Professor David Pegg’s remarks to “Last Word”, BBC Radio 4, 2011-07-29

Radio 4’s weekly obituary program devoted five minutes to the death of cryonics founder Robert Ettinger, and spoke to longstanding cryonics foe Professor David Pegg of the University of York. Here’s a transcript of his broadcast remarks:

Pegg: There are three areas of damage (if you like) which have to be undone for this process to work: one is to bring the dead back to life, another is to cure the thing which caused them to be dead, and the third thing is that the process of preservation should not inflict any damage. It is possible to achieve effective cryopreservation of single-celled systems. What is not possible is to adapt that to multi-cellular systems. So although it might be advantageous to be able to cryopreserve kidneys for example, for transplantation, that is not possible. And the reason that it’s not possible is that the ice, which is innocuous to the cells in themselves, destroys the structure and the kidney will no longer function.
Interviewer: Well now, Robert Ettinger’s supporters would say you’re just being very very shortsighted, you’ve just got your head in the sand, because of course there are problems at the moment, but in the future, science will overcome all of these problems
Pegg: Yes, well that’s an item of faith. it’s not a question of — a scientific question. The fact is of course that we can’t predict the future, and we don’t pretend to do so. But nor can they.
Pegg (later in the programme): We are making progress, but we haven’t got the problem licked just yet. If that problem could be solved, then it would perhaps be reasonable to ask the question whether this should lead to the cryonics endeavour in practice. But at the moment, it’s frankly just premature.

Two technical points, both from Alcor’s cryonics myths page:

  • Cryonics providers have used vitrification to eliminate ice crystal formation for a decade now, and even before that other cryoprotectant techniques greatly reduced freezing damage.
  • While cryopreservation of kidneys is not yet advanced enough to be used for human transplants, it was demonstrated in rabbits in 2005. One of the rabbits tested survived for 48 days with the cryopreserved kidney as its sole kidney, before being euthanized for histological follow-up.

Perhaps Pegg was taking shortcuts because of the time pressure of radio; however sadly he has not taken the time to present a technically accurate argument in any forum. I once again urge him to do so.