Relatively Dead


Cryonics Gets a Cold Shoulder from Scientists

Immortality - a fate worse than death.

- Edgar A Shoaff

by Tim Friend

Year 2075: News reporters are tiring of stories about yet another body being revived after decades in the deep freeze.  Hundreds of thawed "patients" are in support groups sponsored by the century-old Cryonics Institute, still headed by its recently thawed founder.  You can spot the newly revived by the subtle scars over the carotid arteries and jugular veins.  The scars are from incisions made in the early 2000s for tubing to remove their blood and perfuse the body with antifreeze.  Nanotechnology will take care of their freezer burn over time; gene therapy will rejuvenate their tissues.

Sound like bad science fiction?  Maybe, but a nasty family feud over whether baseball legend Ted Williams' body will be frozen for a future thaw has brought cryonics to center stage.  (See story at the bottom of this page.)

Forever Young: Mel Gibson's pilot defrosted nicely after 50 years,
but that's Hollywood.

Question is, how much of this controversy is based on any real potential to wake up in the next century?

Experts say the only part that's fiction is the ability to revive a human Popsicle.  About 100 people already have taken the plunge into a bath of liquid nitrogen and are being stored at a crisp minus 197° Celsius (minus 322° Fahrenheit).  Whether they'll ever be successfully thawed is a challenge for science to work out in the coming decades.  About 1,000 people are betting on the science and have already signed up with non-profit institutes and for-profit companies to be frozen after they die.

The notion of being put into a suspended state and revived later has been around at least since 1861, when French writer Edmond About published The Man With the Broken Ear, a novel about a scientist who basically freeze-dries a living subject and reconstitutes him like a Mountain House camping dinner years later when his disease can be cured.  Cryonics is a popular device for Hollywood, too.  Austin Powers is frozen in the '60s and thawed in the politically correct '90s, much to his dismay.  Woody Allen's Sleeper has a victim wrapped in tinfoil emerging in the distant future to learn that smoking is good for you.

Robert Ettinger, 83, is the person most responsible for pushing cryonics out of the realm of fiction.  Back in the '30s, Ettinger envisioned a more advanced future than we have today.  But medical developments over the past 30 years, particularly those involving resuscitation of heart attack and drowning victims, keep him encouraged.

His bottom line: death is relative.  "Whether you call a person dead or not does not matter," he says.  "Thousands of people are revived every year after suffering clinical death.  In previous years, these people would have remained dead.  So whether it's 20 minutes or 20 years, it shouldn't matter."

Ettinger's Cryonics Institute (CI) has 41 frozen deceased people at its storage facility in Clinton Township, Michigan, including his two wives and mother.  Ted Williams' body may be destined for storage at Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Andy Zawacki, facilities manager at CI, says maintenance of frozen bodies is simple.  The bodies are stored in cylinders or rectangular tanks in sleeping bags immersed in liquid nitrogen.  "I top off the tanks (with liquid nitrogen) about every five days, but you can go up to about two weeks if you have to," Zawacki says.

Bodies are called patients.  Living people who have paid $28,000 to be frozen are called members.  Most are middle-class folks who use life insurance policies to pay for preservation and maintenance.  Alcor also will freeze just your head for about $18,000: Ettinger freezes only whole bodies.  Their freezing methods also differ, but no one knows whose is best.  Alcor vitrifies the body, which makes it more glass-like and causes water to bind to a chemical to prevent the formation of ice crystals.  Ettinger's group sticks with liquid nitrogen and simple glycerin.

Ettinger says more people are warming to the idea of being frozen after death.  Most of CI's members joined in the past few years.  Most members are men, but more patients are women who have been frozen by husbands or children.

Mainstream scientists still need convincing.  "Right now, it's a totally left-field thing," says molecular geneticist Lawrence Donehower of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, who researches links between cancer-fighting genes and aging.  "This is totally 30th-century stuff.  I don't see how they will ever resurrect someone this way.  We just laugh at it."

Says Ettinger: "I won't convince all people, but the thesis becomes more credible every year."

Cryonics Patient Prepares for the Future:

How an Alcor patient's body is frozen and stored until medical technology can repair the body and revive the patient, or grow a new body for the patient.

Patient declared legally dead

On way to Alcor in Arizona, blood circulation is maintained and patient is injected with medicine to minimise problems with frozen tissue.  Cooling of body begun.  (If body needs to be flown, blood is replaced with organ preservatives.)

At Alcor the body is cooled to 5 degrees

Chest opened, blood is replaced with a solution (glycerol, water, other chemicals) that enters the tissues, pushing out water to reduce ice formation. In 2 to 4 hours, 60% or more of body water is replaced by glycerol.

Freezing the body

The patient is placed in cold silicone oil, chilling the body to -79°C.  Then it's moved to an aluminium pod and slowly cooled over 5 days in liquid nitrogen to -196°C (minus 320° Fahrenheit), then stored.

Storage vessel

Stainless-steel vats formed into a large thermos-bottle-like container.  Vat for up to four bodies weighs about a ton; stands 9 feet tall.

Source: USA Today Wednesday 10 July 2002 photo credit Warner Brothers, graphics by Suzy Parker

She's Used to Being Frigid?

Court Rules against Keeping Dead Mother in Freezer

France's highest court has refused to allow two teachers to keep their mother's body in a glass freezer at home.  The Conseil d'Etat ruled cryonics - stopping physical decay after death in the hope of future revival - is illegal.

Michel Leroy and his sister Joelle from the French Indian Ocean island of Réunion want to keep their mother's body in a basement freezer.  The Times says their mother, Lise Leroy, has been in refrigeration at a Saint-Denis-de-la-Réunion cemetery since July 1999.  Mr Leroy, a philosophy teacher, says he'll challenge the decision at the European Court of Human Rights.  He said: "The possibility of keeping a body in its initial form softens the grieving process.  One day we will realise that the Egyptians were a lot more intelligent than some of our contemporaries in wanting to conserve the bodies of the dead."

He says his mother wanted to be kept in a frozen tomb.

The court said relatives have two choices over what to do with dead bodies - burial or cremation.  It said relatives can scatter ashes after cremation, but they have to bury bodies in a cemetery or in a tomb on private property after gaining special permission.

Source: Tuesday 30 July 2002

Cryonics in a Deep Freeze

If man were immortal he could be perfectly sure of seeing the day when everything in which he had trusted should betray his trust, and, in short, of coming eventually to hopeless misery.
He would break down, at last, as every good fortune, as every dynasty, as every civilisation does.  In place of this we have death.

- Charles Sanders Peirce

Frederick Horn, above left, who owned the St James Funeral Home
and Curtis Henderson, president of the Cryonics Society of New York,
inspect a capsule in which a dead Bronx man would be frozen.
(Note: The current owner of the St James Funeral Home
has no connection with cryonics.)

by Sidney C Schaer

Predictions from the Past that Haven't Come True ... Yet

The word "cryonics" - the practice of freezing a dead body in hopes of someday reviving it - didn't enter the dictionary until 1967.  But 200 years earlier, Ben Franklin was dreaming of a frozen ride to immortality.  Writing to a French colleague, Franklin mused: "I wish it were possible ... to invent a method of embalming drowned persons, in such a manner that they might be recalled to life at any period, however distant; for having a very ardent desire to see and observe the state of America 100 years hence...  In all probability, we live in a century too little advanced, and too near the infancy of science, to see such an art brought in our time to its perfection."

Today, a tiny group of biologists is still trying to bring cryonics "to its perfection."  A far larger group of debunkers, however, says cryonics is little more than bogus science.  Its promise, they say, will never be fulfilled.

In 1980, Paul Segall, a graduate of the State University at Stony Brook doing postgraduate research at the University of California at Berkeley on the physiology of aging, predicted that by 1992 "the first human will be successfully resuscitated after being frozen and thawed."  At the time, Segall was an officer of the Bay Area Cryonics Society, and his view was included in the People's Almanac Book of Predictions published that year.  "Within a few more years, large numbers of terminally ill or hopelessly aged patients will be frozen prior to death and stored for reanimation in the future, when cures are developed for their illnesses or techniques of age reversal become available," he wrote.

Today, Segall does no cryonics research, and doesn't even like to think about the possibilities.  "I guess I was being a bit overoptimistic," he said in a recent interview.

Cryonics has its contemporary origins with a retired professor of physics in Michigan, Robert Ettinger, whose 1964 book, The Prospect of Immortality, launched the movement: pay now, be frozen and live later.  Maybe.  Ettinger, 80, now retired and living in Arizona, said in a telephone interview he had been certain that by today, "Everyone would be getting frozen."  Why aren't they?  "People are fearful of the unknown," Ettinger said.

Most mainstream scientists say that's not the case at all.

"We can freeze [living] cells and thaw them, such as sperm cells, but freezing and thawing a complex organism is a whole other question," said Dr Wayne Waltzer, professor and chairman of the urology department at Stony Brook's medical school.  Even when freezing sperm cells for later implantation, he said, 40% are unusable by the time they are thawed.  "What would be lost if a person were frozen and thawed?  The reality is that when you are dead, you are dead.  When you preserve something that has died, what are you really preserving?" Waltzer said.

"There isn't a shred of evidence that they'll be able to resuscitate anyone," said Dr John Armitage, a member of the editorial board of the scientific journal Cryobiology.  Armitage described cryonics as pseudo-science.

"Goofy beyond amusement," is what Art Caplan of the Centre for Biomedical Ethics at University of Minnesota calls it.

Still, there are customers.  Nationwide, according to companies that promise to maintain dead bodies in frozen suspension, there are 80 to 90 already frozen in storage, with about 1,000 more committed to doing so.  Ettinger's organisation, the Immortality Society of Michigan, freezes bodies for about $28,000.  Other cryonic groups offer more expensive alternatives, ranging from about $50,000 to freeze just a head - separating it from the rest of the body - and upwards of $120,000 for the whole body.

Alcor Incorporated, started in 1972 in Riverside, California, has 35 clients - and 450 more signed up at its new headquarters in Scottsdale, Arizona.  "We are clearly on the edge," said Bryan Shock, a former computer programmer and Alcor's spokesman and corporate secretary.  "We are not only counting on some future scientific breakthrough that could be in 50 years or 150 years, that will not only revive the patient, but will have devised a scheme to repair what has been damaged in the freezing process," he said.

Some advocates of cryonics hope that one day instead of waiting for clients to die, they will be allowed to freeze terminally ill people before death.  In 1992, Thomas Donaldson, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumour, sought to be frozen before he died.  The California court turned him down, saying Donaldson had no "constitutional right to a state-assisted suicide."

Shock - who has signed himself up to be frozen - said Alcor believes advances in freezing techniques are lessening the potential damage.  Instead of adapting embalming techniques, he said, the company has moved on to techniques closer to those used for low-temperature surgery, such as gradual temperature lowering and different solutions pumped into the body.  And he's hopeful that cryonics still has a future in spite of its skeptics.  "Who knows what it will be like to live for 500 years?" he asked.  "But I like the option of being able to find out."

Sidney C Schaer is a staff writer

Source: photo credit Newsday Photo, 1968/Dick Krause

Cryonics Over Dead Geeks' Bodies

by Michelle Delio

Many geeks will survive death and go on to a glorious future - assuming that medical science figures out a way to defrost and reanimate them.

According to a new book, The Mummy Congress: Science, Obsession and the Everlasting Dead (, techies make up a large percentage of those who have signed up for cryonic suspension, an experimental procedure used to preserve legally dead bodies in the hopes that future medical breakthroughs will allow them to be brought back to life.

Those who have opted for cryonic suspension will be packed in ice as soon as they die.  Soon after, their body fluids will be replaced with a glycerin-based solution that acts as a kind of anti-freeze.  Their flesh will be cooled with liquid nitrogen to -320° Fahrenheit, and their bodies will then be placed in a large metal cooler called a cryostat, where they will await the medical breakthrough that will allow them to return to life.

Heather Pringle, author of The Mummy Congress, said she was surprised to find out how many tech-savvy people intend to end their days as Popsicles.

Pringle's book examines the long history of humans' efforts to preserve their mortal remains.  When she began to research the chapter on modern mummification, she visited cryogenic labs, expecting to find that the client list would include "your new-age crowd, people with strange ideas about the body and soul and maybe with bizarre beliefs about immortality and eternity.  Kind of a well-heeled version of the folks who believe Elvis lives."

But Pringle said that when she really thought about it, geeks on ice made perfect sense.  "The Silicon Valley crowd has an enormous faith in technology and the science of progress," she said.  "They believe that you can conquer just about any problem if you throw enough money and technology after it - so why not immortality?"

Pringle also noted that "unlike many of us," tech-oriented people actually welcome the future and wouldn't mind living in it.  Pringle said she loves the image of entire warehouses stacked full of hackers, programmers and engineers, but thinks it is highly unlikely that the super-cooled techies will ever be defrosted and rebooted.

"The technological problems in doing this seem just staggering to me, particularly for people who go the economy-class route, having only their heads preserved," Pringle said.  "To bring back to full functioning something as complex as a brain, and then to graft it back on to a body, just seems horrifically difficult."

But Ralph Merkle, a nanotechnology researcher who maintains a Web page on cryonics, said the correct scientific answer to the question "does cryonics work?" is neither yes nor no.  "The clinical trials are in progress," Merkle said.  "Come back in a century and we'll give you a reliable answer."

Merkle is also a member of the board of directors at Alcor (, a cryonic suspension facility in Scottsdale, Arizona, one of the three cryonic suspension facilities in the United States.  Alcor has recently adopted new suspension protocols, which vitrify rather than freeze.  Freezing produces ice, the crystalline form of water.  Vitrifying cools water, but does not produce ice so the water molecules remain disordered and in a non-crystalline form, Merkle said.  This process uses new cryoprotectants and ice blockers to eliminate ice damage to the body's systems.

Merkle firmly believes that current suspension methods can preserve the structures in the human brain that encode long-term memory and personality.  "The synapses are still there, the neurons are still there, the dendrites are still there - all present and accounted for.  Thus, at some point in the future, a medical technology based on a mature nanotechnology should be able to restore good health with memory and personality intact," Merkle said.

Merkle maintains a rather impressive list ( on his website of computer scientists, software developers and other tech professionals who have signed up for cryonic suspension.

The key to cryonics' eventual success is nanotechnology, manipulating materials on an atomic or molecular scale, according to most techies who are interested in cryonic suspension.  "Current medical science does not have the tools to fix damage that occurs at the cellular and molecular level, and damage to these systems is the cause of vast majority of fatal illnesses," said Paul Jones, a programmer planning to sign on for cryonic suspension of his head.  "I fully expect to wake up some day, a few hundred years from now, whole and healthy and alive."

Jones, who lives in Ontario, said that "with the current exchange rate for Canadian dollars" he can't afford to have his entire body preserved.  At Alcor, cryonic suspension of a whole body costs $120,000; neurosuspension (just the head) costs $50,000.  Alcor also charges a one-time, "lifetime membership" payment of $20,000, which can be paid off at the rate of $100 a month for 20 years for a total of $24,000.

Transtime ( "recommends" that people provide a minimum of $150,000 for whole-body suspension.  Part of this sum pays for the initial costs of the suspension.  The balance is placed in a trust fund, with the income used to pay the continued cost of maintaining you in suspension.  Transtime can do neurosuspensions but does not promote the option.  Transtime also charges a yearly fee of $96 for membership, with the price halved to $48 for other family members.

The Cryonics Institute ( in Clinton Township, Michigan, charges $28,000 for a full-body suspension, along with a one-time payment of $1,250.  The Cryonics Institute does not do neurosuspension.

Pringle wonders if the dot-com bust will cause people to put their suspension plans on ice instead of their bodies.  "Cryogenics is incredibly pricey, and when the financial bottom has just fallen out of your world, you are likely to put your plans for the afterlife on hold."

But Merkle said that interest in cryonics doesn't vary according to short-term fluctuations in the stock market.  "Most people pay for cryonics with a life insurance policy which pays the fee to the suspension facility upon the death of the policy holder.  A ... life insurance policy for someone in good health might be only $200 per year, so cryonics is within the reach of most people, the primary issue being whether or not you want to do it."

About 90 people in the United Stated are already in suspension, with hundreds more signed on for the service.

Pringle wonders what people of the future will think about our civilisation when they break open all those canisters containing nerds' bodies and heads.  "Instead of preserving the finest physical specimens of 21st-century humanity - the athletic, the attractive, the physically fit, the Adonis and Venus de Milo types whose bodies are so well deserving of eternity - we seem to be conserving geeks with taped-up glasses and bad haircuts, people whose idea of dinner ranges only a little further than Frito-Lays, Cheetos and Jolt," Pringle said. "What a warped view the 40th century will have of the rest of us."

Pringle hastens to add that her husband is a software programmer.

Source: 20 July 2001

See also:

bulletComputer Geeks Rule (in the Information and Technology section) - compared with other youngsters, computer geeks are "highly intelligent, motivated and achieving people" who are often misunderstood...

A Different Idea for Immortality

The Time Travel Fund: Your Ticket to the Future

Morlocks aside, how would you like to visit, even live hundreds of years in the future?  There may be a way...

Q: How does this work?

A: Current scientific theory states that Time Travel may be possible, however the technology is a long way off, perhaps hundreds of years in the future.  Now, assume it does become possible in say, 500 years.  As with any technology, Time Travel will get less expensive as time goes on.  Just as the price of a VCR has dropped to less than $70 from the several hundred dollars it cost just 10 years ago, Time Travel, once it becomes feasible, will initially be very expensive yet it will become more and more economical as time goes by.

Q: How does this help me?

A: The concept is that one day, it may be possible for people living far in the future to retrieve you from your current frame of reference (their past - your present) and bring you into the future (their present - your future.)

Q: Why would they want to?

A: That is the purpose of the fund.  The simple answer is, we pay them to bring you into the future.

Q: How?

A: We establish a fund in current time.  You make a small contribution to the fund, and in a few hundred years that small amount grows to a very large amount.  From that fund, moneys will be taken and used to retrieve you, perhaps seconds after you join, perhaps even moments before your recorded death, perhaps some other point in your lifetime.  Further, the fund may even pay to have you "rejuvenated" medically (assuming this is scientifically possible at that time) and support you financially for a number of years.  (Note: Retrieving you just before the moment of death is just one possible scenario, but one that would avoid any Star Trek type paradoxes.  There are an unlimited number of other possibilities, and we do not know what they will do, we can only make reasonably informed guesses.)

Q: How much will this cost me?

A: Our fee is only $10, of which a percentage is placed into the fund, to grow and earn interest, and the rest is used to pay for overhead in running the website, covering legal fees, paying for your certificate, and maintaining the database of members.

Q: Only $10?  How is that going to get me a ride into the future?

A: Compound interest.  As long as the interest earned out paces inflation and taxes, the money will eventually build to where the costs of retrieving, rejuvenating and supporting you are fully covered.  For example, if you make a one-time only deposit of just a single dollar, at only 5% interest, in 500 years that single dollar will grow to $39,323,261,827.22 (that's 39 billion with a "b" dollars!).


If you're interested, visit their website for lots more detail.

Look - I'd like to believe in the possibility of immortality.  But think about it - if today we were able to awaken someone who died 200 years ago, wouldn't that be great fun?  Especially if we could pick someone famous.  But after 5 - or 10 or 100 - had been revived, where's the novelty?  You have a bunch of people who don't fit into society and who have no skills to make a living - the worst sort of immigrants.  Pretty soon, a wave of prejudice against the "time immigrants" would sweep society and strict laws on reviving bodies would be passed.  Your odds of a great life would be better if you took all that money you've saved up to be frozen and used it to treat yourself to a first-class vacation - or bought a bunch of lottery tickets.  There is no magic.

Sorry not to be more encouraging...

See also:

bulletTed Williams' Records Rise Above Today's Rumours (in the section on Men) - Ted has been frozen in hopes of a future revival.  If future society had to choose between reviving him or you, whom do you think they would select?

What Happened to Ted?

by Tom Verducci

Hall of Famer's bizarre post-mortem defies belief

Williams' remains have been suspended in liquid nitrogen at Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Scottsdale, Arizona, since the former slugger's death in July 2002.  Williams' son, John Henry Williams, had his father placed in cryonic suspension, a deep-freezing process done in hopes that future scientific advances will restore the dead to life.  But contrary to recent news reports, Williams' body is not resting upside down in a liquid nitrogen tank at Alcor [see diagram above].  Instead, reports Verducci, his head sits on a shelf in a liquid nitrogen-filled steel can, while his body is in the same room, stored upright in a liquid nitrogen-filled, nine-foot-tall cylindrical steel tank.

The silver can containing Williams' head resembles a lobster pot and is marked in black with Williams' patient ID number, A-1949, according to a Sports Illustrated story.  Williams' head has been shaved and drilled with holes.  Verducci also reports that, before the head was placed in its present location, it was accidentally cracked as many as 10 times due to fluctuating storage temperatures.  Sports Illustrated's investigation of Alcor internal documents, e-mails, photographs and tape recordings was done with the cooperation of the company's most recent chief operating officer, Larry Johnson.  The magazine's reporting also casts further doubt on whether Williams ever intended to be placed in such a facility.

About a year before Williams died, Alcor employees visited his Hernando, Florida, home but did not meet with him.  Instead, they talked with John Henry while, according to the magazine, Williams could be heard yelling from a back room.  Moreover, Williams' 7-page Consent for Cryonic Suspension, a copy of which was obtained by Sports Illustrated, was submitted to Alcor after he had died, with the line for his signature blank.  The only publicly known documentation that suggests Ted Williams wanted to be cryonically preserved is a piece of scrap paper, stained with motor oil and dated 2 November 2000.  That paper, apparently bearing the signatures of John Henry, his sister Claudia, and Ted, states their desire to be put in "Bio-Stasis after we die" on the chance the three of them might "be together in the future."

The Hall of Famer's signature on the scrap paper reads "Ted Williams."  Bobby-Jo Ferrell, Williams' daughter by his first marriage, who has fought her half-brother and half-sister's efforts to cryonically preserve Williams' body, says her father typically signed legal documents "Theodore S Williams."  The fact that Williams was hospitalised at the time has also raised questions about the document's authenticity, says Sports Illustrated, though the executor of Williams' estate has declared the document to be valid.  John Henry, his sister Claudia and Alcor CEO Jerry Lemler, MD, either declined to answer or failed to respond to questions from Sports Illustrated regarding the state of Ted Williams' body.  According to the magazine, Williams' body was flown to Arizona almost immediately after his death on the morning of 5 July 2002, and was on an operating table at Alcor later that night.  One witness told the magazine that Williams' head was removed in "neuroseparation" surgery, even though John Henry had earlier indicated that he wanted a full-body suspension, and that "many people" snapped pictures of the famous patient during the operation.

John Henry was billed $120,000 for the procedure, plus $16,000 for flying the body to Arizona.  Ten days after Williams' death, his son wrote a $25,000 check to Alcor, but the balance remains unpaid and the company has begun legal efforts to collect it.  According to the former COO Larry Johnson, and his taped conversations, a board member and an adviser joked about "throwing [Williams'] body away," posting it on eBay or sending it in a "frosted cardboard box" COD to John Henry's doorstep, to persuade him to pay the bill.  There also have been problems with storage of Williams' head, says Sports Illustrated.  Two dime-size holes were drilled into the head to observe the brain condition and, more important, to insert sensors that could detect cracks during the freezing process.  But after "a huge crack" occurred in the head in April and nine more cracks were reported in July, Williams' head was removed from its original container and eventually placed in its current "neuro-can."

Bobby-Jo Ferrell has contended that John Henry Williams wants to preserve their father's DNA, perhaps to sell it.  Her lawyer, John Heer, said last month that Ted Williams asked in his will to be cremated and have his ashes scattered over his old fishing grounds in the Florida Keys.

Source: Tuesday 12 August 2003

For articles related to ageing, including feats that can be accomplished, and a non-spiritual look at what happens after death - funerals, jerky, popsicles, fertiliser, ashes, orbit or dust - click the "Up" button below to take you to the Index page for this Older and Under section.

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