Cryonics Boosters Warm to Reports of Frozen Star

Mon Jul 8, 6:57 PM ET

By David Schwartz

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (Reuters) - Amid reports that the body of famed baseball player Ted Williams may have been placed in its cryonic deep-freeze, the Alcor Life Extension Foundation has been deluged with requests for information about its program to refrigerate newly dead corpses in hopes of thawing them out later -- alive -- or at least retrieving their DNNA.

"We've been swamped with phone calls," said Jerry Lemler, Alcor Life Extension Foundation's president and chief executive. "I'm sorry, but I can't talk right now."

Alcor officials have been scrambling since word was released that the former Boston Red Sox star, who died in Florida on Friday at age 83, was said to have been shipped to the Scottsdale facility to be frozen in a bid to preserve his DNA.

A family struggle over Williams' remains may be headed for the court, with one of his daughters accusing her half-brother of seeking to cash in on their father's genes.

Although Alcor officials will not confirm or deny that Williams' body is in their custody, the possibility has sparked a buzz among cryonics advocates, who often find themselves lumped with alien abductees and Big Foot researchers in the gray zone between fact and fantasy.

"The more members we get the better off we are going to be when it comes to being treated seriously," Lemler said in an interview last year.

"Sometimes all I think it would take is one famous person who would let us use his or her name and the floodgates would open."

WILL COOL HEADS PREVAIL?

Alcor, which started in 1972 and moved to a nondescript business center in Arizona in 1994, is the largest of a handful of places that charge $30,000 to $150,000 to try to preserve an individual's body -- or just the head -- for "reanimation" at a later date.

There are 49 whole bodies or heads inside Alcor's so-called "patient care center," with about 580 individuals in the United States and worldwide waiting to take their reserved spaces when the time comes and be suspended.

The process is set into motion as quickly as possible when the patient is pronounced dead and special Alcor response teams are called in to take over.

Working against time, these clients -- all dues-paying members of Alcor -- are iced down and work begins on their heart and lungs. Tubes are inserted to drain the person's blood and a glycerin solution is pumped in to help protect the patient from freeze damage.

Slowly, their body temperature is cooled to minus 196 degrees Centigrade, where they are wrapped in a blanket and placed upside down into a special slot in a tall stainless steel canister filled with liquid nitrogen.

Head-only procedures generally differ in that the head is more quickly cooled once the chemicals are put in, and it takes about five days before the final temperature is reached.

The canisters, called dewars, are topped off with a dose of the nitrogen twice a month to keep the clients frozen.

Cryonics has long been a staple of science fiction, and many scientific and medical experts say they doubt the process will ever prove successful.

But cryonics pioneer Robert Ettinger, president of the Michigan-based Cryonics Institute, said the public seems to be warming to the idea that life after death may be possible in the years that lay ahead. But he doubted that Williams would put the field over the top.

"The wind is at our backs," said Ettinger, dubbed "The Father of Cryonics." "Our rate of growth has increased and the tenure and tone of people in general is improving."

For those like Ralph Merkle, 50, the prospect of life after death is as close as the silver, POW-like bracelet he wears etched with the code A1173.

The Alcor board member is hoping that cryonics will allow him to live again.

"Does cryonics work?" said Merkle, whose bracelet gives instructions on whom to call and what to do in case of his death. "The way I see it, the clinic trials are now being conducted. I'll be able to tell you more in a century."