Lazarus: Brought Back From the Dead

Five dogs, all named Lazarus, became famous in history as part of an experiment to bring the dead back to life by Dr. Robert E. Cornish in the 1930s - before CPR was developed.

Dr. Robert Cornish holding Lazarus IV and looking at Lazarus V

Robert Cornish (1903-1963) was a child prodigy. At the age of 18 he graduated with honors from Berkeley and four years later he was licensed to practice medicine. Cornish was interested in research and worked on a number of projects, but none sparked his interest so much as his idea to restore life to the dead. By 1933 he had developed an unusual method of reanimation. Cornish attempted his experiment on several dead bodies without success, coming to the conclusion that too long had elapsed since death for it to work, so he decided to perfect his method with freshly euthanized dogs.

In May 1934 Cornish acquired five fox terriers. He named each dog Lazarus after the Biblical figure who was raised from the dead by Jesus (the dogs were dubbed by the press as Lazarus I, II, III, IV and V.) Each dog was killed using a nitrogen gas mixture then strapped to a teeterboard (a seesaw-like contraption) after they were declared clinically dead. The doctor would then inject a solution containing adrenaline into the corpse's thigh, and puff bursts of oxygen into the dog's gaping mouth as an assistant rocked the teeterboard back and forth to slowly draw the solution up and down the body.

The first three dogs are said to have come to life but only briefly before slumping into comas. However, Lazarus IV and V were successfully revived, after their hearts have stopped for five minutes. According to an article in Modern Mechanix (Jan, 1935), Lazarus IV "is blind and cannot stand alone" and "has learned to crawl, bark, sit up on its haunches and consume nearly a pound of meat a day." It also reports "Lazarus V returned nearer normalcy in four days than the other Lazarus in thirteen days." I can find no information on how long the two dogs lived, but it is reported that neither resumed a normal life.

Cornish began his experiments with the dogs at Berkeley but was later asked to leave when the media began reporting his work while experimenting on Lazarus III. Cornish admitted that the dog was more dead than alive, and even debated about using swine instead of dogs, explaining "hogs more nearly resemble humans in their digestive and circulatory systems and have far fewer friends than dogs." But he continued to use the dogs, at his parent's home.

Despite the rather inconclusive outcome, the doctor's experiments with the five fox terriers were hailed as a success. Cornish moved on to other projects, but in 1947 he reemerged with a scheme to "teeter" a freshly deceased human. Thomas McMonigle, a child killer, offered his body for possible reanimation following his execution but the state of California refused Cornish and McMonigle's petition due to concerns a reanimated murderer would have to be freed under the "double jeopardy" clause.