Robert Ettinger — The Father Of Cryonics

At very low temperatures it is possible, right now, to preserve dead people with essentially no deterioration, indefinitely.
(Robert Ettinger, The Prospect of Immortality)

From science fiction to reality

Robert Chester Wilson Ettinger was born in Atlantic City, US, in 1918. Son of Russian Jewish immigrants, he later became an atheist and worked as a mathematics and physics professor. The idea of using very low temperatures to preserve bodies over a long period of time is not entirely original to Ettinger. In fact, as he often recounted, it was a science fiction story that stimulated his imagination in the first place.

The Prospect of Immortality

Inspired by these two events, Ettinger started researching scientific material to support his vision and finally developed the concept behind cryonics. The result is The Prospect of Immortality, the book at the origin of the cryonics movement. Ettinger privately printed the book in 1962 and he had to wait until 1964 before the publishing company Doubleday accepted to publish it. As he wrote:

Ettinger’s work in cryonics

Despite his activism in promoting human cryopreservation, Ettinger wasn’t the one that founded the first cryonics society. Evan Cooper, who in the same year as Ettinger’s book came out also published a book on cryonics called Immortality: Physically, Scientifically, Now, (read the full book here) founded the Life Extension Society (LES) in December 1963. Furthermore, the first human cryopreservation, James Bedford, was carried out in 1967 by yet another company, the Cryonics Society of California.

Robert Ettinger C. W. close to a cryogenic storage dewar — Cryonics Institute

CI’s 106th cryopreservation

On July 23, 2011 Robert Ettinger died of respiratory failure. He was 92 years old. Suffering declining health for weeks before his legal death, he and his son prepared to make sure he could receive a punctual and high quality cryopreservation, minimizing the damage caused by ischemia (lack of oxygen to the brain).

  • Firstly, they arranged for 24 hour nursing care, both to provide Ettinger with every comfort and to make sure they knew the exact moment to start the procedure. The 3 nurses had to be trained on what to do in case Ettinger stopped breathing or if he showed signs of imminent death.
  • Secondly, they got him into hospice care. This was crucial to ensure that there was a competent person nearby who could officially declare legal death (thus starting the procedure).
  • Thirdly, they made an arrangement with Emergency Medical Services (EMS), to ensure there was a person to declare legal death — even if it took place in the middle of the night.
  • Finally, they prepared coolers filled with ice along with the iron heart to pump blood during the cooling process, provided by CI.

Conclusion

Ettinger wrote in his masterpiece: “No matter what kills us, whether old age or disease, and even if freezing techniques are still crude when we die, sooner or later our friends of the future should be equal to the task of reviving and curing us.”

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