives in no uncertain terms that there would be no autopsy. The police left things as they were until the ME's people arrived a few minutes later.

Fortunately, Bill Faloon had met with the Dade County Medical Examiner some weeks in advance of Bob's ischemic coma and explained the situation with respect to Bob's terminal condition and his wish to be placed into suspension — and succeeded in enlisting the ME's cooperation.

Thus Bill was on the phone to the ME within 10 minutes of the time he was notified that the ER physician was refusing to sign the death certificate. The ME agreed to get out of bed and be at the county morgue by 6:30 AM to meet with Bob's family and arrange his release. Meanwhile, Bob was transported to the ME's office with his head packed in ice, and he was then placed under refrigeration at 4°C.

Cooperation from the ME's office was excellent. They performed an intracardiac puncture on Bob (to draw blood for a toxicology screen), briefly questioned Deborah and Steve, contacted the hospital for a sign-off on Bob's medical records, and released Bob to the Alcor transport team at 10:00 AM.

The transport team, consisting of Bill Faloon, Greg Strom, and Glen, Marc, and David Tupler, placed Bob in a specially prepared shipping container and packed him in water ice. At 2:00 PM Florida time, less than 14 hours after the start of his ischemic coma, Bob was a plane headed for Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), accompanied by his wife and daughter.

SOURCE: Bill Faloon persuades ME not to autopsy (Case Report Excerpt)