Christopher Sebela

writer, wronger, rearranger

In December, 1963 Evan Cooper founded the world’s first cryonics organization, the Life Extension Society, intended to create a network of cryonics groups throughout the world. Cooper eventually became discouraged, however, and he dropped his cryonics-promoting activities to pursue his interest in sailing. His life was ended by being lost at sea. Cooper’s networking had not been in vain, however, because people who had become acquainted through his efforts formed cryonics organizations in northern and southern California as well as in New York.

In 1965 a New York industrial designer named Karl Werner coined the word “cryonics”. That same year Saul Kent, Curtis Henderson and Werner founded the Cryonics Society of New York. Werner soon drifted away from cryonics and became involved in Scientology, but Kent and Henderson remained devoted to cryonics. In 1966 the Cryonics Society of Michigan and the Cryonics Society of California were founded. Unlike the other two organizations, the Cryonics Society of Michigan was an educational and social group which had no intention to actually cryopreserve people — and it exists today under the name Immortalist Society.

A TV repairman named Robert Nelson was the driving force behind the Cryonics Society of California. On January 12, 1967 Nelson froze a psychology professor named James Bedford. Bedford was injected with multiple shots of DMSO, and a thumper was applied in an attempt to circulate the DMSO with chest compressions. Nelson recounted the story in his book WE FROZE THE FIRST MAN. Bedford’s wife and son took Bedford’s body from Nelson after six days and the family kept Dr. Bedford in cryogenic care until 1982 when he was transferred to Alcor. Of 17 cryonics patients cryopreserved in the period between 1967 and 1973, only Bedford remains in liquid nitrogen.

In 1979 an attorney for relatives of one of the Cryonics Society of California patients led journalists to the Chatsworth, California cemetery where they entered the vault where the patients were being stored. None of the nine “cryonics patients” were being maintained in liquid nitrogen, and all were badly decomposed. Nelson and the funeral director in charge were both sued. The funeral director could pay (through his liability insurance), but Nelson had no money. Nelson had taken most of the patients as charity cases or on a “pay-as-you-go” basis where payments had not been continued. The Chatsworth Disaster is the greatest catastrophe in the history of cryonics.

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