by Michael G. Darwin, Chana de Wolf, and Aschwin de Wolf
Note: A PDF version of this article with images and appendixes is available here.
A Literal Death Sentence
One unpleasant issue in cryonics is the “hostile wife” phenomenon. The authors of this article know of a number of high profile cryonicists who need to hide their cryonics activities from their wives and ex-high profile cryonicists who had to choose between cryonics and their relationship. We also know of men who would like to make cryonics arrangements but have not been able to do so because of resistance from their wives or girlfriends. In such cases, the female partner can be described as nothing less than hostile toward cryonics. As a result, these men face certain death as a consequence of their partner’s hostility.
While it is not unusual for any two people to have differing points of view regarding cryonics, men are more interested in making cryonics arrangements. A recent membership update from the Alcor Life Extension Foundation reports that 667 males and 198 females have made cryonics arrangements. Although no formal data are available, it is common knowledge that a substantial number of these female cryonicists signed up after being persuaded by their husbands or boyfriends. For whatever reason, males are more interested in cryonics than females. These issues raise an obvious question: are women more hostile to cryonics than men?
There is no direct answer to this question since the requisite data have not been collected. However, both the gravity and magnitude of the problem, as we are about to detail, suggests this as a fertile, if not urgent, area for future research. One consequence of men being more interested in cryonics than women is that heterosexual men are more often faced with hostile wives and girlfriends than the other way round. While this may sound alarming, such disagreements can easily be overcome if the love and trust in a relationship is strong enough that the disagreeing party can still cede the right to make (and keep) cryonics arrangements to the other individual. However, even formerly amenable wives can become increasingly hostile, frequently in accordance with their husbands’ increasingly personal and active involvement in cryonics.
An Historical Overview
From its inception in 1964, cryonics has been known to frequently produce intense hostility from spouses who are not cryonicists. While this phenomenon, as previously noted, is mostly confined to hostility from wives or girlfriends, rather than husbands or boyfriends of cryonicists, there are exceptions. One of us (Darwin) knows of two divorces resulting from hostile husbands, and several cases where the husband has delivered an ultimatum to his wife to either cease involvement with cryonics or face dissolution of the marriage(1). An example of male spousal hostility to cryonics is the case of a pioneering female cryonicist who first signed up at the start of the cryonics movement in 1964 and who had a 30+ year history of intense cryonics activism, including serving as an Officer or Director of two early cryonics organizations. When she became incapacitated by Alzheimer’s disease, her husband, (who had long been unhappy with her involvement in cryonics) cancelled her cryonics and cryonics funding arrangements, and declined to allow her to be cryopreserved. Another co-author (Aschwin de Wolf) was involved in helping out in a situation where the ex-husband of a female friend would not approve cryonics arrangements for his minor children, despite a strong desire from the mother and the children to make such arrangements.
Dating this phenomenon to the earliest days of cryonics is not difficult. In 1968 Robert Ettinger, the father of the cryonics movement, wrote:
“This is not a hobby or conversation piece: it is the principal activity of this phase of our lives; it is the struggle for survival. Drive a used car if the cost of a new one interferes. Divorce your wife if she will not cooperate. Save your money; get another job and save more money. Sometimes a fool will blunder through, but don’t count on it. The universe has no malice, but neither has it mercy, and a miss is as good as a mile.”
It is notable, and by no means accidental, that Ettinger uses the words, “Divorce your wife if she will not cooperate,” as opposed to “divorce your husband” or the gender neutral “divorce your spouse.” Notwithstanding the few cases of hostile husbands or boyfriends, the phenomenon of the hostile spouse is almost exclusively a female phenomenon. There is no reason to be surprised about the fact that only one partner in a relationship has made cryonics arrangements. What needs explanation is why partners are actively hostile to the other partner’s cryonics arrangements or activities.
Over the 40 years of his active involvement, one of us (Darwin) has kept a log of the instances where, in his personal experience, hostile spouses or girlfriends have prevented, reduced or reversed the involvement of their male partner in cryonics. This list (see appendix) is restricted to situations where Darwin had direct knowledge of the conflict and was an Officer, Director or employee of the cryonics organization under whose auspices the incident took place. This log spans the years 1978 to 1986, an 8 year period. The motivating events for keeping such a log were the intense hostility he experienced from Diane Henderson, the wife of Curtis Henderson, then President of the Cryonics Society of New York (CSNY)) during visits he made to CSNY as a teenager. While this hostility was to cryonics in general, it had as its focus anyone perceived to be facilitating her husband’s continued involvement in cryonics. The primary targets were thus Henderson, Darwin and the Vice President of CSNY Gillian Cummings (nee’ Beverly Greenburg). Curtis Henderson has stated that he believes this antipathy materially contributed to the death of Gillian Cummings in 1972:
“Because the (Cryo-Span) facility was not heated and it was bitterly cold at night in the winter on Long Island, Beverly (Gillian) used to spend the night at my home in Sayville on the couch in the CSNY office. Diane’s increasingly hostility to Beverly, and to anything or anyone involved in cryonics, put an end to that. A few days before Beverly’s death the situation between Diane and I had reached a breaking point. She demanded that I cease involvement in cryonics and close the facility. When I refused, she took our son and went to stay at her mother’s home. This is a hard thing to bear and the one thing I didn’t want to do was to further antagonize Diane or provide any basis for claims of infidelity in the event she returned home and found Beverly in the house. So, that night I told Beverly she could not spend the night at 9 Holmes Court. Instead, she spent the night in the unheated facility. She was found dead the next day, her keys in her car ignition and the gas tank empty. She was in the habit of running the engine briefly in the closed storage bay to warm up the car enough so she could get back to sleep. She probably dozed off and left the engine running. The only things I can say about that incident is that it has left me with gnawing guilt and a great deal of anger. It was senseless; senseless and irrational.”(2)
The second incident that influenced Darwin to keep this record was an experience he had during the start-up of the Indiana cryonics organization the Institute for Advanced Biological Studies (IABS). Desperate for competent and energetic members and administrators, both Darwin and IABS President Steve Bridge experienced intense frustration when two enthusiastic and talented young men withdrew from involvement in IABS and cryonics because of the extreme hostility to cryonics on the part of their wives. This was one of many such incidents, but these two were especially significant because they deprived the nascent cryonics organization of a skilled businessman and potential leader, and of a competent engineer who had assisted with the fabrication of perfusion and cool-down equipment.
While neither objective nor rigorously scientific, the results of Darwin’s log are nevertheless instructive. The results are summarized in Table 1 (see appendix).
The 91 people listed in this table include 3 whose deaths are directly attributable to hostility or active intervention on the part of women. This does not include the many instances since 1987 where wives, mothers, sisters, or female business partners have materially interfered with a patient’s cryopreservation(3) or actually caused the patient not to be cryopreserved or removed from cryopreservation(4). Nor does it reflect the doubtless many more cases where we had no idea that:
The wife’s hostility/objections/commands/threats prevented the husband from inquiring in the first place.
The wife’s hostility/objections/commands/threats prevented the husband from signing up but no one knew it.
The wife’s hostility/objections/commands/threats prevented the husband who was a member from volunteering, attending meetings, or otherwise becoming more involved, including standing for directorship positions and participating in research.
The wife’s hostility/objections/commands/threats resulted in lapse of membership.
Prospective patients did not inquire because they knew the wife’s hostility/objections/commands/threats would cause loss of support, emotional turmoil, or make signing up futile.
Potential members and patients did not sign up because they were lied to by their female spouses about some important aspect of cryonics.
Why are Women Disproportionately Hostile to Cryonics?
The most immediate and straightforward reasons posited for the hostility of women to cryonics are financial. When the partner with cryonics arrangements dies, life insurance and inheritance funds will go to the cryonics organization instead of to the partner or their children. Some nasty battles have been fought over the inheritance of cryonics patients, including attempts of family members to delay informing the cryonics organization that the member had died, if an attempt was made at alll(5). On average, women live longer than men and can have a financial interest in their husbands’ forgoing cryonics arrangements. Many women also cite the “social injustice” of cryonics and profess to feel guilt and shame that their families’ money is being spent on a trivial, useless, and above all, selfish action when so many people who could be saved are dying of poverty and hunger now.
A more speculative reason is that cryonics can be seen to compete with having children or family life altogether. This argument posits that if death can be overcome by technological means, “surrogate” immortality in the form of reproducing genes becomes redundant. This argument could even explain why many cryonicists are single men (aside from the common sense observation that few women want to date the archetypical “cryonics nerd”).
Another reason, articulated by several religious female spouses of male cryonicists, is “separation in the afterlife.” This presumes not only that cryonics works, but that it results not merely in practical immortality, but in actual immortality; a state where death never occurs and the spouse survives an infinitely long time. This position also excludes the belief common to all sects of Christianity and Islam that temporal existence, even for the living, will end with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ or an imposed end to the Universe and time of judgment by Allah. Another, perhaps more credible, but unarguably more selfish, interpretation of this position is what one of us (Darwin) has termed “post reanimation jealousy.” When women with strong religious convictions who give “separation in the afterlife” as the reason they object to their husbands’ cryopreservation are closely questioned, it emerges that this is not, in fact, their primary concern. The concern that emerges from such discussion is that if cryonics is successful for the husband, he will not only resume living, he may well do so for a vast period of time during which he can reasonably be expected to form romantic attachments to other women, engage in purely sexual relationships or have sexual encounters with other women, or even marry another woman (or women), father children with them and start a new family. This prospect evokes obvious insecurity, jealousy and a nearly universal expression on the part of the wives that such a situation is unfair, wrong and unnatural. Interestingly, a few women who are neither religious nor believers in a metaphysical afterlife have voiced the same concerns. The message here may be “If I’ve got to die then you’ve got to die too!” As La Rochefoucauld famously said, with a different meaning in mind, “Jealousy is always born with love, but does not always die with it.”
Getting More Specific
While these arguments may plausibly address the hostility so many women feel toward their husbands’ cryopreservation arrangements, they do not address the much more common and more immediate negative reaction women typically display to even the prospect of their spouse or boyfriend becoming involved in cryonics. In such instances it could, of course, be argued that in reality these women are in fact objecting to the act of cryopreservation itself, since that is the logical outcome of their husband’s involvement. The problem with this objection is that it fails to consider the reasons women often voice as being material to their hostility to cryonics. A shortlist of these objections is as follows:
o Fear of social ostracism: Involvement with cryonics is not commonplace in any society on the planet and any unusual, atypical or nonconformist behaviour carries with it the risk of reduction in social status, gossip, doubts about good judgment and rationality, and in the worst case, ridicule and ostracism.
o Embarrassment and inadequacy: Even if there is no discernible negative social impact, the fact that her husband is involved with cryonics, or worse still, signed up for neuro-cryopreservation, is frequently perceived as a source of profound embarrassment. Many women are uncomfortable being singled out or made the center of attention because of nonconformist behaviour on the part of any member of their family whose behaviour they perceive they may be held accountable for. A closely related concern is that they will be put in the position of having to both explain and justify their husbands’ unconventional choice. Such explanations and justifications are often correctly perceived to require considerable understanding of the premises, underlying scientific arguments, and most troubling, a detailed explication of the biomedical procedures used to induce cryopreservation as well as the physical and financial aspects of long term cryogenic care. This leaves out the even more daunting mastery of the scientific, technological, social and philosophical arguments that address the issue of reanimation and reintegration of cryonics patients into society. Also unaddressed are the thorny issues of the theological and ethical issues cryonics raises.
o Resource drain: Women understand that their husbands and boyfriends have interests, hobbies and avocations which are not a part of their romantic or even day-to-day relationship. Preoccupation with sports, automobiles, fishing, boating, golfing, or costly or dangerous pursuits, such as scuba diving or sky diving are frequently sources of friction in marriages. These activities inevitably result in a drain of both time and money spent with the wife and children – time and money that could clearly be spent improving the quality and quantity of martial life, as well as providing assets for education of the children and additional savings to serve as a reserve in hard economic times, or times of family crisis.
o The prospect of homosocial or ideologically-driven alienation: Many, if not most, women object to exclusively or strongly homosocial activity on the part of their spouses. The social structure in most of the world today is predominately homosocial, wherein heterosexual men engage heavily or even almost exclusively in social (not sexual) interaction with other men. In these societies women are excluded from discussion of ideas, politics, business, current events, and usually religion. Until the mid-20th Century the social fabric of the U.S. and Europe was predominately homosocial with women retiring to a separate area of the home while men discussed politics, philosophy, the arts and sciences, and other non-domestic issues. Heterosexual men, past and present, also like to engage in exclusively homosocial activities ranging from the informal “boys’ night out” to more structured ventures such as camping, hunting and participation in male-only fraternal organizations. That these activities can and do lead some men to spend large fractions of their non-working time involved in such activities is a well known and wholly justified source of concern to women. After even glancing contact with cryonics, women quickly perceive that cryonics, and particularly activist cryonics, is populated almost exclusively by men and therefore represents a homosocial threat. It should also be noted that after men marry it is typical that much or even all of their socializing with their single male friends stops.
An even more anxiety provoking prospect is that of ideological alienation of the husband from his wife and family. Regardless of whether or not cryonics is perceived as a cult, it is justifiably understood to embrace a world view and a value system that is radically different from both the social norm and from the philosophical and ideological perspective of the wife or that which the husband and wife shared before cryonics was introduced into the equation. Wives often express anxiety and concern that their husbands may change drastically in both beliefs and behavior as a result of involvement with cryonics and that this might result in alienation within the marriage or even divorce.
o Religious and childrearing concerns: Most people of faith, regardless of gender, will have questions over the compatibility of cryonics and religion, at least when they first seriously contemplate the idea. To the deeply religious, absent a clear statement from the understood authority in their faith (the Pope, minister or church council, rabbi, or one of the hojjatoleslam in Islam) cryonics may be the source of lasting anxiety and uncertainty about whether it really is compatible with their faith. Even absent concerns about the religious acceptability of cryonics per se, there are often concerns about its impact on the religiosity and adherence to cultural values on the part of the children. The majority of observant Jews in both the U.S. and Israel are agnostic or atheist, but still highly value and consider critical to their survival and identity observance of Jewish cultural practices and rituals. Cryonics is often perceived as contrary to or corrosive of these values and practices.
o Other women: While cryonics is mostly a male pursuit, there are women involved and active, and many of them are single. Wives (or girlfriends) justifiably worry that another woman who shares their husbands’ enthusiasm for cryonics, shares his newly acquired world view and offers the prospect of a truly durable relationship – one that may last for centuries or millennia – may win their husbands’ affections. This is by no means a theoretical fear because this has happened a number of times over the years in cryonics. Perhaps the first and most publicly acknowledged instance of this was the divorce of Fred Chamberlain from his wife (and separation from his two children) and the break-up of the long-term relationship between Linda McClintock (nee’ Linda Chamberlain) and her long-time significant other as a result of Fred and Linda working together on a committee to organize the Third National Conference On Cryonics (sponsored the Cryonics Society of California).
The Underlying Reason?
While few would argue that there are not large, statistically demonstrable differences between men and women in terms of temperament, exploratory and risk taking behaviour as well as religiosity and intellectual and recreational pursuits, there is intense controversy as to whether these differences are due to biology, or to cultural and social factors that both limit and warp women’s innate intellectual and behavioral parity with men. Regardless of whether these observed differences are rooted in nature or nurture, biology or culture, they are certainly real and they have had enormous impact on society and on the dynamic between men and women.
In his remarkable book, Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 BC to 1950 (HarperCollins, New York, 2003, ISBN 0-06-019247-X) Charles Murray evaluates the origin and the creators of human artistic, scientific, technological and intellectual accomplishments over the span of what is essentially recorded history. Murray does this using the arguably objective procedure of calculating the amount of space allocated to these individuals in reference works, peer reviewed publications and other easily objectifiable measures of intellectual significance. Murray uses the well developed and widely accepted technique of historiometry, which is the historical study of human progress or individual personal characteristics, using statistics to analyze references to famous people and their discoveries in relatively neutral texts. Historiometery traces its origins to the work of Adolphe Quetelet, a 19th Century Belgian mathematician, who primarily studied the relationship between age and intellectual or artistic achievement.
Murray found that nearly all scientific progress, and all important scientific and artistic ideas, were made by white Europeans or their descendants (such as white Americans, Australians, Canadians, and New Zealanders). With few exceptions these core innovators were also male.
A number of studies have evaluated risk-taking behavior in males as contrasted with females. These studies have predominately concluded that men are not only bigger risk-takers, but that they engage in much more dangerous risk taking(7). An elegant and objective evaluation of sex-related differences in the selection of a successful strategy when facing novelty is the work of Catherine Brandner, who used a simple visuo-spatial task to investigate exploratory behavior as a specific response to novelty. Brandner found that strategies used by women and men to solve an exploratory task that may be seen as involving a trading off of risk versus reward differed markedly by gender. Brandner concludes: “This study has first shown that the searching strategies used by women and men to solve an exploratory task that may be seen as involving trading off of risk and reward differed according to sex. Women adopted a local searching strategy in which the metric distance between what is already known and what is unknown was reduced. Men adopted a global strategy based on an approximately uniform distribution of choices. These findings appear to be compatible with a female frame of mind expressing careful consideration of all circumstances and possible consequences before making a decision.”
Unquestionably, cryonics can be classified as risk-taking activity and exploratory behavior (one-way time travel to the future!) and it is also dependent upon a global approach to problem solving as opposed to the more meticulous and incremental approach to problem solving favored by women. Cryonics also demands paradigm changing innovative thinking that is closely allied with, if not identical to, the kinds of scientific, artistic and cultural thought that Murray has demonstrated are almost exclusively the province of males, and white males at that (which also raises the issue of why so few people of color are involved in cryonics). Perhaps it is these fundamental differences between men and women that determine not only male preference for, and general lack of hostility to, cryonics (at least as regards spouses and other immediate family members’ choices), but also the existence of a subgroup of women who are virulently opposed to cryonics, or more accurately, to the involvement of their husbands in cryonics.
Although the hostility of some women to their partner’s cryonics arrangements and activism is disturbing, the phenomenon is real. One high profile cryonicist once said: “You can get another wife, but you can’t get another life.” Such words of wisdom need to be heeded, but it is understandable that some cryonicists need to make a trade-off between cryonics and other values. Hopefully, the forgoing analysis will offer some concrete areas of potential conflict, perceived or real, that can be addressed by both emotional reassurance and reason. Identifying the problems is certainly a necessary first step to resolving them.
1. Brenda Peters, a long-time female cryonics activist, Alcor Board member and Founding President of CryoCare was married to a Hollywood screenwriter and producer and has stated, while by no means the sole reason for dissolution of her marriage, cryonics played an important role in the breakup. Former Alcor Treasurer and stalwart cryonicist Sherry Cosgrove faced a similar ultimatum in 1987 and chose to cease active involvement in cryonics and revoke her cryopreservation arrangements.
2. Interview of Curtis Henderson by Mike Darwin, 22 November, 2007, Ash Fork, AZ.
3. Alcor patient A-1036 suffered ~10 minutes of ischemic injury without cardiopulmonary support due to interference from his sister and female business partner. A-1049 suffered ~30 minutes of ischemic injury due to interference from his mother and sister.
4. Alcor patient A-1242 was removed from cryopreservation under court order as a result of litigation brought against Alcor and the patient’s husband by the patient’s sister, who objected to cryopreservation. Alcor patient A-2127 died while in the sign up process due to hostile female relatives. Alcor patient A-1099 suffered prolonged ischemia, embalming and straight freezing and was almost cremated due to the non-compliance of his sisters with his cryonics arrangements.
5. Alcor patient A-1242 was removed from cryopreservation under court order as a result of litigation brought against Alcor and the patient’s husband by the patient’s sister, who objected to cryopreservation. Alcor patient A-2127 died while in the sign up process due to hostile female relatives. Alcor patient A-1099 suffered prolonged ischemia, embalming and straight freezing and was almost cremated due to the non-compliance of his sisters with his cryonics arrangements.
7. Pyszczynski, Tom L. (Feb. 2002) Gender differences in the willingness to engage in risky behavior: A terror management perspective. Death Studies, 26, 117-142.
Risk taking influenced by sense of control, claims US psychology professor. (Nov. 2001). www.psycport.com retrieved on Oct. 10, 2002.
Wagner, Mervyn K. (Jan./Feb. 2001). Behavioral characteristics related to substance abuse and risk-taking, sensation- seeking, anxiety sensitivity and self-reinforcement. Addictive Behaviors, 26, 115-120.
8. Brandnery, C Strategy selection during exploratory behavior: sex differences Judgment and Decision Making. Vol. 2, No. 5, October 2007, pp. 326–332.