Please freeze me! How scores of middle-class British couples are hoping to buy immortality for just £10 a week
Source: Daily Mail
It sounds like the loopiest science fiction, but - like Simon Cowell - scores of middle-class couples are paying £10 a week for their bodies to be frozen when they die. So can you really buy immortality for the price of a pizza?
When Adele Cosgrove Bray decided to share her hopes for the future with her husband, it was not quite the reaction she was looking for. 'I'd never seen anyone laugh so much,' she reflects ruefully. 'It took me a good 15 minutes to convince him I was serious.'
In fairness to her husband, Richard, these weren't your bog-standard dreams of a move to the country or a home in the sun. Adele's plans are far more long-term than that. Permanent, if you like.
As she puts it: 'I told Richard that I wanted to be frozen when I died, with a view to eventually being brought back to life to experience the future.'
Little wonder he was taken aback. But then he's far from the only spouse having to confront such bizarre plans. Once the premise of creaky science-fiction plots, in recent years the cryonics movement, in which people have their bodies frozen in the hope they can be resurrected when science catches up, has gathered pace.
The Americans, unsurprisingly, have been doing it for years, setting up the first 'storage facility' for frozen corpses in the Seventies. Over here, the notion has taken a bit longer to catch on, but while no British firm offers the technology to store bodies, a growing number of Britons have made arrangements to be flown to the U.S. when they die to await the next leg of their eternal journey.
Among them is music mogul Simon Cowell, who last month announced his wish to be frozen, perhaps with a view to returning and conducting X-Factor auditions into eternity.
Still, with a multi-million-pound fortune at his disposal he can easily afford it. But people less well-off can take out life insurance which pays out to the Cryonics Institute - an organisation which stores bodies - rather than to a loved one. It means putting a down payment on the afterlife does not have to come at a premium. Adele's policy, for example, costs just £10 a month - 'cheaper than a pizza', as she brightly puts it.
Quite what they are signing up for still makes for mind-boggling reading. The process involves cooling, and then maintaining, a dead body in liquid nitrogen in the hope future scientific procedures will be able to revive the corpse and restore it to youth and good health.
It all sounds a bit terrifying, not to mention slightly gruesome - although not to Adele. As a full-time science-fiction writer, she has long dabbled in the boundaries of human possibility, and believes it to be no more sinister than any other life-saving medical procedure.
'I remember going to the cinema when I was 15 and watching the film Alien with friends,' she recalls. 'It was the first time that I had really given science fiction any thought. Now, as a sci-fi writer, being so immersed in the industry has made me realise science is moving at such a rate that almost anything will be possible in the future.'
Research for her latest novel led to her discovering cryonics last year, as she surfed the web for inspiration.
'As I read into it I immediately knew that it was for me - the eternal quest for immortality and the possibility of being brought back to life to experience the future was just too much to resist,' she says. 'Perhaps I'd even get a chance to witness some of the things I wrote about in my stories? I decided I wanted to do it and told Richard my plans over dinner that night.'
As we have seen, her 41-year-old artist husband of 12 years wasn't quite so thrilled by the notion - but undeterred, Adele ploughed on in her quest, taking up her life insurance policy and starting her 'suspension contract' paperwork with the Cryonics Institute.
When she dies her body will be transferred to her local undertaker in the Wirral, with strict instructions as to what needs to be done.
'They don't need to freeze you, just keep your body cool,' she says as though she were reading from a Delia Smith cookery book. 'Richard finds the whole idea laughable, although he is supporting me, but I honestly believe that one day science will reach the stage where I can be unfrozen,' she maintains.
'Look at cloning. Everyone said that that would never be possible and yet scientists achieved it. There is no way to be certain but I'm fully open to the idea that science will eventually work out a way to bring those of us that have been frozen back to life - be it in 50 years or 500 - and even if they don't, I will never know anyway, so in my eyes I really have nothing to lose.'
At least Karen Marshall knows her fiancè is in her corner on the issue. Mark Walker, 47, is a cryonics old-hand, having signed up with the Cryonics Institute in Michigan nine years ago.
Today, he is one of the founders of Cryonics UK, a British support group for those interested in the process, which also offers facilities to be temporarily 'suspended' over here pending transfer across the Atlantic.
He has certainly persuaded his 38-year-old fiancèe, who is in the final stages of sorting out her own cryonics contract. She probably didn't stand a chance, given they even spent their first date discussing it.
'Mark and I had worked together for a computer company in Leicester for a few months before we started seeing each other romantically. During our first date we chatted about everything from work to the weather,' she recalls.
'Then talk turned to hobbies, and as I wittered on about my love of football and motorsports I noticed Mark was starting to look a little bit edgy. I must admit I started to get nervous and was imagining all sorts. I honestly thought he was about to tell me he liked dressing in women's clothing. Instead, he told me about his interest in cryonics.'
Some might have preferred cross-dressing to a desire to be suspended in liquid nitrogen, but Karen wasn't put off.
'It actually wasn't half as scary as the other possibilities I had been imagining,' she says. 'And after that, I didn't really think about it again - we continued dating and then, about six months into our relationship, Mark asked if I wanted to go along to one of the quarterly Cryonics UK meetings in Brighton.
'I agreed, although I had no idea what to expect and was fully prepared to be a bit bored for the day.'
Instead, she found a number of 'normal' like-minded people - and the more she discussed things with them the more she was won over.
'I've always been scared of dying - it's not a pleasant concept. But I realised that cryonics offers a real chance to live on in the future, and let's face it, the possibilities of being burned or buried underground with worms are not attractive alternatives.
'The way I see it, science is moving at such a rate that the seemingly unachievable is being achieved every day.'
Unlike Adele and Richard, who have no children, Karen and Mark have got another factor to bring into the equation - two, to be precise. Their sons, Harrison, aged three, and one-year-old Lorcan. They are too young to understand their parents' unorthodox plans, but the time will come when they must be told.
'We know families that have signed up their children already, but Mark and I have decided to wait until they are old enough to make up their own minds,' Karen says.
'We'd probably broach the subject when they're about 12, so that they are aware of the possibility, but we would never pressure them - they would be free to make up their own minds.
'I would want them to know that it is what we want, and ensure that they understand the actions that would need to be taken if Mark or I died. I've heard through support groups about children who ignored their parents' wishes over cryonics, and I wouldn't want that to happen to us.'
What Karen and Mark want is for their 'suspension' state to be activated as quickly as possible.
'When people ask me what I would need to do if Mark drops dead, I usually say that we have to grab all the frozen peas out the freezer and cover his head to start the process. It's always a giggle when they don't know if I'm being serious,' she says.
'Many of our friends think we're crazy, and I know Mark's parents think that they let him watch too much Star Trek as a kid,' Karen admits. 'I've told my parents, too, but I'm not sure if they grasp the concept. But it's the same as anything else - you explain your wishes to your nearest and dearest and even if they don't agree, they respect your decision and honour your plans.'
For twenty-somethings Ellen Clark and David Styles, however, you'd imagine thoughts of death are a long way off. Far from it.
David, 24, has been a fully paid-up member of the cryonics gang since 2006, and his 20-year-old fiancèe is waiting for her own 'suspension contract' to be finalised.
The couple, both care workers who share a home in Macclesfield, Cheshire, met on a school trip to Rome before getting together when Ellen was 17. By then, David had already been contemplating immortality, having extensively researched the concept of cryogenics. He kept his plans to himself and Ellen discovered them during a night snuggled up on the sofa about 18 months ago.
'I noticed for the first time that he was wearing a silver bracelet,' she recalls. 'When I asked about it, he told me that it told people what to do when he died. It was then that he explained about cryonics and his wish to be frozen when he passed away.'
Ellen admits her first reaction was to laugh. But it quickly became clear David was not joking.
'After the initial surprise, I had no doubt in my mind that he was serious. Most people would have been shocked, but David had always been quirky. It was what attracted me to him in the first place.
'The next day, he handed me a computer disk with all the information about the process and I was really taken aback at what I saw. Being frozen wasn't just a myth any more, it was really possible and with a specialist life insurance policy it wasn't beyond my reach financially.'
Ellen was immediately taken by the idea. 'I thought "why not?" Some people may think that it's a bit morbid, but to me the alternatives when you die are a lot scarier.
'I know it's not a certainty that I will be brought back to life, but to me it's just the natural progression of science; it is certainly not out of the realms of possibility.
'Plus, I was completely in love with David, and we were planning our wedding. What could be a better way to say "I do"?'
In fact, David and Ellen have already decided to change their wedding vows at their nuptials in two years' time to reflect their long-term plans. Instead of 'till death do us part', they are having 'as long as life and love endure'.
'Of course, some people don't take it seriously,' she says. 'My family, like many people whom I have spoken to since, have been a bit sceptical, but they understand that it's my wish.
'Most people you ask love the idea of immortality, but many don't realise that it could actually be achievable. I love knowing that I really could be with David for ever.
'We've both always had a passion for travel and exploration and the lure of being able to explore more of the world with David in another life was too much to resist.'
Back in the Wirral, Adele remains equally excited, for different reasons.
'I'm really curious about seeing what the future may hold. And although technology will no doubt be radically different, I'm not scared in any way - a human will always be there to control the on-off switch,' she says. 'I imagine that I'll be of as much interest to the new world as it will be to me. After all, I'll be a living, breathing, walking and talking piece of history.'
Here in the present, Adele's husband has yet to be tempted by the concept. As he says: 'Who would want to see this body again?'
Richard seems unlikely to relent either and, in a more prosaic approach to death, has decided to donate his body to medical science.
'Adele and I have always had radically different views on what to do when we die. To me, once you're dead you're dead,' he says.
'And I do sometimes worry about Adele's choice. I think that if they ever do work out a way to bring them back, they will be like a zoo animal, too much of a curiosity to live a normal life. But I love her more than anything and if this is what she wants then I'll support her all the way.'
Many questions, too, remain unanswered. Even if the science existed to 'unfreeze' patients and bring them back to life, quite what happens next remains a puzzle. Will their old physical ailments have been cured? Will they be frozen at the same age for ever?
And how would they cope without their family and friends - unless, that is, they have been frozen en masse?
'That does concern me,' Adele admits. 'I worry about not remembering much of my previous life or not having Richard or my family around me. The impact is something I definitely want to minimise, so I have been keeping journals and photographs to be stored with me in my cryo-chamber.
'I'm sure there will be the inevitable culture shock, but to me there is no negative side big enough to outweigh the positive - the eternal quest for immortality.'
Not to mention turning on the television 200 years from now to find Simon Cowell, back presiding over those X-Factor auditions.
Edited by : Lawyer Asad