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Robert Ettinger dies at 92; cryonics pioneer

Robert Ettinger, pioneer of the cryonics movement that advocates freezing the dead in the hope that medical technology will enable them to live again someday, has died in Michigan. He was 92.

Ettinger died July 23 at his home in the Detroit suburb of Clinton Township after weeks of declining health, son David Ettinger said. His body became the 106th to be stored at the Cryonics Institute, which he founded in 1976, in Clinton Township.

"My father devoted himself to doing what he could to enable his family, his friends and others to come back and live again," David Ettinger said. "Whether he will achieve that, nobody knows at this point, but we think he has a good shot."

Robert Ettinger, born Dec. 4, 1918, in Atlantic City, N.J., was seriously wounded during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II and spent years in hospitals. The bone graft surgery that spared his legs inspired his optimism about the prospects of preserving life through technology, a Cryonics Institute statement said.

His son said Ettinger also was inspired by science fiction writings about deep-freezing the dead, and he expected researchers to make serious progress toward developing the idea. But when nothing seemed to be happening, he wrote "The Prospect of Immortality," published by Doubleday in 1964, introducing the concept of cryonics.

"If civilization endures, medical science should eventually be able to repair almost any damage to the human body," he wrote, "including freezing damage and senile debility or other cause of death."

He added: "No matter what kills us, whether old age or disease, and even if freezing techniques are still crude when we die, sooner or later our friends of the future should be equal to the task of reviving and curing us."

Ettinger promoted his theory in other writings and appearances on television talk shows.

The Cryonics Institute has 900 members. Similar facilities for preserving bodies operate in California, Arizona and Russia. Ettinger also established the Immortalist Society, a research and education group devoted to cryonics and extending the human life span.

The Cryonics Institute charges $28,000 to prepare a body and store it long term in a tank of liquid nitrogen at minus 321 degrees Fahrenheit. The first person frozen there was Ettinger's mother, Rhea Ettinger, who died in 1977. The bodies of his two wives, Elaine and Mae, also are there.

Ettinger, who taught physics at Wayne State University, was never bothered by ridicule and was a "reluctant prophet," his son said.

"He did what he thought was necessary and appropriate and didn't worry much about what people thought," David Ettinger said. "The people who are scoffers are like the people who said heavier-than-air flight won't work."

Besides his son, Ettinger is survived by a daughter, Shelley.

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