“Most of us now living have a chance for personal, physical immortality” Robert C. W. Ettinger, 1962.
So begins his famous book The Prospect of Immortality, the work that proposed the possibility of an alternative to permanent death, thus initiating the cryonics movement. Today, communities have developed around the possibilities offered by human cryopreservation, and counts thousands of members all over the world. Several cryonics societies are opening across different continents, allowing Ettinger's dream to come true: a world where anyone can decide how long they want to live. We want to celebrate the 60th year since the publication of this milestone by remembering 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
Robert Chester Wilson Ettinger was born in Atlantic City, US, in 1918. The 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.
Ettinger read a tale called The Jameson Satellite, in the popular science fiction magazine Amazing Stories when he was 12. In the story, the hero-scientist Professor Jameson, aware that he is about to die, asks his nephew to put his body in a rocketship and launch it into deep-frozen outer space. There, he remains “preserved” for 40 million years until an advanced alien cyborg species discovers him. The aliens rewarm him and bring him back to life by transplanting his brain into a mechanical body. While the idea of connecting brains to machines is nothing new today, consider that when Ettinger was 12 years old, i.e. in 1930, most people didn’t even have a television set yet.
Ettinger's ideas on human preservation via deep-freezing were also supported by later events, which led him to discover first-hand the successes of experimental medical technologies. During World War II, he fought in the Battle of the Bulge in Germany where he was seriously injured. At the time, an experimental treatment called bone-graft surgery saved his legs. The many months he spent at the hospital to recover sparked his interest in the possibilities of medicine.
Inspired by these two events, Ettinger started researching scientific material to support his vision and finally developed the concept behind cryonics. The result was The Prospect of Immortality, the book at the origin of the cryonics science. Ettinger privately printed his work in 1962 but had to wait until 1964 before the publishing company, Doubleday, agreed to publish it. As he wrote:
“By preserving our bodies in as nearly life-like a condition as possible, it is clear that you and I, right now, have a chance to avoid permanent death. But is it a substantial chance, or only a remote one? I believe the odds are excitingly favorable, and it is the purpose of this book to make this belief plausible.”
Ettinger’s fame was immediate. The book was selected by the Book of the Month Club and was published in nine languages. Many newspapers, including the New York Times and Newsweek to name a few, wrote about the topic. Ettinger himself was invited to several tv and radio shows to argue the idea of cryonics. His presentation was well articulated and supported by scientific evidence and soon captured the audiences’ imagination.
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 another company, the Cryonics Society of California.
Nearly 10 years later on April 4, 1976, Ettinger founded his nonprofit society, the Cryonics Institute (CI), in Detroit, Michigan. In September of the same year, he also established The Immortalist Society, a charitable organization devoted to research and education in the areas of cryonics and life extension. Donations received by The Immortalist Society Research Fund are often used to financially support CI’s research.
Ettinger's first patient was his mother, Rhea, who died one year after CI’s foundation at the age of 78. Both his first wife Elaine, who died in 1987, and second wife Mae, who died in 2000, were cryopreserved and are now stored at CI.
In 2003, after more than 40 years of cryonics activism, Ettinger left his position as CI’s group president and retired.
On July 23, 2011, Robert Ettinger died of respiratory failure at 92 years old. Aware of his declining health for weeks before his legal death, Ettinger and his son worked to ensure that he could receive a punctual and high quality cryopreservation, minimizing the damage caused by ischemia (lack of oxygen to the brain). How did they do this?
Thanks to the measures taken, Ettinger's cryopreservation was optimal. He was CI's 106th patient.
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."
At Tomorrow Bio, we share Ettinger’s mission and his optimism in the possibilities of future technologies. If and when revival works, Ettinger and our members might have the chance to live an extended life in the future. Not only will their lives be saved, but they will also have the opportunity to experience the world of tomorrow. Would you like to join us?
Check out our website for more information about our all-inclusive human cryopreservation plans. And if, before making a decision, you'd rather get better informed, have a look at our online editorial Tomorrow Insight. There you will find articles and videos on all aspects of cryonics, longevity, and futurism.