A BBC news story details how a French prosecutor, as yet un-named, seeks the destruction of Raymond and Monique Martinot, who are at present frozen in a mechanical freezer in Western France. Dr Martinot froze his wife in 1984. There is further discussion on the Cryonics Europe mailing list. See index pane to the left as to how to join.
Presenter: Miriam Stoppard, programme Where There's Life
STOPPARD: Until now the idea of immortality has been just a dream. But tonight in this studio we are going to be meeting some people who are already trying to make death a thing of the past. Recently I went to France, to meet a man so convinced that immortality is possible that he has begun an extraordinary experiment on his own wife.
Pan back to studio screen were a film is shown. At some points Stoppard talks in the sound track, at others as voice over. The film opens at a French cemetery, with French voices as gravediggers cover a coffin with earth. In the background is the sound of ravens and rooks.
STOPPARD (voice over) For years this village graveyard has been the final resting place for the citizens of Nueil-sur-Layon. When Madame Monique died suddenly of an ovarian cyst in 1984, her memorial would have joined those of the other local families were it not for the extraordinary ideas of her husband, Dr Raymond Martinot. Because Dr Martinot, a retired professor of medicine, used his wife's body in an experiment designed to cheat death.
The next scene has Dr Stoppard driving her car along a French road, to the sound of church organ music
STOPPARD: (voice over) Every year thousands of tourists visit the Loire Valley, famous for its chateaux and vineyards. But the chateau I went to visit, Chateau du Preuil, has no wines maturing in its cellars. Instead, in a crypt under the house lies Monique Martinot, paced there by her husband to await the time science can conquer death.
Dr Stoppard arrives at the chateau and she and Dr Martinot go down to the cellar. STOPPARD: Your wife is in this freezer? Pointing to the freezer.
MATINEAU: Yes, inside there. She travels in time.
STOPPARD: (voice over) Monique's tine machine is a scientific freezer. When his wife died three years ago Or Martinot followed the plan they had both agreed. Her body was frozen and brought to the freezer in the chateau, where she still lies, maintained a a constant -55C and protected by a sophisticated control system. Dr Martinot examines documents attached to the freezer. They are the death certificate and certificates allowing him to keep his wife there and medical papers. Monique's medical papers will help doctors treating her in the future. Permanently attached to the freezer are the seal and chains of the gendarmeries, making it an official grave. And a document stating the wishes of Dr Martinot and his son, to follow Monique into the freezer when they die.
STOPPARD: Haw often do you look inside to examine your wife?
Martinot: Once every five years, maybe.
STOPPARD: Is that all?
Martinot; Oh yes. I am the first to desire to see her. I would like each day to open the lid. But its impossible. The best thing far her is to let it remain closed.
STOPPARD: People who bury dead bodies in the earth will say that you are crazy to do this.
Martinot: Yes, some people people say I is crazy. t think that it is crazy with the scientific technique of today to bury, The body is destroyed and there is no hope at all.
STOPPARD: To keep your wife in this freezer, requires much effort much care and much money. What is it inside of your heart that wakes you determined to carry on.
Martinot: The hope is to see her later and the hope is everything. Total destruction is zero, and between zero and infinity I choose infinity!
STOPPARD: (voice over) To keep hope alive, the freezer must work perfectly. So when Dr Martinot is away, he has arranged for a local man to look after Monique. Monsieur Couleau usually attends the more conventional graves of Neuill cemetery. Another shot of cemetery, with M. Couleau levelling some gravel,
STOPPARD: But Dr Martinot has insisted the freezer is inspected regularly.Shot of M. Couleau driving a car. So once a day M. Couleau goes to the chateau where he checks the temperature and inspects the four independent emergency cooling systems that take over in the event of a breakdown. Shot of D. Couleau inspecting equipment, But how did the project begin?
Martinot: I bought the freezer in 1974. Shot of freezer,
STOPPARD: Who was it for?
Martinot: It was for me because I was ill. Since the second world war with pulmonary disease, and unfortunately Monique disappeared before me.
STOPPARD: Why do you use the word disappeared and not death?
Martinot: For common people, standard people, she is dead, because she has ceased vital functions. But she has her molecules in her body. Shot of graveyard activity. But for me, death is the total destruction under the earth. The body is transformed into carbon dioxide water and nitrogen. Its finished, hopeless. But in her case, there is a little hope. If I do not try, I have no home. Sill of Monique. STOPPARD: Are you afraid of death?
Martinot: Yes, shots of freezer room again as everybody is I think afraid of death. Nothing, nobody is there. Pictures of Monique's room at the chateau.
STOPPARD: Why do you want more life? Isn't 70 years enough for you?
Martinot Oh no, I want to make a lot of things. Drawing, music, poetry, writing. I need a few centuries. It is not possible now.
STOPPARD: (voice over) But what will happen in the future? Now that the experiment has begun, only scientific programs can end it. Until then, the chateau and its freezer will be inherited by or Martinot's successors, in the first place by his son Rene.
STOPPARD: Was this always your bedroom?
RENE: No first it was my mother's bedroom and if you tike it's a sort of symbolism, because it's a fink between death and life.
STOPPARD: What will you do when your father dies?
RENE: Because I agree with him, I'll put him in the freezer and I will will go on with the experiment. It a question of trying. Its a sort of bet if you like.
STOPPARD: What will happen when you die?
RENE: Well, I think it will be much later. And I think when I die, my son or friend will put me in the freezer to go an with the experiment.
STOPPARD: You think that you should carry on?
RENE: Its a sort of chain. If our family goes on, every son puts his father in the machine. This castle is a sort of guardian for our family. A guardian for our experiment if you like.
STOPPARD: (voice over) You could get the idea that keeping your loved ones in the freezer is the most natural thing in the world. But surely a doctor should devote his energies to the living. Why does Dr Martinot think that medicine should try to bring back the dead?
Martinot: When I was in my practise as a doctor I felt that I struggled against death. I think it is the profession of all doctors, every doctor, to push death away. This experiment is the same work. With the technical level of science now we can imagine that death can be pushed back more and more.
STOPPARD: Can be cured?
STOPPARD: Why do you think that science will be successful in doing this?
Martinot: Because anything is possible with money, with force, with work I think that we can make anything. Each day, each month science goes further and further. There :s a degree more each day.
STOPPARD: (voice over) Dr Martinot clearly believes that science will one day bring back Monique, and he has lovingly kept the chateau filled with her possessions waiting for her to return. But Dr Martinot knows that the experiment may fail. So why does he need to take such an enormous gamble?
Martinot: Because the future appears like impossible. Reanimation appears impossible. It is necessary that someone tries.
STOPPARD: But what about the future? What do you hope can happen?
Martinot: It depends on the goodwill of human kind. But I think to prolong life is a very important thing. Dying is a habit for millions of years, but it is not necessarily a habit for the future.
STOPPARD: When you come down here, close to your wife's body what to you feel?
Martinot: I am in love with her. Science and love are together. The film ends here. Studio discussion follows:
STOPPARD: Richard, you're a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Bradford. Amongst other things you are interested in the question of right and wrong. Dr Martinot believes that doctors should struggle against death. Do you think we should always?
RICHARD: I think that doctors have always struggled a against death and I think struggling against death an the whole is a very good thing because life after all is itself worthwhile. And life is a good thing. If life is a good thing, then more fife is better than less life.
STOPPARD: Yes, but we are now in the era where we are pushing out the boundaries of life. Do you think that there ought to be a limit on ow far doctors can extend our lifespan?
RICHARD: I think that we have always been pushing out the boundaries of life. If you go back say about 300 years what was supposed to be the average lifespan for most people, was thought to be about 40 years. Now its 80 years. I don't see in principle that there is anything wrong with extending it beyond the present 70 or 80 years.
STOPPARD: So, are you saying that this just part of the natural pushing out of our longevity?
RICHARD: I think that in trying to think about Dr Martinot and his experiment it is very difficult to distinguish the proper issues, because I think that we look at somebody putting his wife in a freezer and it looks a bit nutty. It looks rather cranky. But I think that the idea of trying to preserve people people for say a limited amount of time while the technology becomes available to cure a particular ailment ... I think that that is itself just going on in the same direction that we've been travelling in before. I don't think in itself it's anything dramatically new.
STOPPARD: Don't you think that freezing though is in a different league to antibiotics, antiseptics or vaccines?
RICHARD Well, I think that if you think about freezing in the context of Dr Martinot it certainly appears that way. . lets try and think about freezing itself. Let's suppose far example that somebody is nearing natural death and they need a heart for transplant. Let's suppose that there isn't a heart available but one will be expected in say a couple of weeks. Suppose it was possible freeze such a person for a couple of weeks or even a month whilst the heart becomes available. The as far as i can see, if it would be alright to give them a heart in the first place, it seems equally alright to freeze them down for a couple of weeks and give them a heart then.
STOPPARD: It certainly sounds alright when you say it. Do you think that medicine has changed, is changing then our definition of death?
RICHARD: When I was a child people used to say somebody died when their heart had stopped beating, or when it had stopped beating for a few minutes. But obviously with the development of medical technology in heart tansplants that has changed. Now I would see that not as a change of the very idea of death but rather a change in what actually constitutes death - what it is to be dead. I think that nowadays for example with heat transplants people whose hearts stop beating for ten minutes are not dead. Now what Dr Martinot is doing is not changing the definition of death but what he is suggesting - maybe his claim is not right, I don't know - but what he is suggestinq is that people who Me have thought of as being dead in fact say not be dead. They won't be dead because their condition is thought to be reversible. I think that the crucial element in the definition of death is irreversibility. What medicine has done is to cake what was formally irreversible now reversible.
STOPPARD: Thank you. She approaches a man sitting in the front row of the audience. Did medicine change the way you view death?
KEN: Having had the greatest gift I think anybody can have, that is life by having a heart transplant at Harefield six years ago, I owe my complete life and exixtence now to modern medicine. I have had 1he experience, if one can call it such, of dying three times.
STOPPARD: What do you mean?
KEN: Well, I was pronounced clinically dead by the hospital. But obviously with modern equipment and modern technology they managed to revive me and for me to continue for another period of tine, until such time as I eventually arrived at Harefeld for the transplant.
STOPPARD: when you say "clinically dead" what actually had happened to you? Did they say that your heart had stopped?
KEN: Oh yes, the heart had stopped and I had stopped breathing.
STOPPARD: Richard, is that not just what you had been talking about?
RICHARD: It sees to be exactly what I have been talking about. That people's idea of death his been shaped by the conceptions that cane from the medical technology of the time in which the grew up. So that when Ken grew up I think that certainly anybody whose heart stopped beating, anyone who stopped breathing, would not actually be revivable. Now, such people are revivable so we still think of it as death. But strictly, speaking we should no longer call that death. We wouldn't say that the definition of death has changed, but our way of identifying it has changed. Certainly the sort of conditions that would have caused death now don't cause death.
STOPPARD: Not only revivable, but very bright and perky as well. Now if when you had been a boy someone had told you that when you got to a ripe old age - in your prime - you would have got some body else's heart, what would you have thought?
KEN: I think to be fair, had that been said to me as a boy, I'd have said that would have been totall impossible, because when I was a boy this sort of thing hadn't been dreamed of I'm sure, and it would have seen I think at the time quite horrifying. But when you are faced with having your life ebbing away from you, and you are told by doctors you have only about ten more days to live, believe me life is very sweet.
STOPPARD: Would you trust the doctors to do anything for you then?
KEN: I think it depends entirely the position you are in. If you are dying as I said before you have no option. But with the type of doctors I have set, I would trust them yes,
STOPPARD: Mould you go as far as submitting yourself to being frozen then?
KEN: I think that I would rather like that. I wouldn't like do it at this moment because life is so sweet to me and I wouldn't like to lose a moment of it. But if I ever reach the stage and I hope in many years time, when I feel that perhaps I can't do what I can do now, and there is a possibility of me being prolonged, I think I would take it, yes.