A beagle named Miles, long ears dragging on the pale blue concrete floor of the laboratory, snuffled around the base of four nine-foot-high stainless steel tanks.
Inside the tanks are two whole bodies, two human heads and one human brain, frozen in liquid nitrogen and awaiting the day when they can be "reanimated" and returned to life.
What links Miles and those frozen corpses, stored in the lab at Trans Times Inc. here, is a widely publicized recent experiment that has revived public interest in--and scientific controversy over--the cryonics movement, which contends that frozen corpses may be revived by scientists in the future.
Many television stations and newspapers across the nation this spring reported that a UC Berkeley scientist had frozen Miles for 15 minutes and revived the beagle, then presented the results of the experiment to a meeting of scientists in Washington.
For the much-maligned cryonics movement, it seemed like a moment of vindication.
"Researchers Score Breakthrough in Suspended Animation," one headline read. Others included "Beagle Put in Suspended Animation," "Scientists Get Warm in Search for Way to Put Humans on Ice" and "Humans Can Be Frozen & Revived."
Photos and television film showed Miles padding about, obviously healthy and alert, while Paul E. Segall, the researcher who supervised the experiment, extolled it as the gateway to a cryonic future.
In the aftermath, a New York insurance company that markets "freeze-yourself" policies and the three cryonics societies active in freezing bodies--two of them in California--reported an explosion of inquiries from prospective clients and members.
However, a close examination of the Miles experiment and interviews with scientists in the field show that:
- Miles was chilled, but never frozen.
- The experiment was not new; dozens of dogs have been cooled in a similar manner over the last 20 years and knowledgeable researchers were appalled at the publicity the experiment received.
- The experiment did not overcome any of the objections most scientists have to the basic concept of cryonics.
- Segall, 44, is allowed to use laboratory facilities at UC Berkeley as an assistant to a friend on the faculty, but Segall is not on the faculty there and never has been.
- Segall's work is financed by cryonics groups that are linked to "freeze-yourself" insurance policies, and Segall has himself been deeply involved in the cryonics movement--emotionally, professionally and financially--for more than 20 years.
"He has certainly lost some respect among his scientific colleagues for associating his experiments with furthering the cryonics movement," said one researcher, who asked not to be named, but who was described by a number of others in the field as one of the leading cryobiologists in the nation.
Although Segall was frequently referred to as a "UC Berkeley scientist" in stories about the Miles experiment, he is not on the faculty there and never has been, said Robert I. Macey, chairman of the physiology department.
Since taking his Ph.D. in physiology at Berkeley in 1976, Segall has been a teaching assistant and "visiting scientist," which Macey described as "some kind of courtesy appointment" that allows him to work in the laboratory of Paula Timiras, whom others on the faculty described as a friend of Segall.
"He's never been on the payroll here," Macey said. Segall disputes that statement, saying "There is an effort to misrepresent me and discredit my work."
Segall acknowledged that he is not on the university payroll, but said he receives grant money for specific research projects. He says he was a teaching associate in the physiology of aging at UC Berkeley from 1975 to 1983. The school describes the position as a graduate teaching assistant post. He has taught in the university's extension program and lectured at Cal State Hayward and at Holy Names College in Oakland. Segall insists that he should be classed as a faculty member since he has laboratory privileges and students. The students, however, are enrolled in Timiras' classes, with Segall as an assistant to her.
Defends His Role
In his defense, Segall says he did not seek the publicity that his experiment received and that he did not lie to anyone. The organizers of the scientific meeting chose to publicize his presentation and reporters misinterpreted his work, he says.
But Segall, in interviews, moves rapidly from the details of the Miles experiment to describing it as "the doorway to suspended animation" and is an unabashed enthusiast for cryonics.
Such advocates of "suspended animation" are at odds with most researchers in the science of low temperature biology. The 400 scientists who belong to the international Society for Cryobiology refer to their field, which studies the processes of life at low temperatures, as cryobiology (from kryos, the Greek word for freezing cold ) . The resurrection movement uses the term cryonics.
Some orthodox medical researchers maintain links--usually surreptitiously--with the cryonics groups and even have signed up to be frozen themselves. But the official attitude remains one of hostility. Members of the Society for Cryobiology at their annual meeting last month empowered their board of directors to suspend, expel or bar membership to anyone engaged in "freezing deceased persons in anticipation of their reanimation." Segall is not a member of the society.
Critic of Society
"Believing cryonics could reanimate somebody who has been frozen is like believing you can turn hamburger back into a cow," said Arthur W. Rowe, director of the Red Cross cryobiology laboratory in New York and a professor at New York University Medical School.
Cryobiologists are now looking for a way to preserve organs at freezing temperatures without destroying their ability to function.
The ability to "bank" frozen hearts or livers, which now must be transplanted within hours, could greatly expand the number of transplant patients, eliminating the need for cross-country flights by doctors carrying organs in ice-filled coolers, racing the biological clock.
The problem is that freezing and thawing are lethal to cells, the very bases of life, and the physiological processes that create and support them.
To date, freezing success has been limited to body parts only a few cells thick, containing no blood.
The search for a method to freeze and thaw a comparatively small organ like a liver or heart has proved difficult enough, said Father J.A. Panuska, a Jesuit priest and cryobiologist who has been on the editorial board of the cryobiology society's scientific journal, Cryobiology, for 19 years. The idea of harmlessly freezing an entire body, with its many layers of different types of cells, cooling at different rates and dependent on a host of complex chemical processes--not to mention the delicate structure of the brain that contains thought, memories and personality--is beyond belief, he said.
Segall, a director and secretary-treasurer of the American Cryonics Society and secretary and director of research for Trans Time Inc., doesn't agree.
The American Cryonics Society is a nonprofit group with 150 members formed to encourage interest in cryonics. Trans Time is an affiliated private corporation that undertakes, for a fee, to put bodies into "cryonic suspension" and keep them frozen until they can be revived.
Currently, it costs $1,000 to become a suspension member of the society, plus $180 a year in dues. After that, the Trans Time fee to freeze and store a body is a minimum of $125,000--of which $40,000 goes to Trans Time for the body preparation and the remainder is to be put into trust to earn interest to pay the $4,000 a year required for refills of liquid nitrogen.
The two organizations are intermeshed. Eight of the nine directors of Trans Time are also on the board of governors of the American Cryonics Society, said Art Quaife, president of the corporation.
The society financed the Miles experiment, Segall said, and also provides "most of the money that comes into this research."
Trans Time also has a financial relationship with Cryonics Coordinators of America Inc., an insurance agency in Long Island, N.Y. The agency is run by Irving Rand, who offers one-stop shopping for "suspension," providing legal forms and documents, such as sample wills, and selling insurance policies that make Trans Time the beneficiary when the holder dies.
Although Trans Time once agreed to freeze bodies under the agreement that liquid nitrogen bills would be paid by surviving relatives, the company now wants payment in advance from an insurance policy, Quaife said. Pay-as-you-freeze arrangements are troublesome, he said, because "sooner or later your relatives figure that 'Gee, Uncle Harry was a nice guy and all, but after 10 years I don't miss him as much.' "
Except for California business, handled by an insurance agent who was already a member of the American Cryonics Society, the society and Trans Time have agreed to make financial arrangements exclusively through Rand.
To date, he has sold only two policies. But the publicity bonanza that attended Segall's experiment with Miles attracted a burst of inquiries on his firm's new toll-free telephone number, he said--"more than 500 after Paul appeared on the Donahue show with Miles."
Flood of Inquiries
H. Jackson Zinn, president of the American Cryonics Society, agreed that Rand "has always talked about getting more publicity," and that in the aftermath of the attention given Segall's experiment "he's getting more inquiries than he can handle, more than we've had for the last several years together."
Segall made his presentation on Miles to a meeting of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in Washington on April 2. In the case of Miles, Segall said, he infused the dog with a blood substitute and cooled the beagle in a bath of ice water in June, 1986.
The dog's heart stopped at 70 degrees Fahrenheit and circulation was maintained by a heart-lung machine. At 37.4 degrees, Segall turned off the heart-lung machine. Miles had no circulation, breath or heartbeat for 15 minutes--by most common standards, he was dead--before the process was reversed and he revived.
Segall then took him into his home as a pet to keep an eye on his long-term health.
The abstract of his presentation published by the federation was titled "Ice-cold bloodless dogs revived. . . ."
Inaccurate News Stories
The abstract, and Segall in his presentation, clearly stated that Miles had been cooled to 3 degrees centigrade--or 37.4 degrees Fahrenheit, 6 degrees above the freezing point. But many news stories, or sometimes just the headlines, reported that the dog had been frozen, apparently based on the "ice cold" reference.
The reference was not misleading, Segall says, because the scientists for whom the abstract was written would know that "ice cold" would not be cold enough to freeze a dog, that freezing would require even colder temperatures. Reporters insisted on using the word frozen even after he tried to correct them, he said.
Other scientists expressed surprise at the publicity, saying there have been many such dog-chilling experiments, going back to the 1950s, and that Segall should not even have presented research based on only one or two dogs. (A precursor to Miles also survived, Segall said, but had to be killed after reviving.)
"It was really just one dog by my reckoning, and it wasn't frozen," Rowe commented. "It's nothing novel. One investigator did 12. In a recent issue of Cryobiology, there was a report of six. I haven't the foggiest idea why he's gotten all this publicity."
Segall, in an interview, gave credit to the work of earlier researchers. "We didn't freeze Miles," he agreed, "and we're not the first lab to do ice-cold blood substitution. There's a number of labs that have done this kind of experiment."
Goal: Reviving Humans
The scientific value of his work, he said, lies in details of his technique, developed by years of experimentation in which he chilled "300 to 400" hamsters. But he quickly emphasizes that his goal is that of his cryonic sponsors, including "suspension" of live human beings.
Trans Time will not identify the two bodies in cold storage at the lab here, except to say they were the parents of a Midwestern judge who pays for their liquid nitrogen. Encased in nylon sleeping bags, cushioned by plastic foam and packed in stainless steel cases, they rest side by side, head-down in the giant insulated bottle.
The heads and the brain, called "neural preservations," are in vacuum-sealed canisters. Cryonics enthusiasts argue that by the time science has determined how to "reanimate" the frozen dead, it probably will be able to grow new bodies from the stumps of necks, or clone entire bodies.
Also in storage are the bodies of a cat and a dog, frozen by doting owners who wanted their beloved pets to have a chance at another life, Quaife said.
Near Trans Time's current charges is a 10 1/2-foot-high, 1,000-gallon tank, with a capacity of 10 "suspendees," built in anticipation of the deaths of some of the 75 people who have signed up with the Cryonics Society of America to be frozen when they die.
Not Covered by Laws
At present, no laws apply specifically to cryonic warehousing of the dead, said Deputy Atty. Gen. Joel Primes. Like surrogate motherhood, the field "grew up between the cracks and got ahead of the law," Primes said.
The cryonics movement was started in 1962 by Robert Ettinger, 68, a retired physics and mathematics teacher at Wayne State University in Michigan, who now heads the Immortalist Society and the Cryonics Institute in Oak Park, Mich.
He has one body in liquid nitrogen at his institute, Ettinger said, and as far as he knows all the other frozen bodies in the country are either at Trans Time or at the larger but more publicity-shy Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Riverside, Calif.
In fact, some of the bitterest criticism of Segall has come from Alcor, a longtime foe of the Bay Area cryonics groups. Alcor claims 233 members, 93 of them signed up to be frozen. It has one whole body, five heads, a dog and a cat in the steel-lined, 110-gallon concrete freezer vault at its new $187,500 laboratory on the outskirts of Riverside.
Alcor charges a minimum of $100,000 to freeze a body, or $35,000 for a head.
'Dog and Phony Show'
Alcor denounced Segall's experiment in its newsletter as a "dog and phony show."
Alcor researchers have performed essentially the same experiment Segall performed on Miles on 15 dogs since September, 1984, reducing their bodies to the same temperature that Segall cooled Miles to, but leaving them in the "suspended" state, with no breath or heartbeat, for two to four hours, not 15 minutes, according to Alcor President Mike Darwin, a former hospital hemodialysis technician who now works full time at Alcor's lab.
Eleven dogs survived and behave normally, Darwin said.
Regardless of their questions about the beagle experiment, even Segall's harshest critics in the scientific community say they are convinced of his sincerity. "Whatever the motivations of other people in this field may be, Paul truly believes in this," one prominent cryobiologist said.
The leaders of the American Cryonics Society, Trans Time and Alcor all warn prospective recruits that no one can promise they will be resurrected someday.
"It's like selling a ticket in 1880 for an airplane flight from Los Angeles to New York," said a physician who works with Alcor. "It would have sounded crazy then, but if you counted on the Wright Brothers showing up eventually, you would have been right."