Life on Ice: The World of Crazy Cryogenics

Cryogenics pioneer Robert Ettinger will be frozen after his death at age 92.

July 27, 2011, 3:24 AM

July 27, 2011— -- Walt Disney, Ted Williams, Austin Powers -- at a glance they don't seem to have much in common. But the three are perhaps the most famous names -- be they fictional or not -- to be associated with cryogenic freezing.

Though the stories about Walt Disney being frozen are not true and Austin Powers is comedian Mike Myers' beloved fictional alter-ego, baseball icon Ted Williams did famously have his head frozen after he died, with the hope that someday in the future, advances in science and technology would be able to bring him back to life.

The idea to cryopreserve humans sprang from the pages of science fiction in the 1960s, when Robert Ettinger, inspired by a sci-fi story he read, founded the Cryonics Institute in Clinton Township, Mich.

Inside the institute, over 100 people float inside giant bottles filled with nitrogen at temperatures colder than negative 130 degrees Celsius, hoping one day in the future some doctor will revive them.

Now that Ettinger died last week at the age of 92, he has joined them as patient 106.

His son, David Ettinger, explained that his father is now in a temporary cooling box. Also within the institute are Robert Ettinger's mother, Rhea, his first wife, Elaine, and his second wife, Mae.

"My father's intention was that he and his family and friends get a chance to live longer and to take advantage of the promise of future technology," David Ettinger told ABC News.

"He believed like a lot of people do that in the future we're going to have dramatically better medical technology. The question is how do you get them from here to there, and cryonics is kind of an ambulance to the future," he said.

Ettinger said that he is a firm believer in his father's ideas and plans to be frozen himself.

"I'm a member of the Cryonics Institute and I intend to do this as well. My wife does, and I'm very happy that we were able to do this for my father," he said.

And for approximately $30,000, anyone can be cryogenically frozen. Currently, there are over 200 people in a frozen state at cryonics centers in the U.S. – and some 2000 people have signed up for it.

It's not just people – many more things are being frozen, from embryos, umbilical cords and stem cells. Scientists are also freezing endangered animal species at a virtual frozen zoo in Louisiana, where gorillas, rhinos, lions and tigers are all frozen in tiny little straws.

Though some scoff at the spooky science of cryopreservation, the controversy has done little to dissuade many ordinary Americans from buying into the cryogenic craze.

"I don't want to die," Robin Hanson, an economics professor at George Mason University, told ABC News.

Hanson is signed up to go to the Alcor Life Extension Foundation In Arizona -- the same facility as Ted Williams -- when he dies.

"Like most medical technologies, this is a chance to live a little bit longer. Not a guarantee – it doesn't mean that I believe it's sure to work, or even that it's likely to work, but I think the chance of it working is high enough to be worth the cost," Hanson said.

His wife however, disagrees in the merits of cryogenics --- so much that she even invokes that phrase from their wedding vows, ''til death do us part' in terms of her husband's post-mortem decision.

Hanson says that they don't talk about it, and that they have their marriage continue on by setting the issue aside.

But the entire concept of being frozen until a later date begs some crucial questions: when will you be thawed out? Should you wait until the medical world is absolutely ready to handle the process?

"I think I want them to try and bring me back as soon as possible," Hanson said.

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