The Cryonics Man?

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?

Fortunately, Dr. Bedford had been transferred to a separate facility just six days after being frozen. Thus, his body escaped the Chatsworth Disaster. Since his death, he has been on quite the journey. He spent two years at the Cryo-Care facility in Arizona, four years at the Galiso facility in California, four years at Trans Time, and five years being kept privately by his son. In 1982, he was moved to his current residence at Alcor Life Extension Foundation. Dr. Bedford remains the only person frozen prior to 1973 that remains frozen 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.

Captain America & Suspended Animation

In honor of the upcoming summer blockbuster, Captain America: The First Avenger, I will be devoting the next three days to some of the real-life history, mysteries, and science that underlie the film. For those of you who don’t know, Captain America is a fictional, World War II super-soldier. Based on previews, we know that part of the story involves him being frozen in a block of ice towards the end of the war, only to be revived decades later from a state of suspended animation. Is suspended animation possible? Has anyone ever experienced it?

Surviving Suspended Animation?

On October 7, 2006, Mitsutaka Uchikoshi vanished while climbing Japan’s Mount Rokko with friends. On October 31, rescuers discovered him. His organs had shut down. His body temperature had dropped to 71 degrees Fahrenheit. But despite a reported twenty-four days in the freezing cold without food or water, he still had a pulse.

“He fell into a hypothermic state at a very early stage, which is similar to hibernation. Therefore, his brain functions were protected without being damaged and have now recovered 100%.” ~ Dr. Shinichi Sato

When he was discovered, Uchikoshi’s metabolism was barely active. He was treated for “severe hypothermia, multiple organ failure and blood loss” and remained hospitalized until December 19. But he survived, apparently by entering a state of suspended animation. While astonishing, Uchikoshi’s case is not exactly unique.

Other Cases of Suspended Animation

Here are a few similar cases from the annals of history:

These cases of accidental suspended animation bear resemblance to hibernation, an activity undergone by certain animals during wintertime. Hibernation is characterized by reduced body temperature, minimal cell activity, shallow breathing, and a decreased metabolic rate. It allows animals to survive for days or weeks when food and water are difficult to procure.

Possible Breakthroughs in Suspended Animation?

But is suspended animation just a rare human response to extremely cold conditions? Or can it be induced artificially? Already, physicians use cool temperatures to reduce patient’s metabolisms. Now, many researchers believe that significant breakthroughs in human hibernation are within our grasp.

“If we could discover the genetic and molecular basis for this protection, and for the mechanisms that underlie the reduction in metabolic demand, there is the possibility that we could derive new therapies and medicines to use on humans to prevent osteoporosis, and disuse atrophy of muscle or even to place injured people in a type of suspended or reduced animation until they can be delivered to advanced medical care – extending the golden hour [when medical intervention is most effective] to a golden day or a golden week.” ~ Dr. Brian Barnes

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The future looks bright. Even as we speak, scientists are hard at work developing drugs and treatments intended to induce suspended animation within people. These things could be used to slow cell expiration, giving physicians more time to treat fatal diseases. They could also be used to help astronauts journey to the far reaches of the universe. Someday soon, the story of Captain America’s suspended animation will no longer be relegated to fiction…it will be a part of life.

(This is the first article in a three part series. Go here for Part II: The Nazi Super-Soldier Program & here for Part III: The Nazi Plot to Bomb America.)