We all have an appointment with death – or do we? It may sound outlandish, but there are those who, encouraged by the latest advances in the study of gerontology, or how ageing occurs, believe that immortality might soon be within our grasp. In The Price of Immortality, his often jaw-dropping investigation into the global ‘immortalist’ scene, journalist Peter Ward surveys the cast of – for the most part – charlatans, oddballs and zealots who are obsessed with the idea of cancelling their tête-à-têtes with the Grim Reaper.
Early on in his travels, Ward meets Neal VanDeRee, the Officiator of the Church of Perpetual Life, which is located (where else?) in Florida. VanDeRee, who earns a living selling real estate, is bullish ‘that the human species can stop and reverse the aging process’. By his own estimation, he will ‘live for five hundred, one thousand, ten thousand years’.
VanDeRee keeps his flock uplifted by emailing them digests of the latest research on ageing. Any nugget pointing to the eventual possibility of eternal life is treated as a sign of its imminent discovery. But although adherents of the Church of Perpetual Life believe that death is conquerable, some have a backup plan. They intend to get their corpses frozen until athanasia has been achieved and they can be resuscitated to live happily ever after. Should this sound tempting to you, please be careful about which cryonics company you entrust your remains to. Ward makes clear that it’s tough to find a reliable cryogenicist these days. A case in point: after his death, baseball star Ted Williams was cryogenised by Alcor Life Extension Foundation. Unfortunately, Alcor’s surgeons beheaded him, drilled holes in his temples and accidentally cracked his skull ten times.
It’s tempting to dismiss the worshippers of the Church of Perpetual Life as nothing more than American cranks. But the most prominent immortalist around is an Englishman named Aubrey de Grey. An Old Harrovian and Cambridge graduate, de Grey sports a luxuriant and unkempt beard. Don’t be fooled by