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Jewish World Review July 11, 2002 / 2 Menachem-Av, 5762

Claude Salhani

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Consumer Reports

The biggest scam since the "sale" of the Brooklyn Bridge is all the rage -- (UPI) Cryonics -- or the biggest scam since the "sale" of the Brooklyn Bridge -- hit the news once again earlier this week.

Cryonics, of course, is the practice of freezing the body of a recently deceased person to preserve it for later resuscitation, such as when a cure for the disease that causes death has been found.

This time around, the story made front-page news when the son of baseball great Ted Williams announced he would freeze his father, hoping to bring him back to life once science advances a few notches sometime in the future -- say a few decades or centuries from now.

Even before the Egyptians started mummifying their dead, ancient civilizations have been eager to preserve the human body, hoping to eventually bring back the dead, giving them another stab at life. Over the centuries many simply refused to believe that death can be the end of the line.

While the large percentage of the earth's population (about 85 percent) adopt religion, and therefore tend to believe that the afterlife is rather spiritual, others, especially those with deep pockets and large bank accounts, prefer to place their bets on the corporal aspect -- and opt for cryonics.

Just in the last few years there have been two popular shows involving cryonics -- the television animated cartoon show "Futurama," and the blockbuster Austin Powers films, where the hero is brought back from the roaring 1960s.

Except in real life, this is no tomfoolery, it's serious business.

Now let me get this straight as to how this cryonics stuff works; you die, they dump your body in a large vat full of freezing stuff and place you in storage in Arizona. Somehow, this makes little sense. Why not select a colder state, say Alaska, instead? At least if the cryonics company where your body is being kept were to lose power, it could simply wheel the container holding your body outside and not risk a total meltdown. For the price they charge, you deserve better insurance.

Here is the interesting part. Are you ready for it? They charge $120,000 to freeze you. For what exactly? A storage space where a metal container filled with some ice water and a blue thingy, sort of what goes inside your toilet to give it a better odor, and that you can purchase at any drug store for $1.99.

OK, you can also get the "reduced rate," -- no pun intended -- by simply freezing the head only! The rest of the body is dumped. Now what happens when they thaw you out eventually? What would you do for a body? Send their trustful lab assistant, Igor, searching through the cemeteries in the middle of the night for a match? Or, just like in "Futurama," do they place your talking head inside a glass jar, and leave it sitting on a bookshelf?

While this whole business might leave some people cold (again, no pun intended), those in the cryonic industry say it is not so out of this world. (The Arizona firm where Williams is currently on ice claims to have 50 clients, and another 580 living people on its customer list.) Imagine, they say, explaining open-heart surgery, or a heart or liver transplant to someone about 100 years ago. Or, imagine trying to enlighten someone in the 16th century on the workings of a jet airplane. Chances are they would have given you the cold shoulder (sorry, no more puns) in much the same way as nonbelievers of cryonics do today.

Science, they argue, will evolve, and then those stashed away in the deep freeze will get another chance.

Assuming that does happen one day, it would be interesting to know what they would do once defrosted, say 200 years from now. How would someone who has been in a deep sleep assimilate into a very different world from the one he knew? How would he cope with changes in language, dress, and other aspects of daily life? Imagine someone from Shakespeare's time walking into Brooklyn or Brixton today.

All his relatives would be dead -- at least the ones he knew. His bank account would be greatly depreciated, becoming practically worthless. And that assumes the currency is still unchanged. With half of Europe having switched to euros two years ago, what would happen if a Frenchman, a Belgian, or an Italian was to suddenly come out of the cold? What about social security? Could you claim back pay? How would that work? Would you still be covered? Would you need a 're-birth certificate,' or an 'un-death certificate?' What age would you have on your re-issued driver's license? Do you pick up where you left off, or did the years you spent out in the cold count?

Cryonics poses far more questions than it offers answers. Yes, it's a relatively young science, but just don't hold your breath. The ancient Egyptian mummies have been holding theirs for over 2,000 years now.

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Claude Salhani is Life and Mind editor for UPI. Comment by clicking here.

© 2002, UPI