Date: Tue, 28 Apr 1998 22:18:03 -0400
From: Saul Kent
Subject: The Failure Of The Cryonics Movement- Part I
Saul Kent :: Pres. Life Extension Foundation http://www.lef.org
In 1964, the cryonics movement was launched
by Bob Ettinger's book, The Prospect Of Immortality. I was
inspired by Bob's book to become a cryonics activist
To me cryonics was far more than a chance of survival
in the face of death. In 1964, I saw death as being far in
the future. I was 25 years old and in excellent health. The
first patient had yet to be frozen, and I knew that freezing
would cause severe damage to the body.
My primary motive in becoming a cryonics activist
was to save my life in the *future*, when I knew it would need
saving. I knew that my youth and health were short-lived; that
I was programmed to grow old, suffer and die; and that major
scientific advances would have to occur to change all that.
I saw cryonics as a dynamic, dramatic force to
drive the pace of research forward. I saw it as a vehicle for
*me* to play a role in driving the pace of research forward. I
assumed that anyone who wanted to improve their chances
of survival through cryonics would be *strongly* interested
in research. I realized that few people would have the will or
aptitude to become researchers themselves, but I expected
that everyone who opted for cryonics could contribute to
research in other ways. They could help to fund research
themselves. They could urge the government, corporations,
and other individuals to fund research. And, if they couldn't
afford to fund research in 1964, they could dedicate them-
selves to making money for the purpose of funding and
promoting research in the future.
In 1964, I was thrilled to learn that there were groups
of mainstream scientists conducting organ cryopreservation
research. I assumed that cryonicists would be a major force
in helping these and other mainstream researchers advance
their research, and that, as the cryonics organizations grew,
we would begin to conduct research ourselves. As I saw it
at the time, the combination of mainstream research, and
the fierce dedication of cryonicists in promoting and funding
bold, pathbreaking new research would lead to perfected
suspended animation before the end of the 20th century.
With these assumptions in place, I was *highly*
motivated to help the fledgling cryonics movement grow as
rapidly as possible. I saw every minute, hour and day spent
in fostering the growth of the movement as a tremendously
exciting opportunity for me to save my life, and the lives of
my loved ones, and to advance the most powerful and
far-reaching revolution in history...a revolution that would
lead to physical immortality and the opportunity to explore
an incredibly vast universe of unimagineable riches. It was
going to be the adventure of a lifetime...*my* lifetime!
My assessment today--33 years later--of the
cryonics movement that began with such promise and
potential is that it has failed, and that there is significant
risk of its extinction. At a time when cryonicists continue
to debate about the probability of cryonics patients
being restored to life in the future, I think it's time to face the
unpleasant truth that the cryonics movement is dying, and
that, unless it can be revitalized and rejuvenated, our
chances of survival may be very small.
I make this assessment as someone who has
been an active cryonicist for most of the past 33 years, who
has seen and participated in many of the ups and downs of the
movement, and who remains, in spite of this overwhelmingly
negative assessment of its current state, an optimist about
our ability to turn the downward spiral of the movement
around in the next 10 years, and, ultimately, to succeed
in our quest for physical immortality. However, before I give
you my prescription for this turn-around, let's look at the
the evidence that the cryonics movement has failed.
The first piece of evidence that the cryonics
movement has failed is the fact that we've attracted such
a minuscule following in the past 33 years.
When you consider that cryonics offers the
most valuable product ever conceived--the possibility
of everlasting life--that we offer the only product in history
that is essential for everyone on the planet, and that the
vast majority of Americans (and a great many people
abroad) have learned of its availability over the past
33 years, our ability to attract members has been
utterly and absolutely abysmal!
I believe cryonics has received more publicity
with less results than any idea in history. Over the years,
there have been thousands of radio and TV shows and
newspaper and magazine stories about cryonics. Although
much of this publicity has been negative, many media stories
have presented our point of view fairly, and many have been
quite positive about cryonics.
Despite this massive publicity for a variety of
cryonics organizations for more than three decades, we
have a mere 700-800 people worldwide who have made
financial and legal preparations to be frozen.
Despite all the publicity, under 100 patients
have been frozen since the inception of the movement,
in the face of hundreds of millions of people who died
during this period, but chose burial or cremation over
In the last 33 years, billionaires and an
untold number of millionaires, who were well aware
of the option of cryonics, chose instead the total
destruction of death the "old-fashioned" way.
The facts speak for themselves. In the
context of the intense desire for survival on the part of
virtually everyone on Earth, we've failed miserably in
attracting people to the cryonics movement. Consider-
ing the powerful attachment to life that most people have,
the almost total rejection of cryonics by the general public
is strong evidence that people just don't think it will work!
It's true that it costs money and takes time to
sign up for cryonics, but these would not be major barriers
to growth, I believe, if people truly believed there is a
reasonable chance that cryonics will work.
The evidence also shows that, not only have
we failed to attract people to the cryonics movement in
general, but more ominously, when it comes to attracting
young people, we are rapidly losing ground. This is the
evidence for my conclusion that the cryonics movement
is dying and moving towards extinction.
According to Mike Darwin, the average age of
Alcor members in 1984 (when he was President of Alcor)
was 38 years of age. Today, half of CryoCare's members
are 50 or older, 80 percent are 40 or older, and only two
members are under 30 (One of them is an infant, the child
of a member in his 40s). The largest group of CryoCare
members is in the 40-to-60 age range. They represent
about 20 percent of the *total* age range, but more than
60 percent of the membership. (I'd appreciate it if the
other cryonics organizations would post the current age
range of their members).
Actually, the aging of the cryonics movement is
far more serious than these figures show. When you look
at cryonics activists, the figures are even more alarming.
Today, the vast majority of cryonics activists are over 40,
many of them are over 60, a fair number of them are over
70, and a significant number of them have already died,
including such stalwarts as Jerry Leaf, Paul Genteman,
Jerry White, Dick Marsh, Walter Runkel, Jack Erfurt and
Andrea Foote. A signficant number of others are
likely to die within the next 5 years or so.
These people are *not* being replaced by any
stretch of the imagination. The cryonics movement is *not*
attracting young activists in anywhere near the numbers
we need to keep the movement alive and vital. It is *clearly*
a dying movement.
The reasons young activists aren't being attracted
to the cryonics movement aren't hard to see. When I was a
young activist in the 1960s, I saw great hope and promise in
a movement that I was confident would, eventually, bring me
wealth, fame and physical immortality. I knew that it would be
quite a while before these goals would be achieved, but I was
young and vigorous, I was working with other young and
vigorous people, and we were shooting for the stars!
In 1971, I realized that things were moving much
slower than I had hoped, that I was 32 years of age without
any money, a viable career, or any prospects for either if I
remained a cryonics activist. So I dropped out of activism
to make my mark in the "real world" and didn't drop back in
until the mid 1980s, when I could afford to do so.
In the mid 1980s, the cryonics movement was
already aging fast, but the major activists were still young
and ambitious enough to be optimistic, and hardly any of
them had died yet. Moreover, as a result of our activism,
we *were* beginning to attract young activists, such as
Ralph Whelan, Tanya Jones and Derek Ryan.
However, this "youth movement" proved
short-lived. Ralph, Tanya and Derek found, after a
number of years of toil and trouble, that there was still
no future in cryonics. They managed to escape from
the movement while they were still young enough to
build a viable career in the real world.
Today, as the cryonics movement grows
older and older, its attraction to young people grows
weaker and weaker. Today, the cryonics movement
has *nothing* to offer young people except hard work
with little or no pay; apathy, ridicule or hostility from the
outside world; internal fighting with aging cryonicists,
many of whom have never learned how to work and
play well with others; a level of emotional stress from
dealing with cryonics cases that is comparable to
that found in emergency care medicine, without any
of the benefits of being a health care professional;
and the fear that you'll end up an institutional
cryonicist with little or no hope of success in the
Further evidence that the cryonics
movement has failed has been our inability to persuade
mainstream scientists of the value of cryonics. I am not
aware of a single mainstream scientist whose negative
opinion of cryonics has been changed by anything we've
said, written or done in the past 33 years. On the contrary,
the position of establishment scientists over the years has
hardened into perpetual, and sometimes ridiculing
negativism and condescension.
The overwhelming negativity of established
scientists for cryonics was *not* preordained or inevitable.
In fact, in the early years of the movement, a number of
scientists, including prominent cryobiologists, were quite
friendly towards cryonics. Reknowned biologist Jean
Rostand, for example, wrote the preface to The Prospect
of Immortality. Armand Karow, Jr., an established
cryobiologist at the Medical College of Georgia
wrote a series of columns for Cryonics Reports, the
newsletter of the Cryonics Society of New York. A.P.
Rinfret of the Linde Division of Union Carbide, which
sold cryogenic equipment in the 60s, was friendly
towards cryonics. Jerome K. Sherman, a cryo-
biologist at the University of Arkansas sought
financial help from the cryonics movement. In the
1960s, I was able to put together a Scientific
Advisory Board to the Cryonics Societies, which
included a number of eminent mainstream
surgeons and cryobiologists.
When I was about to go to New
York University Hospital to participate in the
freezing of Ann DeBlasio in 1969, I called
cryobiologist Arthur Rowe (who was then
working at the New York Blood Bank) for
advice, which he gave me willingly and openly.
This is the same Arthur Rowe who has since
been quoted over and over in newspaper and
magazine articles saying that the belief that
cryonics will work is like believing you can turn
"hamburger back into a cow!"
It's no mystery why mainstream
cryobiologists were friendly towards cryonics
in the early days of the movement. They
thought cryonicists were a potential source of
funds for their research. They thought that any-
one who wanted to beat death by being frozen
would want the best possible chance of success.
That even a small cryonics movement would
do everything within its power to help fund cryo-
They soon found out they were wrong.
Cryonicists *didn't* fund their research. Cryonicists
didn't try to raise funds for their research. Cryonicists
didn't even seem interested in their research. Instead,
cryonicists spent a great deal of time trying to persuade
cryobiologists, and the rest of the world, that people
frozen after legal death by the extremely crude and
damaging methods of the 60s, had a chance of revival,
perhaps even a good chance of revival, in the future.
And so the cryobiologists withdrew all
support for the cryonics movement. As the years went
by with little or no evidence that cryonicists were
interested in research, they turned more and more
against the movement. When their government and
corporate funding sources began to dry up in the
1970s, some cryobiologists began to worry that
the cryonics movement was, in part, *responsible* for
their loss of funding. As a result, they became bitterly
opposed to a movement in which they saw no
redeeming value. In their eyes, the vast publicity that
cryonics was attracting was a direct slap in the face of
the only people (the scientists) on Earth who could ever
achieve the goal the cryonicists were supposed to be
seeking. In their eyes, the constant focus of the media
on cryonics rather than cryobiology was a sad, cruel
joke played upon them by a group (the cryonicists)
driven primarily by vanity and narcissism, who
preferred sensationalism to science.
As the cryobiologists hardened their stance
against the cryonics movement, cryonicists reacted by
attacking the cryobiologists for *their* attacks on the
practice of cryonics. What could have become a
*highly* productive partnership driving us to perfected
suspended animation became instead a cold war
between two hostile camps who were hurting each
other's chances for success.
My thesis that the cryonics movement
has failed and is moving towards extinction is so
strongly supported by the evidence that it is truly
remarkable that cryonicists have failed to discuss
it. I contend, in fact, that the failure of these issues
to be raised and taken seriously by cryonicists
is indicative of an escape from reality that is at the
root of our failure, and is a significant threat to our
survival. Before we can deal effectively with the
threat of the movement's extinction, we must first
accept the fact that we have failed.
I believe that, unless we face the truth
about the failure of our movement and its possible
extinction squarely and unflinchingly, we will be
doomed to the very thing we have been trying so
desperately trying to avoid...permanent and
A major symptom of our escape from
reality has been our widespread denial of the
importance of the massive damage caused by the
primitive freezing methods we employ. We've not
only failed to fund and promote the research needed
to improve cryonics methods, but we've actively
resisted finding out and admitting to the world (and to
ourselves) how much damage we were (and are)
inflicting upon our patients.
The result has been the failure to
confront and effectively deal with the fact that
our failure to *sell* cryonics has been due, almost
entirely, to the poor quality of our product. Outsiders
don't have to think twice to come to that conclusion.
It's self evident to almost everyone....except to
For the past 33 years, we've been bending
over backwards to evade the truth about our movement.
We've twisted ourselves into proverbial pretzels in our
efforts to pretend that we have a good product, when all
the evidence screams at us that our product is terrible!
In the process of evading reality, we've side-
stepped, twisted and distorted the truth so badly that
we've lost our way in a tangled jumble of wrong
ideas, false notions, and misleading myths.
Instead of facing up to the crudity of our
freezing methods and the importance of the massive
damage caused by these methods, we've focused
more and more on the possibility of future repair of this
damage. This has been easy to do because of the
growth of the nanotechnology movement, which has lent
credibility (in some quarters) to the concept of future repair
of very severe injury caused by aging, disease, ischemic
injury, and freezing damage.
When cryobiologists contend we are damaging
our patients too much to permit future reanimation, we criticize
them for failing to take into account the potential of future repair
methods. In doing so, we fail to appreciate that we are, similarly,
failing to take into account the severity of the damage our
methods cause. Until we have solid evidence that we can
preserve the brain well enough to retain enough information to
maintain our identities, it is inappropriate, I believe, for us to
criticize cryobiologists over their opinion that future repair of
today's frozen patients will be impossible. Without the
evidence that we can effectively preserve ourselves, the
cryobiologists are not only entitled to their negative opinions
about cryonics, but we don't have the slightest chance
of changing their minds!
Whenever we refuse to admit that the "miracle"
of nanotechnology might not *ever* be able to repair the
most severe damage to today's patients, we are seen as
irrational, wild-eyed dreamers, and our movement as more
a cult or religion than a scientific endeavor.
(End of Part I)