So you want to live forever?
Here on the Obits desk, we deal with death every day, and we know all too well that no one lives forever. Still, the hope persists. The quest for eternal life is the foundation of several of the world's great religions and is one of the oldest dreams of mankind.
For almost as long as faith has given us the idea of heaven, humankind has tried to postpone or reverse death itself. In the past 25 years or so, the cryonics movement has caught on around the country with a few diehards (sorry, I couldn't resist) who don't want to shuffle off this mortal coil. Cryonics, to be brief and blunt, is the procedure by which a person's body or head is frozen in chemical preservatives with the hope that science will one day make it possible for the body to be revived.
A forthcoming article in the New York Times Magazine takes a look at the marital problems that can ensue when one partner (the husband, in this case) wants to be frozen, and the other thinks it's crazy. There's even a term for it in the cryonics world: "hostile-wife phenomenon."
The practice of cryonics and the people associated with it became notorious a few years ago ....
when the son of baseball star Ted Williams had his father's head frozen at a cryonics facility in Arizona when he died in 2002. (The son, John Henry Williams, died of leukemia in 2004 at age 35, still owing more than $100,000 to the cryonics lab. It's never been quite clear what happened after that.)
As it happens, I have a certain expertise in this matter. In 1988, when I was working in Florida, I wrote one of the first mainstream pieces about cryonics and its practitioners. Five years later, I followed it up with another story about cryonics, examining some of the moral and legal dimensions of the controversy. One of the people I interviewed, I recall, always wore a fireproof, asbestos-lined crash helmet on airline flights. In the case the plane should crash, his head wouldn't burn and could be saved for cryonic preservation.
For some reason, these articles have hung around the Internet for years, and from time to time I still hear from people who want to know about cryonics and think I have some great insights into whether it's possible to live forever. I'm not in the business of predicting eternal life, I'm afraid. But I will say those remain some of the most interesting stories I've ever written, and the people in the world of cryonics are among the most unforgettable characters I've ever met.
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