California 1992: ME persuaded not to section brain of suicide victim

Our first suspension of the year began with a call from a gentleman named J.R, who was calling from Texas. I (Tanya Jones) took the call, and was dismayed to hear that J.R. worked in the County Medical Examiners Office. No good news was to follow. A member from Texas had committed suicide using a .38 caliber pistol and a shot to the head. It was nearly a day later that he was found, and the medical examiner was called.

"Robert Daly," A-1401, had been an Alcor member for just over a year. He believed his life a miserable existence, and despite the obvious detrimental effects on his cryonic suspension, planted a bullet in his brain in an effort to end it. Mr. Daly had a history of depression and had been threatening to take his own life since he was a teenager. Conversations with his relatives painted a tragic picture. He was never seen to be in a good mood. His family was, naturally, saddened to hear of Robert's actions, however, they were heartened to be told of his cryonic suspension arrangements. They had heard Robert mention his interest in cryonics some time earlier, but were unaware that he had actually pursued his sign-up.

Robert had completed his sign-up and was using life insurance as his primary method of payment for cryonic suspension. Unfortunately, his suicide occurred during the contestability period for his policy. (Two strikes against him: it was a suicide, and it was within the contestability period.) There is little doubt that Alcor will not be receiving the proceeds from his life insurance policy. The knowledge that his suicide took place during the contestability period nearly prevented us from being able to respond. Luckily, Mr. Daly had also arranged an irrevocable trust with Alcor as the beneficiary. The sum in the trust was just above the minimum requirements for perpetual storage, with no safety margin. It was deemed sufficient to cover the expenses of the transport, and still have the bare bones funding for the Patient Care Trust Fund.

All of this was determined before I flew to Texas to arrange for the transport. I was met at the airport by Paul Garfield, the only certified transport technician in the entire state. Paul had driven since the wee small hours of the morning to come pick me up. He was very excited about his opportunity to assist in this transport, despite the fact that few of the transport procedures that he learned in class would be applied. Most of what is taught in the transport course concerns treating a very-recently deanimated member. It was many hours before Mr. Daly's body was even found after his suicide. Also, in all states, certain manners of death are autopsied, and suicide is invariably one of those types. This understanding left us with a clear course to follow in pursuing this transport. Mr. Daly was to be autopsied, and we had to get to the Medical Examiners (M.E.) Office before they began.

We did arrive before they began the autopsy, and Paul and I were able to speak to the Acting Chief Medical Investigator and the Chief Medical Examiner. As is the case with all suicides, they intended to perform a complete autopsy. A complete autopsy includes the removal and sectioning of all organs, including the brain. With some fast explaining of the reasons why we were requesting a deviation from their standard procedures, we were able to persuade them to remove the brain for external examination, take photographs as evidence, and complete their examination without sectioning his brain. The county officials also graciously agreed to expedite the autopsy, making it the first one of the day.

If they hadn't agreed in advance to minimize the damage inflicted on the brain, I was prepared to request that I be allowed to observe the autopsy. This was a somewhat devious approach, where I hoped to get sufficiently friendly with the technicians that I might gasp in horror at whatever they did to Robert's brain and perhaps dissuade them from some of the sectioning with the excuse of a weak stomach and many assertions of how detrimental that would be for Mr. Daly's cryonics arrangements. It wasn't until I went into the lab to pack the brain for transport that I realized the magnitude of my good fortune (in being able to persuade them to forego sectioning without my physical presence at the autopsy).

I'd never seen an autopsy victim before, except in training videos. I must say that it was one of the more gruesome sights of my life. And when I use the term "victim," 1 mean it. A more invasive procedure has never been developed. As with most sights, pictures don't do the reality justice.

About two hours after I arrived at the M.E. offices, the autopsy was complete. And the examiners had been true to their word: I received the brain nearly intact.

The bullet had been retrieved and nothing further had been done to damage the brain (save ischemia and, of course, the removal from the head). I put Robert's brain on ice, in a set-up very similar to the arrangements used with Michael Friedman (A-1171) last year. While I was waiting for the brain in the M.E. office, Paul had left to get dry ice for shipping, and he returned within one hour of my obtaining Mr. Daly's brain.

SOURCE: ME persuaded not to section brain of suicide victim (Case Report Excerpt)