A long-standing rumor states Walt Disney’s frozen corpse is being stored beneath the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland, but that rumor has teeth because just a month after Disney died, in January 1967, James Bedford became the first person to be cryogenically preserved. He is the first person to attempt to survive death.
The concept of cryonics, developed in part by Robert Ettinger and several others who have, over the years, joined him in a sub-zero state of preservation, was spelled out in Ettinger’s book, The Prospect of Immortality in 1962. He suggested to freeze people’s bodies in the hopes they can be thawed out in the future, when medical technologies would be better suited to cure what caused the death. Benjamin Franklin wrote about such hope in 1773, stating he wished to be preserved and revived to “see and observe the state of America a hundred years hence.”
Thanks in part to ideas and support from various scientists, cryonics societies sprang up around the world, like Evan Cooper’s Life Extension Society and William Katavolos’s Cryonics Society of New York. These groups formed the basis for companies that developed the technology to cryopreserve human bodies.
The Deep Freeze
After death, the body is cooled to 77.15 degrees Kelvin (-196 Celsius) in liquid nitrogen. A cryoprotectant is pumped through the body to remove any water from the body’s cells and tissue; this prevents them from forming ice when frozen, a process called vitrification. Experiments at university-level medical research facilities have replaced the blood of laboratory animals with cryoprotectants only to revive them later.
Though expensive and quite a gamble, there is no current technology available to revive a person who has been cryogenically frozen for any length of time. However, many scientists believe the process very possible (while many don’t) and are relying on future advances in stem cell tissue regeneration, molecular biology and nanotechnology, and even 3D biological printers to solve the problem.
Who’s Who in the Freezer
Though a complete list is impossible due to medical privacy laws, some of the names of those who have been cryogenically preserved have been released:
James Bedford: a University of California psychology professor who died of cancer in 1967. Suspended in the Alcor Life Extension Foundation.
Fred and Linda Chamberlain: Founders of Alcor. Fred was cryopreserved in 2012.
Dick Clair: He was a TV actor and producer who was cryopreserved in 1988 at Alcor.
L. Stephen Coles: After he died in 2014, Coles, a scientist who studied supercentenarians, became Alcor’s 131st inhabitant.
Hal Finney: A computer scientist, he was the first person to receive a Bitcoin transaction. He was cryopreserved in 2014.
FM-2030: Author and transhumanist philosopher, he didn’t make it to his 100th birthday (hence his name change) but, in 2000, became the first person to be vitrified: a solution is added to the body to prevent crystallization.
Curtis Henderson: A pioneer in the practice of cryonics, he was cryopreserved at the Cryonics Institute in 2009.
Dora Kent: In 1987, Kent’s headless body was at the center of a criminal investigation to determine if she was actually dead before being cryopreserved at Alcor.
Ted Williams: Famous Red Sox player and manager, he was preserved in 2002.
Six Celebrities Who Plan to be Cryopreserved:
- Seth MacFarlane
- Larry King
- Simon Cowell
- Paris Hilton
- Muhammad Ali
- Britney Spears