Transforming the death industry
In August 1968, Cryonics Reports (a publication from the Cryonics Society of New York) published an editorial that advocates the re-evaluation of the mortician and the funeral profession to make it a part of long term medical care, i.e. to create a life industry. A part of this editorial is published below:
In 1964, with the publishing of Robert C.W. Ettinger’s bookThe Prospect of Immortality, cryonics began to attract public attention. It was a radical new approach to death and, as such, commanded the particular attention of three professional groups — low temperature biologists, physicians, and morticians.
At the time, the majority opinion of the scientists was that no one should be frozen until there is evidence that successful thawing is possible. Damage to the body resulting from present methods of freezing was considered to be absolutely irreversible — repair of this kind of damage, which includes denaturation of proteins, was believed to be impossible in theory. According to these scientists, a frozen body was a dead body.
In an attempt to evaluate cryonics, the press concentrated on the opinions of scientists. They were supposed to be the experts. Physicians and morticians were largely ignored, although they were the ones who would be most directly involved in the administration of the treatment. The public was apparently more interested in discussing and passing judgment on whether people should be frozen, than in investigating the possibilities of building a practical cryonics program.
Physicians and morticians were extremely wary of cryonics because of the unusual nature of the project, and the responsibility it placed on them. The physician watches over and treats the patient during the critical stages of terminal illness; the mortician handles disposal of the body after the patient is pronounced dead by the physician. Both are obligated by various laws to submit complete records of their work to the state.
Cryonics has added a new dimension to medical treatment. The terminal patient is no longer hanging to the edge of a precipice, certain that if he loses his grip he will fall to destruction. The physician is no longer fighting to prevent the irreversible decline of the patient’s condition. Cryonic suspension makes surrender unnecessary and the continuation of medical treatment mandatory. It is a bridge to the future — an intermediary stage in the development of the individual.
ROLE OF THE MORTICIAN
If cryonic suspension is an extension of medical treatment, it is necessary to re-examine the role of the mortician. He can no longer be considered a mere dispenser of dead bodies, but should begin to assume responsibility for a living or potentially living patient.
This means that the role of the mortician and the funeral profession needs re-evaluation. The concept of a profession based upon death is immoral if an alternative is available. It is time for morticians to become something more than merchants of despair.
Cemeteries are also in need of change. The storage of bodies placed in cryonic suspension is a technologic problem requiring the construction of special facilities. With the possibility of reanimation, the concept of perpetual care assumes profound meaning.
It is likely that the words funeral and cemetery will become anacronisms and disappear from the language. But this does not mean that the funeral directors, embalmers, and cemeterians of today will necessarily be out of work. Cryonic suspension is a radically new kind of medical treatment. It involves techniques that are more familiar to embalmers than to physicians. Whole body perfusion, for example, an essential part of the cryonic suspension treatment is rarely part of a physician’s routine; it is, however, a normal part of embalming procedure. At present, therefore, it is easier for a funeral director to adapt to the demands of cryonic suspension than for a physician.
DEVELOPING A NEW IMAGE
Cryonics offers an opportunity for the funeral director to transform his operation from the useful but depressing servicing of the dead to the heroic treatment of the “living.” To do this he will have to change his entire mode of operation. He will have to dispense with obsolete traditions and socially ingrained practices. Today the funeral profession depends upon the glorification of death — upon the ritualistic trappings of decadent mores: opulent crypts and mausoleums; embroidered caskets, and long, elaborate ceremonies — a necromantic pageant of gloom.
Cryonic suspension is a call to end all this nonsense — to extirpate this kind of wasteful barbarity. It is a call for morticians to join forces with physicians, scientists, and other professionals in order to build a practical operation centered around the preservation of life. This means working in conjunction with laboratories, emergency ambulance teams, and hospitals. It means becoming and integral part of the life extension team…..
Perhaps the funeral industry will lead the way. If so, funeral directors will have to overcome their fear that cryonics is a competitive discipline. It is not. Our only competitor is death.