X-Message-Number: 1019
Date: 18 Jul 92 08:41:52 EDT
From: "Steven B. Harris" <>
Subject: The Death of "Deanimate" in Cryonics

Someone says: (mssg 1013 "The Language of Cryonics"):

   >>Cryonics literature, including the FAQ, should use the words
"die" and "death" with their ordinary meanings, such that
ordinary people will understand.  Substitution of "deanimate"
where an ordinary person expects to see "die" is a signal that
the speaker is from a different culture, and not to be trusted in
important matters:  He may be trying to lie to you by using words
in unfamiliar ways. For the same reason, the word "suspension"
should usually be replaced by "freezing".  It's ok to use
"suspension" to mean the whole process from standby to washout to
liquid nitrogen, but say "freeze" when you mean "freeze".  I'd
also suggest "revive" in place of "reanimate". It's important not
to blow credibility at the start by advertising "We're a bunch of
weirdos who talk in funny words -- come join us, and see what
other strange things we do!"  Much better if signing up for
cryonics is like being the first person on your block to buy a
personal computer: adventurous, risky, but not threatening to the

   Comment: Hear, hear!  Long-time cryonicists lose their
sensitivity to this jargon, but as a physician and cryonicist I
well remember how it put me off in the beginning.  I, for one,
wish the monster word "deanimate" had never been invented, since
to the uninitiated it does indeed sound like a silly euphemism
("May we care for your Dearly Deanimated husband now, Mrs.
Jones?").  It is, of course, a technical word, and serves much
the same purpose as (say) many of the French terms in ballet, or
the Latin in medicine.  But since it's a big public relations
liability, I've long thought we ought to ditch it anyway.  

   Now, I know full well that my friend Brian Wowk has written an
important essay about the naked word "death," and how we all
ought to be trying to avoid *that* in our thinking and speech in
connection with people who are metabolically disadvantaged/
flexionally disabled/pick-your-own-term.  And I certainly have
sympathy with his point of view.  What Brian does not address in
this essay, however, is the fact that the words "death" and
"dead" as used by our society even NOW have some ambiguity to
them, and thus are not so as bad synonyms of "deanimate" as might
first appear.  In other words, when Joe Blow says someone "died,"
he might indeed be talking about someone who got cremated last
year, but he ALSO might be talking about his unkillable uncle
Charley who "died on the operating table twice but was brought
back by the doctors."  In short, the public DOES understand that
at least some of what we colloquially call "death" is reversible,
so that (pace Wowk) there's NOT an automatic guarantee of
misunderstanding if we talk simply about starting the cryonics
procedure on people the second they're dead.  

   Yes, I agree with Brian that the above terminology is sloppy. 
I personally have tried to make my peace with this in my own
writing by trying always to refer to freshly dead folks as not
deanimated or simply "dead," but rather *clinically dead.*  This
is also admittedly a little technical (medically, it specifically
means someone who has no respiration, heartbeat, or pupillary re-
sponses), but unlike "deanimated" it doesn't jar as much on the
layman and doesn't (or at least shouldn't) grate on the sensi-
bilities of the cryonicist either.  Instead of saying that the
patient "deanimanted," you simply say that the patient ex-
perienced clinical death.  Instead of "dead," he or she is
"clinically dead."   Then you can add that the patient was
*pronounced* dead by proper authority, if you like.  If the
outsider begins to wonder if someone "clinically dead" and "pro-
nounced dead" might not be really most sincerely and permanently
dead, why then so much the better.  Have not most of us read
those stories in the Reader's Digest about this stuff, anyway?
("How I was pronounced dead, found God, and became a Republi-
can....")  Well, so has the public.

   Other points: There is a bit of a problem again with "sus-
pended" and "frozen," since again technical distinctions are
being made on an anticipatory basis.  Sure, we at Alcor freeze
everybody in the end now, but at some time in the future we
expect to be storing cryogenically suspended vitrified patients
who aren't frozen (for the most part, at least) at all.  However,
perhaps when that time comes the best policy may be to con-
sciously use the word "frozen" in a metaphorical and (dare I say
it) heuristic sense, knowing full well that it isn't technically
true.  So sue us.  Anyone who appreciates the difference will
understand that we (like all good teachers) are here trying to
avoid confusion for the beginning student, not trying to avoid

   Lastly, I fully agree that wherever possible the Lovecraftian
"reanimate" should be scrupulously avoided in favor of the more
pleasantly connotative and equally informative word "revive."  We
speak all the time of reviving people after conventional opera-
tions, do we not; only a fool is a slave to a word's linguistic


                                      --  Steve Harris

P.S.  While I'm here, I might was well make one more comment
about another message.  Someone expressed the thought that
failure to autopsy L. Ron Hubbard was an example of deep re-
ligious beliefs interfering with the legal process.  I'm more
inclined to believe that this was an example of a great deal of
money and power and political influence and threat of nastiness
interfering with the legal process.  Scientologists are a bitch
of an organization to cross in any way, and everybody knows it. 
If Alcor can become as strong an organization as Scientology
without developing Scientology's other manifold problems, we'll
really be in shape to have the sort of political pull that Mike
Darwin wished for in his quoted piece of essay (and it won't take
3 million suspensions a year to do it, either).  Of course,
whether this is possible for any organization is the $64 million
dollar question.  I always know when a beginning cryonicist has
finally come to terms with the idea of his own freezing and the
ultimate workability of the whole technical scheme, when he
begins to worry about the Real Question--- the Last Question.  To
wit: Can a cryonics organization get big and rich and powerful
without getting corrupt?  

   Wish I had an answer.  I can say that personally I sure have a
far deeper distrust of large and powerful organizations than I do
of technology or science.  How about you all?


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