Fla. case latest in cryonics debate

States seek to tighten oversight of companies

October 14, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BOCA RATON, Fla. - On a winding street in a nondescript industrial park, the odd science of preserving the dead is creating an outpost here.

The name of the cryonics company is not on the building, and there are no bodies awaiting transportation to long-term storage. But the company, Suspended Animation, hopes next month to receive a construction permit and approval from this city to perform animal research into the preservation and future revival of the dead.

If it succeeds, it would join two other companies - the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Scottsdale, Ariz., and the Cryonics Institute in suburban Detroit - that have until recently quietly engaged in cryonics.

But the city's ultimate go-ahead, to let the company perform a two-day process at its site that it contends is crucial to preserving frozen bodies for possible resuscitation, will depend on being licensed by the state agency that regulates mortuaries, embalmers and cemeteries.

In Florida, Arizona and Michigan, state agencies are seeking more regulatory oversight of these businesses, which preserve the dead in hopes that medical breakthroughs will make it possible to bring people back to life.

Debate over the issue intensified after a legal dispute over the decision by two of the three children of the baseball Hall-of-Famer Ted Williams to have his body preserved after his death in July of last year and the discovery this year that his head had been severed from his body.

"These companies need to be regulated or deregulated out of business," said Rudy Thomas, head of Arizona's Board of Funeral Directors.

Alcor and the Cryonics Institute store bodies in canisters filled with liquid nitrogen at minus 320 degrees and charge fees from $28,000 to $120,000.

For decades, the world of cryonics was insular until the head and body of Williams were surgically separated and preserved in separate containers at Alcor.

The existence of the Cryonics Institute, where 50 bodies are preserved, was not known to Michigan's Department of Consumer and Industry Services until the publicity over Williams.

Thomas said that without state oversight there were no guarantees that the 58 bodies and heads at Alcor were being properly preserved.

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