Quasi-cadaverous canines

Breakthroughs in medical technology could give critically wounded soldiers crucial extra time to be moved into surgery. A chance for medics to move them off the battlefields and to a place where they can receive proper treatment instead of facing the nearly impossible task of performing transfusions and CPR in the line of fire. These soldiers, and other victims of circumstances in which medical help is hours away, can have their lives saved ? by ending them first.

Only a few blocks from the Carnegie Mellon campus, some of the biggest breakthroughs in cryogenic resuscitation ? in which subjects are frozen and clinically dead for a time before being revived ? are taking place. You may have read about it this summer, when British tabloids took hold of the story and posted headlines reading ?Zombie Dogs? across the Internet. However, this research means more to the world than just bringing the family pet back from the dead.

At the University of Pittsburgh?s Safar Center for Resuscitation Research in Oakland, scientists have been attempting to perfect the science in hopes of applying it to humans within a few years. The process, which has been carried out in a trial study with 24 dogs, is a complicated one that leaves the animal clinically dead for up to three hours before bringing it back to life. First, the circulatory system is flushed and replaced with nearly freezing saline solution. This induces a state of extreme hypothermia that leaves the dog in suspended animation? not breathing, with no heartbeat ? but the freezing saline preserves its vital organs. The animal can be revived later by reintroducing blood to the body, applying electrical shocks to the heart, and giving the subject pure oxygen.

This summer, scientists at the Safar Center extended the period of suspended animation from two hours to three by adding glucose and dissolved oxygen to the saline solution. It was this breakthrough that was unfortunately met with the extremist ?Zombie Dogs!? headlines from the press: publicity that took the issue in precisely the wrong direction. While knee-jerk reactions may have been expected ? no doubt a horror movie reference was far too easy for whichever writer dreamed it up ? these developments could mean so much more.

Rather than create an army of ?living dead? animals, these procedures could one day be used to save almost 50,000 lives per year. In many cases, victims of shootings on battlefields and street corners alike bleed to death before proper blood transfusions or CPR techniques can be administered. By putting these victims into a state of suspended animation, medical authorities would be given crucial extra time to perform life-saving procedures. By temporarily ending the patient?s life they would have better chance of saving it.

This is not to say that the procedure does not have its flaws, both technical and ethical. Despite the program?s positive results, there have also been cases of physical and behavioral problems upon ending the suspended animation. More importantly, the real questions seem to focus on what could happen when a human being is brought into this state of living death. What will happen to a person brought back to life? Will he or she be the same person physically, mentally, and socially after having ?died??

The risks are evident; but, the reward is great. Only time will tell how applicable these breakthroughs will be to humans.