Would Freezing Ted Williams Really Work?

ByABC News
July 8, 2002, 2:28 PM

July 9 -- It's the stuff of Hollywood movies most notably the Austin Powers comedies but now the story is real, or perhaps surreal.

Two days after baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams died in Florida, his daughter (by his first wife) began arguing with his son (by his third wife) about whether to freeze the body of the "Splendid Splinter."

Bobby-Jo Ferrell said her half brother, John Henry Williams, shipped their father's body to a laboratory in Arizona, and she has vowed to go to court to stop it. Ferrell said her father wanted his body cremated and his ashes spread over the Florida Keys, where he fished for years.

Ferrell said her half brother wants to sell the baseball legend's DNA. Neither John Henry Williams nor the Alcor Life Extension Foundation of Scottsdale, Ariz., has commented on Ferrell's allegations.

Legal arguments aside, the science is suspect. If Williams' son wanted to harvest his father's genes for the highest bidder, he could simply freeze a piece of his father's skin tissue and save several thousand dollars in the process. Williams' DNA could then be replicated and placed in a host cell, a now-common process. But that is where the supposed plan reaches the boundaries of modern science and enters what is still science fiction.

How to Freeze a Body

If what Ferrell says is true, Ted Williams would join a rapidly growing group of Americans: the frozen. About 100 legally deceased people are suspended in tanks of liquid nitrogen in America, and thousands more have signed up to go under the ice.

Of the 41 people frozen at the Cryonics Institute in Clinton Township, Mich., open since 1976, about half were frozen in the last five years. Institute officials credit the growth of the Internet and an increase of the scientific advances for cryonics' new popularity.

Some reports Monday said Williams' body had already been frozen, but the process of submerging a body in liquid nitrogen takes several weeks.

It it were being preserved through cryonics, Williams' body would be embalmed with a glycerin-based solution, cooled under dry ice until it reaches mnius-40 degrees Fahrenheit, then gradually lowered into a pool of liquid nitrogen until the body reaches minus-320 degrees Fahrenheit. At that temperature, all movement of cells in the body has stopped.