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She travels in time: Entretien avec Raymond Martinot

Raymond Martinot

mars 2003
(création : octobre 1987)

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Cet entretien avec le docteur Raymond Martinot, réalisé au milieu des années 80 dans un anglais qui ne lui était que modérément familier, a été diffusé à l’époque par la télévision anglaise dans le cadre d’une série d’émissions médicales appelée « Where There’s Life » [Tant qu’il y a de la vie] présentées par Miriam Stoppard. La transcription de l’entretien est donnée ci-dessous, précédée de larges extraits en français.

(3:02) STOPPARD: Est-ce que vous regardez souvent à l’intérieur [du congélateur] pour examiner votre femme ?

MARTINOT: Euh, une fois tous les 5 ans, peut-être…

STOPPARD: Pas plus ?

MARTINOT: Oh non ; je serais le premier à désirer la voir. J’aimerais, chaque jour, ouvrir, "Monique, je suis content de te voir" (rires), mais c’est impossible. Le mieux pour elle est que ça reste fermé.

STOPPARD: Les gens qui enterrent leurs morts diront que vous êtes fou de faire ça !

MARTINOT: Oui, certaines personnes disent que je suis fou. Mais je pense que ce qui est fou, avec la technique scientifique d’aujourd’hui, c’est d’enterrer, parce que le corps est détruit et il n’y a pas d’espoir — du tout.

STOPPARD: Garder votre femme dans ce congélateur demande beaucoup d’efforts…

MARTINOT: Hm-hm…

STOPPARD: …beaucoup de soin…

MARTINOT: Oui !

STOPPARD: …et beaucoup d’argent.

MARTINOT: …

STOPPARD: C’est quoi qui au fond de vous-même vous détermine à continuer ?

MARTINOT: L’espoir de la voir plus tard, et… l’espoir c’est tout, la destruction totale c’est zéro, et entre zéro et l’infini je choisis l’infini.



(5:20) MARTINOT: J’ai acheté le congélateur en 74. C’était pour moi, parce que je suis malade des poumons depuis la deuxième guerre mondiale, et malheureusement Monique a disparu avant moi.

STOPPARD: Pourquoi utilisez-vous le mot "disparu" et pas "mort" ?

MARTINOT: Pour les gens ordinaires elle est morte, parce que ses fonctions vitales se sont interrompues. Mais elle conserve ses molécules dans son corps. Pour moi, la mort est la destruction totale sous la terre ; à ce moment-là, le corps est transformé en dioxyde de carbone, en eau et en azote, et c’est fini, sans espoir. Mais dans son cas, il y a un petit espoir. Si je n’essaie pas, je n’ai pas d’espoir.

STOPPARD: Avez-vous peur de la mort ?

MARTINOT: Oui ! Tout le monde, il me semble, a peur de la mort.

STOPPARD: Qu’est-ce qui vous fait peur ?

MARTINOT: Euh… Il n’y a rien, et personne…

STOPPARD: Pourquoi voulez-vous plus de vie ? 70 ans ne vous suffisent pas ?

MARTINOT: Oh non, je veux faire des tas de choses, dessiner, faire de la musique, de la poésie, écrire. J’ai besoin de deux siècles, mais c’est impossible maintenant… (rires)



(8:42) MARTINOT: Quand je pratiquais comme médecin, je considère que j’ai lutté contre la mort. Je pense que c’est la profession de tout médecin. Chaque médecin repousse la mort. Et cette expérience est faite dans le même esprit, c’est le même travail. Avec le niveau technique de la science actuelle, nous pouvons imaginer que la mort peut être repoussée de plus en plus.

STOPPARD: Ca peut se soigner ?

MARTINOT: Se soigner, oui !

STOPPARD: Pourquoi pensez-vous que la science réussira à faire cela ?

MARTINOT: Parce que… tout est possible — tout est possible. Avec de l’argent, des efforts, du travail… Je crois que tout peut être fait. Chaque jour, chaque mois, la science progresse de plus en plus. Une étape supplémentaire est franchie chaque jour.



(10:00) STOPPARD: … Mais le Dr Martinot sait que l’expérience peut échouer. Alors pourquoi prend-il un tel risque ?

MARTINOT: Parce que la partie à venir ne semble pas encore faisable, la réanimation ne semble pas faisable. Il est nécessaire que quelqu’un commence.

STOPPARD: Et dans le futur, qu’espérez-vous qu’il puisse arriver ?

MARTINOT: Ca dépend de la bonne volonté des hommes. Mais je pense que prolonger la vie est une chose très importante. La mort a été une habitude pendant des millions d’années, mais elle ne sera pas nécessairement une habitude dans l’avenir.



STOPPARD: Quand vous descendez ici, et que vous êtes proche du corps de votre femme, que ressentez-vous ?

MARTINOT: Ah, l’amour pour elle (rires). La science et l’amour sont ensemble.

Full transcript / Transcription complète (en anglais)

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 Leroy 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.

MARTINOT: Yes, inside there. She travels in time.

STOPPARD: (voice over) Monique’s time machine is a scientific freezer. When his wife died three years ago Dr 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 at 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: Mm, 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, I open, "Monique, je suis content de te voir" [Monique, I’m glad to see you] (laughs), but it’s impossible. The best thing for 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. But I think that it is crazy with the scientific technique of today to bury, because the body is destroyed and there is no hope — at all.

STOPPARD: To keep your wife in this freezer, requires much effort…

MARTINOT: Mm-mm..

STOPPARD: …much care…

MARTINOT: Yes!

STOPPARD: …and much money.

MARTINOT: …

STOPPARD: What is it inside of your heart that makes you determined to carry on.

MARTINOT: The hope to see her later, and… the hope is everything, total destruction is zero, and between zero and infinite, I choose infinite.

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: (voice over) 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.) It was for me, because I was ill since 2nd World War with pulmonary disease [not sure], 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.) For me, death is the total destruction under the earth. The body is transformed into carbon dioxide, water and nitrogen. It’s finished, hopeless. But in her case, there is a little hope. If I do not try, I have no hope. Still of Monique.

STOPPARD: Are you afraid of death?

MARTINOT: Yes! Everybody, I think, is afraid from death.

STOPPARD: What are you afraid of?

MARTINOT: Euh.. Nothing, nobody is there…

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, going, music, poetry, writing, I need two centuries, but it is impossible now… (laughs)

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 Remy.

STOPPARD: Was this always your bedroom?

REMY No first it was my mother’s bedroom and if you like it’s a sort of symbolism, because it’s a link between death and life.

STOPPARD: What will you do when your father dies?

REMY: 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?

REMY: (laughs) Well, I think it will be the more later, and I think when I die, my son, or friends I don’t know, put me in the freezer, to go on the experiment.

STOPPARD: You think that you should carry on?

REMY: 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. And this experience is the same spirit, 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?

MARTINOT: Can be cured, yes!

STOPPARD: Why do you think that science will be successful in doing this?

MARTINOT: Because… anything is possible — anything is possible. With money, with efforts, with work, with… I think we can make anything. Each day, each month, science goes farther, and farther. There is a degree each day more.

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 begins.

STOPPARD: But what about the future? What do you hope can happen?

MARTINOT: It depends on the goodwill of humankind. 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 do you feel?

MARTINOT: Ah, it’s love with her (laughs). 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 against death and I think struggling against death on 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 life 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 how 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 is 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 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 to freeze such a person for a couple of weeks or even a month whilst the heart becomes available. 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 heart 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 we have thought of as being dead in fact may 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 make 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 existence now to modern medicine. I have had the 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 time, 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 seems to be exactly what I have been talking about. That people’s idea of death has been shaped by the conceptions that came 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 totally impossible, because when I was a boy this sort of thing hadn’t been dreamed of I’m sure, and it would have seemed 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: Would 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.



Merci à John de Rivaz pour la vidéo et la transcription anglaise. Traduction Transition pour Hache 2003. La date du documentaire serait septembre ou octobre 1987. Monique Leroy est morte en 1984.

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