IN EARLY 1954, Pope Pius XII summoned a venerable Swiss quack named Paul Niehans to the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo. The pontiff was nauseated with gastritis, fatigued by his 77 years, and loath to meet his maker. So he had Niehans administer an antiaging treatment called cell therapy, which would become sought after by midcentury celebrities, artists, and politicians.
Fetal cells were taken from a pregnant sheep and injected into the scrawny pope. Over time, Pius received a series of shots. The Holy Patient felt rejuvenated; Niehans was appointed to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in thanks. But if the treatments worked at all, it wasn’t for long: Pius died four years later.
Niehans’ Clinique La Prairie is still in business, charging tens of thousands of dollars for its week-long “revitalization program.” But today the death-phobic elite demand more science.