Does Alcor take "DNA samples"?

by Charles Platt

When we first heard this question we answered it by stating that "Alcor has never collected 'DNA samples' from its cryopatients. Obviously Alcor has no need to collect 'DNA samples,' since a neuropatient already contains billions of DNA molecules." (Alcor News, issue 15, dated August 13th, 2003.)

Apparently the people who asked the question were concerned that Alcor might take samples after legal death without a person's consent, hoping to use the DNA in the future, perhaps for cloning, with a profit motive. We denied this because it is not what we do and we have no interest in doing that.

Subsequently some people pointed out that Alcor has, in fact, obtained four other types of samples:

  • 1. Samples of blood during patient transport.

  • 2. Samples of liquid effluent from the patient's circulatory system during cryoprotective perfusion.

  • 3. Samples of vitrified or frozen tissue after cryopreservation.

  • 4. Samples of DNA contributed voluntarily by living members.

These procedures have been performed for the following reasons:

  • 1. Samples from the circulatory system help us to evaluate the effectiveness of cardiopulmonary support during transport, and monitor progress in perfusing a patient with cryoprotectant. These samples are comparable to blood samples taken by your doctor to find out if you have an elevated level of cholesterol. Since DNA exists in many blood cell types, your doctor acquires some of your DNA whenever you have a blood test. However, you would not refer to this as a "DNA sample" because it has a totally different purpose, and the testing lab is not interested in the DNA. Similarly, at Alcor, it would be misleading to refer to samples of effluent as "DNA samples" because this is not their purpose, and any stray molecules of DNA are irrelevant.

  • 2. Occasionally Alcor has taken tissue samples from cryopreserved patients (who previously gave their consent in their signup documents) so that we can evaluate the success of our vitrification protocol in an effort to maintain quality control. We do not refer to the tissue as "DNA samples" because we simply want to inspect its structure to see if has been protected properly. Once again, the DNA is irrelevant.

  • 3. Several years ago Alcor suggested to its living members that they might face a risk of being misidentified if they were unfortunate enough to experience legal death in a catastrophic event such as an airplane crash. We suggested that Alcor members could provide us with DNA samples which we could keep for reference, so that we could identify human remains after legal death if no other means of identification was possible. In this instance it was correct to say that we obtained "DNA samples," but we accepted them only from living members who gave their consent for this specific purpose.

We still stand by our statement that Alcor has not and does not collect DNA samples from cryopatients – meaning, people who have been declared legally dead and are undergoing, or have completed, the process of cryopreservation.

We must point out once again that such samples would be purposeless since each of our cryopatients already contains billions of DNA molecules.