[extropy-chat] FWD: [Venturists] Our Share of Night to Bear

Amara Graps amara at amara.com
Fri Mar 9 19:30:44 UTC 2007

Well, this brought tears to my eyes! From Mike Darwin about a remarkable
woman, Marcelon Johnson.


Begin forwarded message:

From: david pizer <pizerdavid at yahoo.com>
Date: 9 March 2007 3:12:55 AM GMT-02:00
To: DAVID PIZER <pizerdavid at yahoo.com>
Subject: [Venturists] Our Share of Night to Bear
Reply-To: Venturists at yahoogroups.com

Here is a report by Mike Darwin about a cryonicists worst nightmare. 
Except this is real and it is happening now. I hope after you read 
this you will choose to help as soon as possible. David Pizer, for 
the Venturists.
   Our Share of Night to Bear
   Our share of night to bear -
   Our share of morning -
   Our blank in bliss to fill -
   Our blank in scorning -
   Here a star, and there a star,
   Some lose their way!
   Here a mist, there a mist,
   Afterwards - Day!
     -- Emily Dickinson
   Cryonics. What does the word bring to mind? What other words? What 
images? What feelings? What people? For me there are a lifetime of 
words and images, emotions and people. It is 1968 and I am 
13-years-old. I have just come home from school on a cold gray winter 
afternoon and I am eagerly reaching into the mailbox through the fog 
of my breath hoping that there will be another issue of Cryonics 
Reports there.
   When do you date the start of cryonics? Is it 1962 when the first 
steps to disseminate the idea were taken? Is it 1964 when Robert 
Ettinger's book The Prospect of Immortality was commercially 
published? Or, was it in 1967 when the idea seemed realized with the 
freezing of the first man, Dr. James H. Bedford in Glendale, 
   Those dates, or any others you choose, speak to both your knowledge 
and your perception of history. Forty-three years have passed since 
1964 - 45-years since 1962. Almost all of the men and women who 
created cryonics were of the same ages most of you reading this are 
now - mid-20s to mid-40s. Dr. Greg Fahy, I, and perhaps a few others, 
were much younger when we were seduced by the idea of a world without 
death. Cryonics was already a central part of our world by 1968. It 
was a world we shared with people, most of whom have grown old and 
died, or are dying. I use the word "died" with painful deliberateness 
because if you go back in time, or simply go to the pages of the 
cryonics newsletters and magazines of those days and follow the 
histories of the people whose names appear there, you will find that 
most are dead. Dead - not cryopreserved, not cryogenically interred, 
not even in cryonic suspension. To almost everyone who reads this 
they are just names now; the rich
  details of who they were are gone, presumably forever.
   When I (very rarely these days) walk amongst the cryonicists of the 
present I am haunted by the familiarity of it all. Your voices, your 
faces, your words, your dreams, your expectations, they are really no 
different than those of the dead who preceded you and who wanted what 
you want, and expected what you expect. I see them in you and you in 
them because it is impossible to do otherwise. And so, I make a 
prediction: most of those cryonicists around you now will also pass 
away into death, and in so doing will forever take a part of you with 
them. This is a fearsome thing to say, but it is true, because 
whether the 'Singularity' comes tomorrow, or there is control of 
aging in 30 years, most of those now living will die. This is so 
because chance as much as choice decides who lives and who dies. 
Neither is omnipotent, but each has its undeniable and inescapable 
role. Plan as carefully as you will, but understand that the real 
world is a dynamic and unpredictable engine of
  destruction. The best laid plans of men are oft for naught - and we 
are still men. Do not forget that either - we are still mortal.
   It is early in January of 1964 and in Huntington Beach, Californa a 
34-year-old housewife named Marcelon Johnson has just finished 
filling out her cryonics paperwork, paid her first cryonics society 
dues, and dropped her application for a Medic-Alert bracelet in the 
mail. She has six children and a busy, happy, life which has just 
gotten better because she now believes, for the first time, that she 
might never have to die. She is haunted by the death of her mother 
who was in her mid-50s when she succumbed to Alzheimer's disease. She 
does not want to die that way, or any other way, for that matter.
   Within a year Marcelon Johnson, or "Marce" as she is known to her 
friends, would become increasingly involved in cryonics. By March of 
1967, 3 months after Dr. Bedford began the journey which he continues 
to this day, Marce Johnson was the Secretary-Treasurer of the 
Cryonics Society of California (CSC). She opened her home to cryonics 
meetings and catered them superbly. She answered countless 
information requests and filled countless orders for books and 
literature. On October 11, 1972 Marce reluctantly accepted the 
Presidency of CSC, not suspecting that she had stepped into a 
nightmare that would go on for almost eight years. Russ Stanley, who 
had welcomed Marce to her first cryonics meeting on September 30th in 
1966, had been frozen for 5 years. Two of the other pioneering CSC 
members whom she had met and befriended were also in "cryonic 
suspension" at CSC's Cryonic Interment Facility in Chatsworth, CA.
   In the 45 years she has been actively involved in cryonics I have 
never heard anyone say a bad thing about Marce Johnson. That is an 
extraordinary achievement for anyone involved in cryonics, but it is 
made all the more extraordinary by the fact that Marce was the de 
facto President of CSC when it came to light in 1979 that all of the 
patients in the Chatsworth facility had been allowed to thaw and 
decompose. No, Marce had no complicity in that horror beyond that of 
being loyal and trusting. The very qualities that made Marce an 
exceptional human being, her readiness to help, her willingness to 
trust the words of a friend and colleague, and her quiet and nearly 
unshakeable loyalty had set her up to be in the crosshairs of the 
litigation and enmity that followed.
   The very public disintegration of CSC was not only financially 
costly to Marce and her husband Walt (not to mention their 6 
children), it was a deep personal humiliation and loss. Three of the 
people who had welcomed her into cryonics were now gone - lost to a 
gruesome and disgraceful fate. There was no immortality for them; in 
fact, there was not even the dignity of a decent burial. Many of the 
people who were cohorts of Marce at that time walked away from 
cryonics and never looked back - and most of them are dead now, or 
are beyond help in nursing homes, or dependent upon their indifferent 
children. I have watched as those who died passed, and I have spoken 
with those who remain, helpless and dying. Chatsworth was not a 
pretty business.
   Marce Johnson did not walk away. She joined Alcor, and at a very 
bad time for Alcor in 1981, she quietly pulled me aside at a meeting 
and asked me if I would assume the Presidency of Alcor. I didn't know 
Marce very well then and I was completely taken aback. I was even 
more surprised when Marce told me that she was asking this of me 
because she had seen her cryonics organization fail before and she 
had not known what was happening until it was too late. This time she 
was not going to stay silent. So, it came to pass that I did become 
the President of Alcor later that year, and it was largely due to the 
quiet initiative of Marce Johnson.
   Over the next ten years Marce hosted more Alcor meetings than 
anyone else has before or since. She and her husband Walt were a 
dependable source of contributions, and Marce would often make the 2 
hour drive (each way) from Huntington Beach to Fullerton to help with 
various volunteer activities at Alcor. Her gentle, intellectual 
decency served as a welcome beacon of normality and warmth at 
cryonics get-togethers that were often marred by partisanship and 
extremes. Marce's home was one of the least conveniently located in 
Southern California, but the meetings she hosted there were among the 
best attended.
   In 1985 Alcor faced a seemingly insurmountable crisis. For 7 years 
Alcor had been the guest of Cryovita Laboratories in Fullerton, 
California. Cryovita was the creation of cryonics pioneer Jerry Leaf 
and it was a costly drain on Jerry and his family. Jerry not only 
paid the rent on the facility in Fullerton, he covered all the other 
operating expenses out of his pocket, including the liability 
insurance required by the landlord. In the early 1980s the explosion 
of litigation in California and elsewhere resulted in skyrocketing 
premiums for basic business liability coverage. By 1985 coverage at 
any price was no longer available for businesses with a high, or 
impossible to estimate degree of risk. Alcor, and thus Cryovita, 
became uninsurable and with that came the inevitable edict from the 
landlord to vacate the premises.
   With the help of a long-time friend of Alcor, Reg Thatcher, a 
potential solution was identified. A small park of industrial 
buildings was going to be built in nearby Riverside, California with 
completion expected in about 10 months. We negotiated with the 
landlord and began trying to raise the impossible sum of $150,000 
plus closing and other costs. I had from April 4th to June 20th, 986 
to do just that - a little over two months. At $149,000 I stalled 
out. All the deep pockets had been tapped and the Life Extension 
Foundation was locked in a battle with the FDA for its survival, as 
well as for the personal freedom of Saul Kent and Bill Falloon, both 
of whom faced decades in prison. Alcor had approximately 100 members 
in 1986, and finding the additional $5,000 in cash required to cover 
the closing costs appeared hopeless. As it was, an additional $37,500 
had already been pledged to cover the 2-year note carried by the 
developer. When Marce heard of this situation she
  quietly opened hers and Walt's check book and wrote out a check for $5,000.
   In the years that followed, Marce was always there for cryonics and 
it wasn't easy. She and Walt had had to buy life insurance late in 
life and the premiums were punishing, even for neuro. Sometime around 
1997 Marce asked me to meet her for lunch in Huntigton Beach. That 
was an unusual request, but one which I was happy to oblige. It was 
an unexpectedly emotional and difficult meeting. As we sat in a 
little Italian restaurant in an anonymous strip mall Marce repeated 
the story of her mother's death and asked me to promise that I would 
not abandon her should such a fate befall her. She told me a number 
of deeply personal things and she asked me to dispose of some 
unfinished business should I outlive her. It was easy to say yes. 
Marce was healthy and had every prospect of living many years longer 
in good health. It takes extraordinary courage to confront not only 
your own mortality, but also the prospect of closing your life in the 
darkness of dementia. Nothing in my
  experience of Marce as a relentlessly positive and optimistic person 
had prepared me for that meeting.

   In 2001 I was alerted by Joan O'Farrel of Critical Care Research 
that Marce seemed both forgetful and inappropriate on the phone 
(Marce was, as usual, doing volunteer work, this time for Critical 
Care Research (CCR) and 21st Century Medicine). A call to Walt 
confirmed Joan's suspicions and shortly thereafter Dr. Steve Harris 
and I visited Marce, and Steve did a thorough exam, including an 
assessment for Alzheimer's. Marce did well on this assessment, but 
Steve suggested she go to the Memory Clinic at UCLA for a more 
comprehensive evaluation. Shortly thereafter, I left CCR and began 
what was unarguably the second most difficult period in my life. I 
tried to call Walt and Marce over the following 2 years and always 
ended up getting Marce's voice on their answering machine. In the 
chaos that was my life at that time I had neither the inclination nor 
the ability, truth to tell, to worry about anyone but myself and my 
partner. Finally, in 2003 Walt picked up the phone and we
  talked. I learned that Marce had been placed in a nursing home some 
months prior, and that she had moderately advanced Alzheimer's.
   That news was devastating enough, but what followed shook me to the 
core of my being. Walt told me that Marce no longer had cryonics 
arrangements and that she was to be cremated. I visited Marce twice 
in the subsequent months and found her still oriented enough to 
recognize me and carry on a very basic conversation. From these two 
visits I learned that Marce still believed she was going to be 
cryopreserved and that she felt that she had done something wrong, 
perhaps by getting sick, which had caused her cryonics friends to 
stop coming to see her. I learned that Saul Kent had been down to see 
her and Walt and to try to get Walt to reinstate Marce's 
arrangements, but to no avail. Walt had never been a cryonicist and 
his concern was, understandably, with ensuring that Marce got top 
quality nursing home care. Walt and Marce were confronted with "spend 
down" in the face of monthly nursing home bills of over $5,000. 
Medicare does not begin to cover these expenses until the
  patient has $2,000 or less in total assets - not even enough for 
burial. Marce's and Walt's cryonics insurance policies had been 
cashed-out and used for her nursing home care.
   In the four years that have come and gone since then I have 
continued to try to find some way to rescue Marce from this 
situation. Marce did everything right, everything that cryonics 
organizations asked her to do, including giving them ownership of her 
policy. Unfortunately, Marce fell ill just as CryoCare was closing 
down and she never had the opportunity to transfer her arrangements 
to the Cryonics Institute, or Alcor.
   Recently, Dave Pizer of the Venturists stepped forward to organize 
a fund raising effort for Marce. Dave believed, as I did, that the 
primary obstacle to getting Marce cryopreservation arrangements was 
money, not any unwillingness on Walt's part. A few days ago Walt 
confirmed this by consenting to have Marce cryopreserved at CI when 
the time comes. CI graciously agreed to accept Marce as a member and 
her future now rests on the ability of the Venturists to raise the 
$35,000 required to cover CI's costs and to transport Marce to CI 
from Southern California.
   Of the twenty or so people who attended that original LES meeting 
at the home of Russ Stanley in 1966, only Marce Johnson, Greg Fahy, 
and Robert Nelson remain alive. The others have all perished, some at 
Chatsworth, some later. Nothing can be done for them, but Marce 
endures, and she still has some chance of rescue. Marce's situation 
is now extremely tenuous. She has been moved to a highly skilled 
nursing facility a short distance from her home in Huntington Beach. 
Death could come at any time.
   Marce asked me to help her, to stand by her, and to never abandon 
her. The burden of that ready and unreservedly made commitment has 
proved far heavier than I ever imagined possible. I ask you, on 
behalf of all that Marce has done to make cryonics possible for you, 
please, please help her.
   Mike Darwin
   March 8, 2007
   The Venturists are trying to raise the money to pay for Marce's 
suspension. Please make your check to "The Venturists" mail it to: 
The Venturists, C/O The Creekside Lodge, 11255 State Route 69, Mayer 
Arizona 86333. Please feel free to copy this article and pass it on 
to anyone else you think might want to help. All contributions are 
tax deductable. Thank you, David Pizer for The Society for Venturism.


Amara Graps, PhD      www.amara.com
INAF Istituto di Fisica dello Spazio Interplanetario (IFSI), Roma, ITALIA
Associate Research Scientist, Planetary Science Institute (PSI), Tucson

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