Frozen in time
Company preserving heads, bodies in hope of reanimationPosted: Tuesday July 09, 2002 7:21 PM
PHOENIX (AP) -- The heads or bodies of 49 people are being preserved in large metal tubes at a company in suburban Phoenix, and there are more than 500 people on a waiting list to get in when they die.
All have bet that somehow, someday they can be brought back to life. Among those on the waiting list is 84-year-old Paul Garfield of Sun City.
"I just want to keep on living. That's why all of us are involved in this," Garfield said. "We have as much faith in the future as the deepest religious person."
The company, Alcor Life Extension Foundation, has drawn national attention in recent days amid reports that the body of baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams has been sent to the company to be preserved. Bobby-Jo Williams said the move violated her father's wishes and is fighting for custody of his remains.
She has accused her half brother, John Henry Williams, of wanting to preserve their father's DNA, perhaps to sell it.
Foundation officials declined to discuss Ted Williams. Alcor spokeswoman Karla Steen also refused to talk about the preservation techniques.
Among the bodies in storage is that of TV producer Dick Clair, who won three Emmy Awards for his work on The Carol Burnett Show, according to Alcor.
The company describes the process, called cryonics, as experimental medical technology that stores bodies -- it calls them patients -- by freezing them in liquid nitrogen or preserving them in a chemical solution.
The foundation doesn't guarantee the preservation process and admits the technology to revive a person doesn't exist. The company Web site quotes an expert in biotechnology as saying the first revival attempt could take place as early as 2040.
To become a member, Alcor charges a $150 application fee and $398 in annual dues. Upon a member's death, Alcor charges $50,000 to preserve a head and $120,000 for the entire body. It says most fees are paid by life insurance.
Michael Shermer, a Pasadena, Calif., psychologist who publishes Skeptic Magazine, said scientists are unlikely ever to develop technology that can bring a person back from death. And he said no one frozen to date will be revived because the freezing damages cells.
"Like when you thaw frozen strawberries out, they're kind of mushy," he said. "That's your brain on cryonics."
Dr. Sam Cohen, chairman of the University of Nebraska Medical Center's Pathology Department, said the technique does not seem realistic given existing technology.
"What happens over the next 100 years is anybody's guess," Cohen said.
Garfield said current technology would have seemed farfetched centuries ago.
"Compare yourself with a man who lived 2,000 years ago and you tell him we're going to be able to fly through the air, we're going to have television, we're going to have all these things ... He'll call you crazy, too," Garfield said.
Alcor was started as a nonprofit organization in 1972 in Riverside, Calif., and moved to Scottsdale in 1994.
In 1987, Alcor was involved in a scandal surrounding the death of Riverside resident Dora Kent. Authorities questioned whether Kent was dead when her head was removed and frozen.
More than a year later, the county coroner's office ruled Kent died from a lethal dose of barbiturates and classified her death as a homicide. Alcor officials said the drug was administered after her death to preserve brain cells. No charges were ever filed.
Since February 2001, the company has been led by Dr. Jerry Lemler, who holds a doctorate from the University of Tennessee College of Medicine. He has practiced in Tennessee, South Carolina Pennsylvania and Alabama, specializing in psychiatry, clinical molecular genetics and medical management.
State regulators have opened two investigations into complaints against Lemler in the 11/2 years since he came to Arizona and one malpractice complaint against him resulted in a payment, according to Arizona Board of Medical Examiners records. A settlement doesn't mean that malpractice occurred, according to the board.
Lemler didn't return calls to his office.