|James Bedford's body capsule|
His heart stopped at exactly 1.15pm on 12 January, 1967. Dr James Bedford, who had been slowly dying of kidney cancer, had finally expired.
Except that Dr Bedford’s death wasn’t quite so straightforward. He had donated his corpse to a bold scientific experiment. His body was to be placed in the care of a dedicated team of cryonic scientists: their task was to preserve it intact in a state of suspended animation, with the aim on one day bringing it back to life.
|Dr Bedford: as he used to look|
It sounds like a fictional tale from a Frankenstein horror movie, but James Bedford was a real person with a long-held fascination for cryonics. Forty five years after his death, he is still being held in a deeply frozen state.
Bedford had plenty of warning of his impending demise. He had removed himself to a nursing home in California in order that the cryonic procedure could begin within seconds of his death. It was vital to preserve cell structures intact and alive before they succumbed to decay.
|Preparing a body for cryonics: need to work fast|
The Cryoncs Society of California had a ‘suspension team’ on hand, yet they were nevertheless caught by surprise on the day of Bedford’s death. Robert Nelson, president of the society, was nowhere to be found and several vital hours were lost before he reached the deathbed.
In the intervening time, the ‘suspension’ process had been begun by others. Bedford’s physician, Dr Able, was present at the time of his death. He immediately began artificial respiration and heart massage in an attempt to keep the brain alive while the body was cooled with ice.
To aid this process, heparin was injected into Bedford’s arteries to prevent the blood from coagulating.
Within a very short space of time, the corpse had been entirely packed in crushed ice and his organs injected with dimethyl sulfoxide, a chemical that prevents cell death.
Robert Nelson had by now arrived: he attempted to circulate the chemical solution into Bedford’s carotid arteries and then pass it through the entire corpse using a bag-valve respirator.
He would later report that within two hours of Bedford’s ‘deanimation’ - death - he was transferred to a foam-insulated box, still wrapped in the ice-filled sheet on which he had died. He was also coated with one-inch-thick slabs of dry ice.
|Nelson injects Bedford with chemicals|
Nelson informed the world’s media that ‘the patient is now frozen with dry ice, minus 79°C., and will soon be stored in liquid nitrogen, minus 196°C.’
He was to be kept frozen until such time as medical science would be able to bring him back to life.
The original idea was to store Bedford’s body in a special cryocapsule housed in Phoenix, Arizona. But Bedford was later moved to a cryogenics company in Southern California.
|One of Bedford's capsules|
Here, he was cut out of his old cryocapsule - which proved to be faulty - and welded into a new one. This time, he was not refrigerated by submersion in liquid nitrogen. Instead, he was wrapped in a special polyester sleeping bag and sprayed with nitrogen. During the transfer, the temperature of his corpse never exceeded minus 143°C.
Dr James Bedford was not the first person, and nor will he be the last, to dream of being resurrected from the dead. 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.
|Bedford's body in the 1970s|
In the spring of 1991, some 24 years after Bedford’s death, his corpse was cut out of its sealed cryogenic capsule in order that it could be examined.
The official report revealed that he was in a good state and ‘appears younger than his 73 years.’
There were a few problems. ‘The skin on the left side of the neck is distended… [and] there is frozen blood issuing from the mouth and nose.’
The report added that Bedford’s eyes ‘are partially open and the corneas are chalk-white from ice.’ His nostrils were somewhat flattened against his face, ‘apparently as a result of being compressed by a slab of dry ice during initial freezing.’
|Will he emerge looking like Frankenstein?|
After thorough inspection, Bedford was transferred to a new capsule and placed back into storage in the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Arizona.
And there he remains to this day, a not-quite-dead corpse who hopes one day to be brought back to life.
Does he dream as he lies in silence in his frozen capsule? Is his icy sleep troubled by visions of his eventual return to earth?
Perhaps he will one day be awoken from his suspended state and whisper secrets from the world of the dead.
I am the author of seven works of narrative history including the best-selling Nathaniel's Nutmeg and, most recently, Wolfram: The Boy Who Went to War. If you'd like to buy my books, click here for UK readers and here for US readers. For more information about my books, visit www.gilesmilton.com