This Day in History (12-Jan-1967) – Dr. James Bedford is cryonically preserved, the first person to be suspended for the sake of waking up in the future

A group called the Life Extension Society offered, in 1965, to freeze someone free of charge as a pilot project to test whether the concept was viable. Dr. James Bedford, a psychology professor, who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, applied and was eventually chosen. On January 12, 1967 he died of kidney cancer. He was 73 years old. The process of freezing him began a few hours after his death in a Glendale, California nursing home. His body was soaked in a sort of primitive anti-freeze to protect organs from tissue damage as part of the freezing process, and his brain was injected with a chemical called DMSO, which would later prove controversial.

Eventually Dr. Bedford’s remains wound up suspended in a tank of liquid nitrogen, first in Phoenix, Arizona and eventually in a warehouse of cryo-pods in Scottsdale run by the Alcor Life Extension Foundation. Dr. Bedford’s frozen body is still there as of today, and he’s among good company: 117 other “patients” also reside there, in a scene that must literally look like something out of Star Trek. Could Dr. Bedford be revived at some time in the future, when (presumably) medical science has found a cure for cancer? Although it seems straightforward on Star Trek, it’s a very big question.

To date no one has ever been “revived” from cryonic suspension. In Dr. Bedford’s case, the injection of his brain with DMSO arguably destroyed it. Even if life could be somehow pumped back into his thawed body, the notion that he would have all his memories and brain functions intact is total fantasy. Nevertheless, cryonics foundations continue to freeze “patients” today in the hopes that they can, perhaps hundreds of years in the future, be miraculously resurrected.

As long ago as 1773, Benjamin Franklin expressed his regret at being born into the world ‘too near the infancy of science.’ He wished to be preserved and later revived in order to fulfil his ‘very ardent desire to see and observe the state of America a hundred years hence.’ Others, too, dreamed of having their corpses frozen in order that they might later be brought back to life. Yet it was not until the scientific advances of the 1960s that cryopreservation became a reality.


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