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Alcor, Larry Johnson and Ted Williams: The Circus Continues October 13, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Transhumanism.
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Larry Johnson has a bone to pick with Alcor.  The author and former COO of Alcor Life Extension Foundation is coming out with a new book, “Frozen: My Journey Into the World of Cryonics, Deception and Death” that he says details the gruesome world of cryogenic freezing, where bodies or sometimes just heads are suspended at freezing temperatures in the hope that future technologies will one day be able to revive the dead.

Before we go too much farther lets take a step back and look at how this story got to this point.  For those that don’t know, Alcor Life Extension Foundation is an Arizona based non-profit that offers cryogenic freezing services to its patients.  Cryogenic freezing, as I said above, it the process by which humans or animals are frozen and preserved in the hope that one day technology will progress to the point where they will be able to be reanimated.  It’s a very slim chance that it will actually work but it certainly gives you a better chance of prolonging life then getting cremated or buried.   Alcor, which has been around since 1972 and has over 900 members, describes itself as “the world leader in cryonics, cryonics research, and cryonics technology.”  In 2003 Larry Johnson came to Alcor and worked as Chief Operating Officer for a total of eight months.  At the end of that time he left and that’s where our story really begins.

You see Johnson claims that during his time at Alcor he witnessed and heard of gruesome acts being committed by staff there.  He says he saw one employee hit the frozen head of Ted Williams (yes, that Ted Williams) with a monkey wrench while trying to dislodge a tuna can which had frozen to the head.  He presents a taped conversation that seems to show an Alcor employee hastened the death of a terminally ill patient.  He presents photos of a patient being decapitated so his head may be preserved in one of Alcor’s suspension systems.

Johnson clearly expects us to be disgusted by this and if his accusations are true then we surely should be.  Ah, but there in lies the rub.  First of all, lets look at the biggest accusation here, the one that Ted Williams head was abused and used for batting practice by an Alcor employee.  According to the AP, Johnson was not even employed at Alcor when the freezing took place.  He based his story on “conversations with the Alcorians who were in the room and performed the procedures, the files I have read, and the discussions I’ve had with other people involved, including members of Ted’s family.”  Secondly, Johnson’s photos and descriptions of the “gruesome” decapitations of patients would be more effective if Alcor didn’t advertise the procedure on their fucking homepage.  Neuropreservation, as it is called, is a commonly performed procedure that seeks to preserve the brain of the patient, something which makes sense considering the brain is the seat of consciousness and therefore the only part that really needs to be preserved.  Johnson’s tactic will certainly gross out the more squeamish among us (it’s hard to make a decapitated head not look gross) but there is no evidence that Alcor is misleading or lying to people about what they do.  Thirdly, as to the taped conversations Mr. Johnson does indeed possess tapes that he alleges show an Alcor employee admitting that another Alcor employee hastened the death of a terminally ill patient.  That tape was handed over to police who apparently launched an investigation but it does seem that anything came of it.

The most damning thing against Mr. Johnson however are his own actions.  After breaking his story to Sports Illustrated in 2003 Johnson set up a website where people could view photos of Ted Williams body being defiled, but only after buying a $20 membership.  Now he’s selling a book (violating a court order which forbids him from talking about Alcor) with the same allegations.  Whether or not Mr. Johnson is profiteering from this story, and from where I’m sitting it certainly looks like that, he is certainly profiting from it.

Now, despite all I’ve said it is completely possible that Mr. Johnson is correct in his accusations.  That seems to be the angle most of the media is reporting from and if Alcor is guilty of what there being accused of they should be prosecuted.   The problems are that Mr. Johnson’s past actions cast doubt on his motives and therefore his story and that his evidence seems to be composed mostly of hearsay.  I’ve read some reviews of the book that say it “reads as a captivating thriller” and is “a page turner.”  Perhaps I’m overstepping the bounds here but in my experience stuff that reads like great fiction usually is great fiction.