We Froze the First Man
This memoir by Robert F. Nelson, as told to Sandra Stanley, is published by Dell Publishing Co. Inc., and is written for adults.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
It is the mid-1960s. Robert Nelson has just opened an appliance outlet in the San Fernando Valley when he reads a National Inquirer story that changes his life. The article talks about cryonics, the study of freezing humans in the hope of restoring them to life years later. Nelson follows up by reading a groundbreaking book by a professor named Robert Ettinger. He is so smitten with cryonics that he joins — and soon runs — a local chapter devoted to its exploration. Nelson travels to Phoenix to meet Ed Hope, a man who has manufactured a freezing chamber called a Cryo-Care Capsule. Nelson and Hope then appear on a TV news program that meets with great interest, though some concern and skepticism, from the public. Despite having to take a sharp cut in pay, Nelson decides to surrender his business and work full time promoting cryonics research. He founds the Cryonics Society of California and sets about securing the support of eminent scientists to form an advisory board. He's aided in his new endeavor by a man named Donald Bickerson.
Nelson, Bickerson and their team of doctors focus on research and promotion, envisioning that an actual cryonic interment will be performed in the unforeseen future. Then they receive a call from Harold Greene Jr., whose terminally ill father wants to be frozen and has the financial means to do it. (Note: Harold Greene is a pseudonym for Dr. James Bedored, who is officially the first person frozen.)
Amid questions, concerns and objections from within Nelson's group, a decision is made to freeze Greene in secret. The media soon learn a few details, sparking lively discussions across the scientific and religious communities and among the general public. Nelson provides a darkly humorous account of the freezing and numerous stealthy relocations of the body. He includes character sketches of his fellow team members, detailing how the publicity and promise surrounding cryonics ultimately broke up the team. Nelson grows closer to his mentor Ettinger, while becoming estranged from Donald and Mrs. Bickerson, who attempt to claw their way into the pages of history.
If Nelson's self-disclosed revulsion for death initially pushes him toward cryonics, his enthusiasm for the prospect of eternal life propels him forward. With the team disbanded, Nelson continues to preach the virtues of cryonic research, making efforts throughout his memoir to balance moral and ethical concerns with scientific advancements.
A Christian couple who provides a place for the cryonic capsule initially tells Nelson they don't believe God would object to helping people extend their lives. Their own pastor preaches a sermon suggesting that God would not have allowed for such discoveries if He hadn't intended for men to extend life in this manner. Later, possibly pressured by others, they recant. They tell newspapers that they think when God is ready for us to die we shouldn't try to outwit Him.
The family's pastor objects when a man in Ohio is slated to be frozen, so the family changes their decision. In response to this situation, another pastor of an Evangelical Lutheran church delivers a sermon that Nelson excerpts in the book. The pastor says the church has always been interested in extending human life so that man can bear more fruit and witness to more people. He suggests that since hospitals already include so many life-extending machines, cryonics is a natural extension of these. He says he prays God will direct us on how to use these technologies, as He is the physician of all physicians. No art or craft of man will nullify the judgment of God, he says, and life now and forever remains within His providence. He concludes by saying that all of the new things man learns, whether about planets or life-extension research, only prove how wonderful, unsearchable and inscrutable the mind of God is.
Nelson says religious beliefs often did not deter clergy members from support of cryonic interment. In some cases, the clergy were more supportive than the scientific community. He points out that religions such as Christianity and Judaism are life affirming and have a history of supporting scientific discoveries aimed at perpetuating life and ending disease. He suggests that no self-respecting clergy would deny the mother of a dying child the right to subject that child to whatever treatment might save his life.
When someone asks if a person's soul gets frozen with him, the scientists reply that no one has been able to define a soul in the material sense. Nelson ends the book with a quote from Ettinger from a 1965 Christian Century article. Ettinger says if men can be frozen and later revived, it is just one more step toward them developing into supermen. He says it begs the question, "Does Superman need God?" But Ettinger says he hopes man will not be timid and reactionary toward science because of this, as God himself is unlikely to be daunted by Superman.
Other Belief Systems
A scientist says he regrets the way some researchers overlooked the fossil evidence of biological evolution because it didn't fit into their limited investigative parameters at the time.
H---, d--n and the Lord's name used in vain appear several times.
In passing, the author notes that one of the doctors has erotic artwork in his home. Bickerson's wife, in trying to lure a scientist to her husband's camp, makes a subtle insinuation that she would be sexually available to him.
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Readability Age Range
Robert F. Nelson
Dell Publishing Co. Inc.