Widespread negative publicity following Ted Williams's death in 2002 brought the cryonics industry a measure of notoriety. According to Ben Best, president of the Michigan-based Cryonics Institute, his facility was forced to shut down for six months by the state legislature.
"We were given a cease-and-desist order," said Best. "We were allowed to open up six months later, but only after we were licensed as a cemetery."
The negative publicity, said Best, stemmed from the public learning of Alcor's practice of what he called, "the neuro option" -- specifically the severing of the head to place the brain in deep freeze. According to Best, the practice is not an option his Michigan facility offers because the company's lawyers believed "it creates too much public discomfort, doing just heads. People were getting upset with the neuro option."
Cryonics, explained Best, is aimed at ultimately bringing back the deceased not as elderly patients at their clinical point of death but rather returning them in a "rejuvenated" state. For instance, he said, an awakened Williams would not reappear as he did in the days prior to his death, but instead as the vital twenty- or thirty-something he was during the prime of his life as a Red Sox star.
All of this, Best emphasized, will require scientific advances in tissue regeneration and stem cell technology. He believes the regrowing of limbs will be akin to how a salamander regenerates a leg that has been severed.
"Most people die when they are elderly," said Best. "So without rejuvenation [returning to life] is pointless. Rejuvenation is coming. Eventually, all diseases will be curable, and we can look forward to living healthy lives for hundreds of years.
"No one wants to be brought back as a decrepit person."
Asked if he envisioned Williams returning to life the way he looked at age 42, for instance, Best said, "Yeah, I guess . . . or maybe younger. The prime of his life would be good -- in peak physical condition. All the little kinks in physiology will have been ironed out by science."
KEVIN PAUL DUPONT