On January 12, 1967, Dr. James Bedford passed away. A few hours later, he became the first person in history to have his body frozen with intent of future resuscitation. So, where is the Cryonics Man today?
The Strange Science of Cryonics?
Cryonics is the science of freezing a deceased subject in the hopes of reviving that same subject in the future. The idea is to keep the subject in a state of preservation until technology advancements allow for resuscitation as well as a cure for whatever killed the subject in the first place. While cryonics procedures currently take place after death, suspended animation, similar to the phenomenon of human hibernation, may someday be possible. Regardless, cryonics supporters believe that they can ultimately cheat death.
Cryonics is a very new and somewhat controversial science. Most historians trace it to Robert Ettinger’s 1962 book, The Prospect of Immortality. While Ettinger was probably more influential, Evan Cooper deserves much credit for his work, Immortality: Physically, Scientifically, Now, as well as for his founding of the Life Extension Society.
The First Cryonics Patient?
In June 1965, the Life Extension Society announced a strange promotion that took the world by storm. It offered to cryopreserve a single subject, free of charge. At the time, Dr. James Bedford was a psychology professor at the University of California. He suffered from a terminal case of kidney cancer. He submitted an application and was subsequently selected as the promotion winner. Eighteen months later, on January 12, 1967, Dr. Bedford died. A few hours later, his body was frozen by Robert Prehoda, Dr. Dante Brunol, and Robert Nelson. That day, Dr. Bedford became the first cryonics patient in history.
The Cryonics Man created much excitement and Robert Nelson’s organization, the Cryonics Society of California (CSC), began taking on additional patients. This lasted until 1979. In what would become known as the Chatsworth Disaster, nine cryonics patients maintained by the CSC were discovered to have thawed due to a lack of funds. Understandably, the growth of the cryonics industry slowed in the aftermath. But what happened to Robert Nelson’s first patient, Dr. James Bedford? Was he thawed at Chatsworth?
Where is the Cryonics Man today?
Cryonics is often viewed as a LIFO science. In other words, “Last In, First Out.” Preservation technologies should continue to improve, making future patients easier to revive. It will take additional scientific advancements to revive earlier subjects who were preserved with more primitive techniques. This is undoubtedly the case for Dr. Bedford. His brain was injected with DMSO rather than the anti-freeze products used today. Thus, it probably wasn’t well-protected from ice formation. Still, a 1991 report prepared by Alcor states that “it seems likely that his external temperature has remained at relatively low subzero temperatures throughout the storage interval.”
Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis
Despite the promise of cryonics, it is not widely used today, thanks to the large expense required to maintain care. In order to avoid another Chatsworth, cryonics companies require full payment for all future storage costs, which could range for decades or even centuries. Alcor charges as much as $200,000 for whole body cryopreservation. Head and brain preservation only is still pretty steep at $80,000. It should be noted that life insurance is an option to spread out the cost over time.
Due in part to the steep cost, there are only some 200 human cryonic subjects today, with 106 and 103 maintained by the Alcor Life Extension Foundation and the Cryonics Institute, respectively. KrioRus, located in Russia, maintains 17 human subjects while Trans Time hosts 3 subjects. However, I expect these numbers to rise dramatically in the future as more and more people seek out extended lifespans. Centuries from now, those who seek out cryonics treatment may someday reawaken, a second chance of life at their fingertips. And when they do, they’ll have one man to thank for leading the way…the Cryonics Man, Dr. James Bedford.
Nice piece, David. Alcor now has 107 patients.
I always dislike to see us being describing as “cheating” death. Death isn’t something you can cheat. It has no rights and no claims on us. I’d rather say “overcome” or “defeat” death.
CEO & President, Alcor Life Extension Foundation
Thanks for the visit Max…I’m very interested in cryonics and your company so it means a lot to me! I agree with you on the “cheating death” line. Your version is much more accurate. Well, I’m glad you enjoyed the article and thanks again!