This article is from the column For the Record, Cryonics, July 1991
See also:

 

The First Suspension

by Mike Perry

The freezing of Dr. James Bedford in January 1967 was the first (albeit crude) cryonic suspension. It was a major milestone, but like many other such occurrences, it didn't happen in a vacuum. Here I'd like to summarize some events that led up to this turning-point, and briefly relate the event itself, as it was seen in the budding cryonics movement.

Early on, there had been optimism. Robert Ettinger wrote in The Prospect of Immortality, "My own guess is that most of us will be frozen by nondamaging methods . . ."[1] It wasn't long though, before it was recognized that there would be problems in getting even one person frozen, despite the best efforts of a few dedicated individuals, and the fact that over 50 million people were dying each year. After two years of promoting the concept, Evan Cooper in December, 1964 fumed in exasperation, "Are we shouting in the abyss? How could 110 million go to their deaths without one, at least trying for a life in the future via freezing? Where is the individualism, scientific curiosity, and even eccentricity we hear so much about?"[2]

To expedite matters, Cooper's Life Extension Society, in June 1965, offered to freeze the first person free: "The Life Extension Society now has primitive facilities for emergency short term freezing and storing our friend the large homeotherm (man). LES offers to freeze free of charge the first person desirous and in need of cryogenic suspension." [3] (Despite the generous offer, however, LES would never freeze anybody.)

By this point, there had already been a tragic near-miss. Wilma Jean McLaughlin of Springfield, Ohio expired of heart and circulatory problems May 20, 1965. Ev Cooper filed a report the following day, from which the following is excerpted: [4]

"The woman who almost became the first person frozen for a possible reanimation in the future died yesterday. The attempt to freeze her was abandoned. The reports on why the freezing was given up vary considerably according to the newspaper, newscast, or long distance call. However, the following are apparently some of the obstacles that developed.

"1. Though the husband was pro-freezing, some of the relatives and their minister were against it. The minister was reported to have been opposed because the operation was untested and the doctors could not assure him the experiment would succeed.

"2. The physician would not aid in the experiment, according to the N.Y. Herald Tribune.

"3. The hospital administration and trustees met in emergency session, according to reports, and refused to go along with certain procedures after death, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer and other press agencies.

"4. Leonard Gold of Juno, Inc., as reported in the Washington Post, said his company's `capsule' or insulated container wasn't available. His company had been caught off guard, he said, and only a prototype was in existence which was still being tested.

"5. The minister warned, according to the UPI and the Washington Post, that `the idea was new and laws had not been enacted to regulate the company involved.'

"6. The subject for freezing was unconscious and did not know anything about the plan according to most reports."

Another tragic near-miss occurred later in the year.[5] Dandridge M. Cole was a brilliant scientist and technological forecaster who had received a pre-publication copy of Ettinger's book in 1963, and had been deeply impressed. His own most recent book, Beyond Tomorrow, had devoted several pages to the subject of suspended animation. He had expressed a wish to be frozen after death to several friends and relatives, and had had a long discussion on the subject with a close friend and colleague, Robert Prehoda. It was an unfortunate choice of a colleague. Prehoda was interested in cryobiology and wrote a book, Suspended Animation. He was, however, a determined opponent of cryonics, although he would later take part, reluctantly, in the Bedford freezing.

Cole was only 44 when, on Oct. 30, 1965, he suffered a fatal heart attack. After some delay a call was placed to Ettinger, who later would write, "I was consulted by long-distance telephone several hours after he died, but in the end the family did what was to be expected -- nothing." Discussing the matter in Suspended Animation, Prehoda managed to rationalize that "Rational counsel prevailed, and Dan was given a dignified burial."

A success of sorts finally did occur, however, on April 22, 1966. An elderly woman (never identified) who had been previously embalmed was straight-frozen, though only after a long interval of non-frozen storage. The freezing was by Cryocare Corporation in Phoenix, Arizona, and the woman appears to have come from the Los Angeles area. "Someone has been frozen at last!" Cooper jubilantly responded, but added a cautionary note:

"There is little or no thought that this first frozen pioneer will rise again in the 21st or 22nd century as considerable time elapsed between death and freezing. If the cooling and perfusion of the person with cryoprotective agents isn't begun immediately at death the memory which is believed a matter of fine molecular placement would soon disintegrate. As this first person was frozen long after death there is no known hope for re-establishing the original memory and thus the personality. Yet this imperfect beginning may be a step forward toward bringing an extended life to others via cryogenics." [6]

(Within a few months the woman was removed from suspension. [7])

Finally, the big event occurred: the freezing of Dr. James Bedford January 12, 1967, in Glendale, a Los Angeles suburb. Bedford was a 73-year old retired psychology professor who had written several books on occupational counseling. "A SECOND PERSON HAS NOW BEEN FROZEN IN CALIFORNIA. REVIVAL A GOAL" was how Cooper broke the news in the January, 1967 issue of Freeze-Wait-Reanimate, from which the quotations that follow were taken.[8] The freezing was carried out by affiliates of the newly-formed Cryonics Society of California: Robert Prehoda, author and cryobiological researcher; Dr. Dante Brunol, physician and biophysicist; and Robert Nelson, President of the Society. Also assisting was Bedford's physician, Dr. Renault Able. Several advances were outlined in Cooper's report:

"1. The time between death and beginning the cooling has been drastically reduced. This means there may be some hope for reanimation in the distant future when reanimation techniques have been perfected and a cure for cancer [the cause of death] has been found.

"2. This reduction in time was made possible by the person in danger of death making his wishes known, in locating a suitable place and a willing doctor. A nursing home was located in this instance. Nursing homes, the home of a doctor or nurse, or the patient's home are the most likely places for these pioneering freezings. In these homes only one or a few people need to be convinced of the worth and rationality of freezing. Whereas, in a large hospital the chain of acceptance is a long one. . . .

"3. Another advance is that this second person is reported to have been perfused with cryoprotective agents whereas the first person was embalmed. Is there a difference? Yes, perfusion at its best in a good hospital or clinic under careful scientific control can be quite a complicated procedure in comparison to embalming. The aim of perfusion is to extend that process to man which has been most successful in freezing, storing and reanimating micro-organisms, tissue and organs. Embalming fluids would be quite destructive to tissue in comparison to the protective acton of DMSO and glycerol."

Some details were exaggerated in the press:

"The newspaper reports in general gave an unemotional [account] of the freezing, but with some misunderstandings and exaggerations. The Los Angeles Herald Examiner, on the front page, stated 'an elderly man who died last night of cancer was placed in a state of deep freeze moments after death ...'. The Washington Post carried two additional statements of impossibilities: 'The body of the man was quick-frozen "virtually instantaneously" with his death Thursday, according to Robert Nelson . . .' and 'He said the body was quick- frozen and a mechanical heart machine was attached to the man's heart.'

"Obviously it wouldn't make any sense to quick-freeze a person and then attach a heart machine. Second, it is impossible by present means to quick-freeze a person. Experiments indicate that even the attempt to quick-freeze with present methods often leads to the rupture of organs. One needs to be quick in beginning the cooling and perfusion processes once the person has died, but the freezing should be rather slow."

Unfortunately, Nelson's fledgling cryonics operation would not prove viable; nine cryonics patients would be lost, some years later, in what became known as the Chatsworth disaster. (Happily, Bedford escaped by being transferred by relatives, only six days after the freezing, to another facility, Cryo-Care in Phoenix, from which he would continue a long and eventful journey across time.) But for the moment, the problems seemed mercifully small:

"In spite of technical difficulties and possible exaggerations the Los Angeles freezing does appear to be a great step forward. Bob Nelson, LES member and now forming the Cryonics Society of California, is to be congratulated for his organizing ability and for his willingness to face the press. Dr. Able is to be congratulated for his courage in taking part as well as the nursing home. Many others are to be congratulated for their help though they may not have obtained or desired publicity. The `patient', the cryonaut, who is reported to have volunteered is to be congratulated for his courage and foresight. And, also for his family who respected his rights and desires as an individual. With extreme good fortune we might be able to present our commendations in the distant future to this new type of pioneer Westerner who we hope is now in reasonably good cryogenic suspension."

One unidentified LES member had behind the scenes information, which Cooper condensed into a report:

"First, Robert Prehoda and Dr. Brunol are certainly to be congratulated for arranging and seeing the perfusion and freezing through. In fact if it were not for Prehoda the freezing might not, probably would not, have taken place, according to our observer.

"This is almost dumbfounding for Robert Prehoda presented the view in the August-September 1966 issue of this newsletter that to `freeze the dying or dead at the present time (is) totally unfeasible . . . When an organ as large as a human brain is perfused with DMSO and frozen to cryogenic temperatures, most of the cells are damaged beyond any conceptual means of future repair and restoration to original function.'

"Everyone is delighted that the freezing movement has been pushed a notch forward. It is a great service for those to follow. But if our facts are wrong, perhaps we could request of Bob Prehoda a note, article, or letter for our readers as to what actually happened as he saw it?

"But to continue our freezing and post freezing story . . . [i]t would seem that after the cooling and partial perfusion and perhaps while the body of this elderly gentleman was continuing its journey downward toward the cryogenic state, it was transported away from the nursing home and into Prehoda's garage. Eventually Prehoda's wife found out about the body in the station wagon in the garage and our reporter indicates that she got pretty hysterical. As we understand it the windows of the station wagon were soaped so no one could see in and the wagon was moved up the hill.

"Our observer gave up describing the scene in detail at that point saying it could only be described as hysterical and chaotic. He said that if he had [had] a camera it would have made the movie of the year.

"During this same period LES and Cryonics members [evidently, members of the Cryonics Society of California and the Cryonics Society of New York] flew into and descended upon Los Angeles attempting to get extra publicity and adding to the confusion. For all the confusion and `technical difficulties' the story has two happy endings. First and most important our frozen pioneer is reported to have been successfully spirited out of the state of California and into Ed Hope's Cryo-Care storage center in Phoenix where presumably he will be placed in a liquid nitrogen environment for his much longer journey through time. The second happy ending is that the activists and survivors are now being interviewed by Life Magazine." (The Life report appeared Feb. 3, but was suppressed because of the Apollo disaster and the burning of three astronauts, and only about 15% of the readership received copies, mainly in the Midwest and South.[9])

Finally, Ettinger contributed a letter in which, after generous congratulations, he offers some brief thoughts:

"In a general way [the freezing] followed the suggestions I made in the May, 1965 issue of Esquire. Dr. Able, the attending physician, was present at death, and at once applied artificial respiration and external heart massage to maintain circulation of oxygenated blood while the body was being cooled with ice. Later, Dr. Brunol, Mr. Prehoda and Mr. Nelson perfused the patient with DMSO solution [actually he was injected, not perfused], and he was then frozen with dry ice, later to be transferred to liquid nitrogen . . .

"Readers of the LES newsletter will probably be surprised to know that Mr. Prehoda provided such important help, in view of his expressed pessimism. He remains more pessimistic than most of us, and in fact says that at this date he still would not choose freezing for his own family, but it is greatly to his credit that he recognizes the possible validity of other viewpoints and is willing to help the optimists in practice. His chief concern remains to stimulate greater support for research, and we all agree on the importance of this.

"We have passed an important milestone, but this is only the beginning of the journey nevertheless. We are still desperately short of equipment and organization. (For example, I had to ship our Westinghouse Iron Heart to Los Angeles, and in general there was a large element of luck in the fact that clinical death occurred under conditions so favorable.) How much momentum this incident will gain us is by no means certain. Perhaps we can be excused a little mild self-congratulation, but it is primarily an occasion for a sober look at our mistakes and shortcomings."


References:

1. Ettinger, Robert C.W. The Prospect of Immortality, Doubleday, 1964, p. 157.

2. Life Extension Society Newsletter, Dec. 1964, p.1.

3. Freeze-Wait-Reanimate, Jun. 1965, p.1.

4. Freeze-Wait-Reanimate, May 1965, p.10.

5. Prehoda, Robert W. Suspended Animation, Chilton, 1969, p.112.

6. Freeze-Wait-Reanimate, May 1966, p.1.

7. Freeze-Wait-Reanimate, Feb. 1967, p.4.

8. Freeze-Wait-Reanimate, Jan. 1967, pp.1,2,4,8.

9. Freeze-Wait-Reanimate, Feb. 1967, p.1.