FREEZE NOW LIVE LATER
Want a chance at immortality? Here's one possibility, and some people are game to try it.There's just one question: will it work?
“Death, like old age, can now be regarded as a disease: a very serious disease to be sure — indeed, it’s generally fatal — but not necessarily incurable." — Robert Ettinger. author of The Prospect Of Immortality.
SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE will soon earn a place in the history of mankind by dying and then being instantly frozen solid so he can be stored in a freezer for a century or so in the hope scientists will learn how to bring him back alive. But who it will be, and where and when it happens, depends on a macabre variation of Russian roulette.
The man (or woman) who wants to be frozen for posterity will have to die in a hospital or clinic willing to permit its facilities to be used by a doctor prepared to perform the freezing operation — but at present almost all hospitals and doctors are decidedly cool to the proposition. Another stumbling block is that in the absence of a test case, no one knows whether the law would frown on a freezing (though it’s not unlike embalming in that both preserve the corpse). And besides, the public has been slow to accept this philosophy of freeze-wait-reanimate and if the dead man’s family objects the freezing cannot take place.
But it will happen, that seems certain. Indeed, there have already been a half dozen or so near misses in which family or doctors balked at the last minute. It may happen this year, next year, or not for twenty years. But it will happen because the freeze-waitreanimate concept, popularized by a forty-seven-year-old United States physicist named Robert Ettinger, offers nothing less than the chance to become immortal — and each week is gaining about twenty disciples theoretically ready and willing to be frozen when they die, sometimes before.
That’s the approximate rate at which membership is increasing in a dozen or so freeze-wait-reanimate groups in the United States, Canada and around the world — and even that hardly reflects the degree of interest in the subject. Professor Ettinger received more than a thousand letters of inquiry in February. He says most of the movement’s active supporters are university graduates (lawyers, teachers, businessmen, writers, scientists and some doctors). The majority — but by a slim margin — are men.
The U.S. groups include four companies set up in the past year or so to provide facilities or storage equipment, or both, for people who want to be frozen on death. Three of the firms have not yet passed the planning stage, but last December the fourth, Cryocare Incorporated set up in Phoenix, Arizona, by a balding wigmaker named Ed Hope, produced its first container in which bodies can be stored for centuries.
The parent organization for all these groups is the Washington-based Life
Extension Society, an internationally oriented organization dedicated to propagating the belief that we can have immortality now — though at the moment they’re not exactly prepared to offer an ironclad guarantee. LES has more than four hundred members around the world from Europe to Asia to Latin America, and an eight-member branch in Montreal run by insurance salesman Jim Clancy, who says he is receiving so much mail from interested Canadians that the postman recently delivered to his home a letter addressed simply: J. Clancy, Life Extension Societv. Montreal (his full address is 2332 Belgrave Avenue).
EMBERS OF all these groups display an almost religious faith in the ultimate ability of doctors and scientists to learn how' to reanimate a frozen body, cure the disease or injuries that caused death, and then to control the aging process so that at least a second life is guaranteed.
The inability of doctors to reanimate a body frozen and stored at the recommended minus-190 degrees Centigrade (the temperature of liquid nitrogen) is but one small hurdle in the path of freeze-wait-reanimate enthusiasts. As the law now stands, freezing a living human being, even one near death, would constitute murder. and so the first candidate for immortality will have to be clinically dead before freezing takes place. But on death, blood and oxygen supplies cease. And no one yet knows how long after death the body’s organs — heart, brain, kidneys and so on — remain sufficiently undamaged by biological change to make réanimation possible. Today, for instance, the brain is presumed to be irreparably damaged within minutes of death. But freezing would take at least an hour, and thus present scientific knowledge indicates that réanimation will be impossible. Freeze-wait-reanimate movement leaders argue, however, that science will some day learn how to reanimate a brain that by present standards would be considered irreparably damaged.
Neither is anyone yet sure of the safest way in which to freeze human bodies: the current belief is that before freezing the body should be perfused — that is. the blood should be replaced with a chemical that would prevent, or at least minimize, cellular damage during freezing. Thus the first guinea pigs’ chances of being reanimated seem somewhat remote, even supposing medical science does learn how to cure what killed them and how to revive them as well. There are countless other technical problems, not the least of which is that a body frozen to minus-190 degrees Centigrade will be very brittle and apt to chip or shatter like crystal if carelessly handled.
Yet for all these ifs and buts. the arguments of freeze-wait-reanimate
disciples are disarmingly, if not downright seductively, simple. Evan Cooper. a lean, almost cadaverous fortyyear-old who calls himself “a si rt ot intellectual gadfly" and who is founder and president of the Life Extension Society, explains it this way: "When you're dead, you’re dead. You can either he buried and moulder, be cremated and burn, or be frozen and stand a chance of being brought back to lile when science catches up with whatever killed you or learns how to replace or supplement the faulty organ that caused your death. Anyway, freezing is the best chance humanity has right now of stealing a march on progress.”
That progress seems fairly certain to take place. Surgeons commonly reduce the temperature of a person on whom they are operating by packing the patient's body in ice: the lower the body temperature the lower the body’s metabolic activity and the less organs such as the heart and brain need oxygen and blood. Thus the rate of organic decay is slowed and the surgeon has more time available in which to work. While this so-called “deepfreeze" surgery does not actually involve freezing anything, it is already possible to deep-freeze blood, eyes, human sperm and individual organs to be used in transplant surgery—then thaw them without damage. It is. says the freeze-wait-reanimate theory, simply a matter of time before it is possible to apply the same techniques to the whole body.
WHHE ROBERT Ettinger. a physics professor at Highland Park College in Detroit, popularized freeze-waitreanimate with his best-selling book The Prospect Of Immortality ( Doubleday. 1964), he must share the honor of being father of the movement with Evan Cooper. Ettinger originally produced a booklet outlining his freezing thesis in 1962, but coincidentally Evan Cooper wrote a book called Immortality: Physically. Scientifically, Now. Both books were privately published and in them the freezing theory was postulated as a practical proposition for the first time, though sciencefiction writers have toyed with the idea for sonic forty years. Cooper says he got the idea from a book on cybernetics, which is the comparative study of human nervous systems and electronic control systems, like computers. and which may just lead to the building of the first humanlike robot. Ettinger began thinking about bodies being stored in suspended animation while recovering from ncarlatal war wounds in hospital.
"But without Professor Ettingcr’s major book in 1964 the whole idea would have been laughed out of existence," says Cooper. “He’s a scientist and I'm not, and other scientists’ reception of his arguments turned us overnight / continued on page 31
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from a group of kooks into an organization to be taken notice of. You see, the most scornful critic of the concept H forced to admit that freeze-waitieanimate is at least possible. The fantastic progress of science in recent \ears means that no one dares risk saying that anything is actually impossible, because it obviously isn't.”
When Cooper's book was published (its circulation was limited to a few dozen), he and a handful of friends formed an organization they called Immortality Communication Exchange. Ettinger joined, and at its first annual immortality conference in 1963 successfully proposed a name change: he argued that an organization dedicated to freezing humanity and bearing a name that could be abbreviated to ICE was likely to be accused of levity in the face of death.
Thus was born the Life Extension Society, which has since met about once a month, and for almost two \ears has published a mimeographed newsletter about the prospect of life everlasting. More than half the copies go to people who have paid their twodollar subscription to the society. Others are sent to university campuses, doctors, authors and others Evan Cooper considers “influential people.” None of these have, however, yet displayed any interest.
The most recent newsletter told of an offer from a leading U.S. insurance company to provide an insuranceendowment policy for LES members’ rather unusual requirements at a cost of about twenty-five dollars a month. The policy would pay ten thousand dollars to cover the cost of freezing and storage. However, the company limits its liability to paying up only on the occasion of “the first death,” not any subsequent deaths taking place after réanimation. It is an attractive proposition, because the total price of a place in the next world would be about eight thousand dollars: the
“cryocrypt,” or storage box, would cost about three thousand dollars and, after deducting medical costs, the balance of the eight thousand dollars would be a contribution to an investment fund whose profits would pay the cost of body storage in a freezatorium.
Since the other freeze-wait-reanimate organizations are all younger and smaller — and since all but one of the four companies in the field are not operating yet — the Washington LES group seems to stand the best chance of conducting the first real freezing. There are more than fifty members in the capital itself, and most of them have signed “freeze cards” which indicate their desire to be frozen on death.
Early in 1965 the Washington group made their own primitive storage box —it looks like a plasterboard coffin — in which a body could be kept frozen in emergency, but last December Ed Hope, the Phoenix wigmaker, announced his “cryocapsule” was on the market. For the third international LES conference in Washington in January (about fifty people attended) Evan Cooper and a sympathetic veterinarian perfused and froze a live mongrel dog called Bel. Hope placed Bel in his first production model
FREEZE NOW continued
First a few, then volunteers aplenty?
“cryocapsule” (it looks like a boiler, with knobs on) and hauled it in a van to Marty Laffal’s Steakhouse, where the convention was being held. Marty Laffal himself was infuriated: understandably, he felt that bringing a frozen dog into his restaurant might be bad for business. Worse, Humane Society inspectors were on hand to complain. So instead of taking the cryocapsule into the convention, Hope left it on display in the van, which was parked in the drive until police moved him on for parking in a no-waiting area.
Evan Cooper persuaded Marty Laffal not to evict the whole convention, but later Hope reneged on an earlier promise to store Bel in perpetuity, saying he’d always thought they should have frozen a pig instead of a dog because the pig lovers of America were neither so powerful nor numerous as the dog lovers. So Evan Cooper and friends built a smaller storage box for Bel, and the frozen dog is now stored in the garage of an LES member who fills the container with dry ice (recommended as an emergency substitute for liquid nitrogen) at least once each week.
The Bel affair produced a lot of publicity, and in January and February LES membership began to soar at the rate of between ten and twenty each week. At its February meeting, which 1 attended as an observer, the society began to plan to receive the first candidate for immortality. This meeting was held in the home of Mrs. Peg Howard, at Ashton, Maryland, about twenty miles from downtown Washington. Fourteen of us (“There’d be more, but it’s an inconvenient meeting place,” said Cooper) were greeted by Peg and her nine-year-old daughter Gretta, who ushered guests into the
graciously furnished living room of what appeared to be a forty-thousanddollar split-level and served coffee, ginger ale, cake and pie.
Mrs. Howard, an impeccably groomed woman of thirty-nine, reported that the Washington Hospital Centre refused to let the society meet on its premises, and Paul Romsberg, a used-car dealer, said the society could build a freezing clinic and storage freezatorium on either his car lot at Rockville, Maryland, or in part of a nearby one-hundred-acre subdivision he was planning to develop. “You never know, I’m sixty-six so I might be the first to be frozen and stored on my own land,” he said.
This was an important meeting because it was the first attended by the society’s newest recruit, a doctor currently doing research. This man, who refused to be named, cheered everybody up by promising to perfuse and freeze a body in Maryland (where he is licensed) “provided I didn’t get involved in something to make me lose my license.” LES should, he said, get advice from a lawyer about the legality of perfusion and freezing in Maryland “so we can be ready, anyway.” Later he rejected a suggestion that with the planned clinic he could experiment by freezing animals. “Scientists have already done that.” he said. “I want to see if it can be done with a human. Once you have a clinic and one or two frozen bodies, you’ll have people knocking on your door. It’s the first one that is so vital.”
Romsberg the car dealer, suggested that the needed funds for the clinic should be raised by running a lottery with a Cadillac (“not a hearse”) for a prize, but thirty minutes of argument produced the decision to ask continued on pape 35
“Most hold life to be sacred—all we do
is try to extend it”
members for donations to a fund that would either pay for building a clinic or renting suitable premises (LES's present bank balance is three hundred dollars).
Evan Cooper reported “the French group is going berserk”; they had. he said, produced freezer cards in French and recently had a near miss when a doctor first agreed to perfuse and freeze a member who had died, but then changed his mind. (There have been at least six similar incidents in the U.S.) Cooper said the French group numbered more than thirty and its members included four doctors, among them a well-known neurosurgeon. He also announced that a Japanese cryobiologist (an expert in low-temperature biology) had frozen a cat’s brain, then thawed, or “reanimated." it and got a positive EEC (electroencephalogram) reading of brain activity. This, he said, would help reinforce the basic freeze-waitreanimate thesis.
As we tucked into a fresh supply of cake, Peg Howard’s husband, a former U.S. Coastguard captain turned businessman, emerged from a back room to ask, courteously, a few skeptical questions about what he called “my wife’s fad.” No. replied Evan Cooper, no one had been frozen yet. and no, they couldn't freeze people before they died because that would be at least euthanasia, and in the U.S. that's called murder. No. the society didn’t advocate wholesale réanimation of frozen people until science had also learned how to control the population explosion. Storage would, he admitted, be a problem. Because of the danger of nuclear war. Antarctica or the permafrost areas of Canada's far north would be ideal storage areas. No, thus far the movement had not run into much opposition from religious groups, and “since most religions hold life to be sacred, they can’t really object if all we do is try to extend it.”
Ideally, added Cooper, no one would be reanimated until science had learned how to control the aging process, so that not only would they be restored to life, but their life span would be lengthened, perhaps indefinitely.
While Cooper answered Captain Howard’s questions, the rest of us split into small discussion groups. The doctor, patents agent Ernest Karlsen and auburn-haired Susan Dcndler, a twenty-four-year-old research assistant in a virology laboratory, discussed Karlsen’s belief that one day scientists would be able to grow new limbs, even whole bodies, from scraps of human tissue. They also considered the prospect of a technique being developed to transfer the stored memory and personality of a brain to a new body. Susan is pretty enough to be the first real-life Sleeping Beauty if, say, she were to be killed in an accident or die and then be frozen. She and her husband Royce, an art teacher, have made out freezer cards because, she said, “one lifetime is hardly enough for us, and besides I could never learn all I want to before I died.”
Karlsen, now thirty, said he wanted
to be frozen, partly because of curiosity and partly because of “a welldeveloped sense of self-preservation.” The doctor, who privately admitted he attended the LES annual convention because he thought the people there would be "a bunch of kooks" and joined up w'hen he found they weren't, said freezing w'as as good a way as
any of disposing of his body, and it would also provide a chance that he’d be able to w'ake up in the future and satisfy his curiosity about mankind’s progress. “Many doctors privately admit that freeze-wait-reanimate is a reasonable thesis." he said.
Perhaps. But who w'ants to live a second life, and perhaps forever? Jim
Clancy, the forty-nine-year-old insurance salesman who heads the Montreal group, says, “A prerequisite of freezing is a love of life. Millions live lives of quiet desperation, and don’t want to risk repeating it. Personally. I love living, though my wife thinks I’m nuts.” Evan Cooper, one of the movement’s mainsprings, has a similar problem: his wife. Mildred, says. “If I get through this life without anything disastrous happening to me. that’ll be enough.” ★