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Nueil-sur-Layon Journal - A Wistful Future on Ice. Can France Tolerate It? - NYTimes.comueil-sur-Layon Journal; A Wistful Future on Ice. Can France Tolerate It?


Published: March 12, 2002

NUEIL-SUR-LAYON, France, March 8— Less than a mile outside this village and atop a small hill that from a distance gives it an air of grandness, there stands a chateau built centuries ago when wealthy and aristocratic French families had summer homes in the Loire Valley.
But up close this chateau looks abandoned. The stone wall that once surrounded the property has been patched with cinderblocks. The front gate, rusty and padlocked, hangs askew from crumbling pillars. Beyond it, the grass has taken over the footpaths.
Yet, it is not the Martinot chateau's sadly deteriorating condition that has prompted local residents to drive by and stare. Here, for the past 18 years, Dr. Raymond Martinot kept his dead wife's body in a refrigerated container in the basement. He was fascinated by cryonics and apparently hoped she could be brought back to life some day.
When he died last month at age 80, he left instructions that he was to join her. His son, Rémy, 35, did exactly as he was told, even injecting his father's body with anticoagulants before bringing it home from a Paris hospital in a refrigerated ambulance.
But this time, local authorities said, enough is enough. They want both bodies removed and they have charged Rémy Martinot, a civil servant who works in Paris, with disturbing the peace.
''You can't just put a body in a fridge and call it a burial,'' said Christian Prioux, the lawyer arguing the case for the government. ''It's illegal and it can't be allowed.''
The case has transfixed nearby residents, who have not had so much press attention since the ramparts on the nearby Château de Saumur collapsed two years ago. In the 16th century, this region was a bone of contention between the counts of Anjou and Blois. But these days, life is rather quiet here. The principal industries are tourism and vineyards.
Some villagers find the prospect of frozen bodies under the Martinot chateau disgusting. But others simply feel sorry for the couple's only son, who can, if he wins his court battle, look forward to years of making sure the refrigerated container in his basement does not malfunction. It currently keeps the bodies at about 76 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.
Before he died, Dr. Martinot, at times, showed off the refrigerated container where he kept his wife, Monique. It is kept locked with a golden chain. A picture of his wife rests on the top.
''I think that there is an understanding that Rémy is in a very difficult position,'' said Jean-Yves Lignel, who has lived in Saumur all his life and has been covering the story for the local daily, Le Courrier de L'Ouest. ''His father had been talking to him about this for years and years, and since his mother had been there for 18 years already, the son was completely unprepared for this new hoopla.''
At a hearing last week, Mr. Martinot's lawyer, Alain Fouquet, argued that the French law did not address the issue of freezing bodies and therefore it could not be prohibited. ''Even if funerary legislation gives no permission for freezing a corpse,'' Mr. Fouquet told the court, ''it does not specifically say it cannot be done. There is no law that says that a body cannot be kept in a cryogenic chamber.''
Mr. Fouquet also pointed out that the state had failed to take any action for 18 years when it came to Dr. Martinot's wife's body. Why, he asked, should it suddenly feel the need to act now?
Arguing for the state, however, Mr. Prioux said the issue was clear. ''The law says a body must be buried or cremated,'' he said. ''What kind of peaceful resting place can a fridge be, when you can just go downstairs and take a peek any time you want.''
The court said it would rule on Wednesday.
After the hearing, Rémy Martinot, a small, nervous man who has chewed his fingernails to the nub, defended his father's wishes. He dismissed Mr. Prioux's scenario, pointing out that opening and closing the container would damage any hope of reviving his parents.
''That kind of talk just shows you how little this man understands about the science,'' he said.
Mr. Martinot said his father, who at one point taught at Paris's prestigious medical school, was far from crazy, though his theories and his hopes that science would one day be able to bring him back to life were rarely taken seriously.
When his father died, Mr. Martinot worried that he would not have the emotional strength to carry out the various injections his father had ordered. But he said he had to try. His father had been planning his death for nearly 30 years. He had the refrigerated container built for himself in 1974. He did not expect his wife, who was much younger, to die first.
This is not the first time that the practice of freezing dead bodies has come before French courts. Two years ago, a court rejected the efforts of a brother and sister on the island of La Réunion, a French territory, to keep their mother's body in a glass-topped freezer in the cellar.
In fact, many European countries have laws restricting preserving bodies this way. To circumvent such restrictions, those interested in resuming life at a later date have sometimes struck arrangements with cryonics companies in the United States, where several states permit the preservation of bodies this way.
That would probably be more expensive than what Dr. Martinot had in mind, but his son said he might have to go that route if the court ruling goes against him.
''If I had ignored his wishes, I would have been dismissing something he spent most of his life on,'' Mr. Martinot said. ''Personally, I have always been more skeptical about the idea of resuscitation. But I am not a doctor. And I do think the idea is worth trying. I will fight to keep my father's dream in place.''
Photos: Above, Dr. Raymond Martinot in 1999 with the freezer containing his wife's body. After his death last month, his body was also placed in a freezer. Their son, Rémy, below, is fighting in court to defend the practice. (Jerome Dutac/LA/MAXPPP); (Laurant Combet/Le Courrier de l'Ouest) Map of France highlights Nueil-sur-Layon: A deeply frozen couple in Nueil-sur-Layon will test French law.

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