The siblings of a man who died more than a year ago must exhume his body so his head can be cut off and cryogenically frozen, the Iowa Court of Appeals has ruled.
The court sided this week with Alcor Life Extension Foundation, which sought to dig up the remains of 81-year-old Orville Richardson of Burlington. Richardson had signed a contract with Alcor in 2004 and paid $53,500 to have his head placed in cryonic suspension after his death.
When he died in February 2009, Richardson's brother and sister buried him instead, having told him earlier that they would have nothing to do with his plan, court records show.
Alcor learned of Richardson's death two months afterward, when his brother, David Richardson, asked the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company to refund the money already paid.
The company filed a lawsuit seeking to exhume Orville Richardson's body at its own expense, but a Des Moines Country District Court judge denied the request. The appeals court reversed that decision Wednesday. It said the lower court should have granted Alcor's request because Richardson's siblings ignored their brother's request, "despite knowledge he had made different arrangements."
It was unclear what condition the body would be in. According to Alcor, the cryonics process should begin within the first two minutes after a heart stops, and preferably within the first 15 minutes. The company did not immediately respond to a message Friday.
Richardson's sister, Darlene Broeker, declined to comment. Attorneys in the case did not immediately return telephone messages Friday.
In its lawsuit, Alcor had argued that its contract with Richardson fell under the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, which prohibits anyone other that the donor from revoking the donation. The company asked the court to order Richardson's siblings to obtain a permit to exhume his body.
David Richardson and Broeker argued that their brother entered his contract with Alcor before a 2006 revision to the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act took effect. The district court agreed and ruled the pair had the right to control the "final disposition of Orville's remains after his death."
The court also agreed with them that Iowa's disinterment statute did not apply because Alcor was not seeking autopsy or reburial — the only two reasons that a body can be exhumed under state law.
But the appeals court ruled that the 2006 revision to the Uniform Anatomic Gift Act prohibits anyone other than a donor from revoking the gift and that neither side in the case challenged the use of the law.
It also said Alcor meets the definition of a qualified group to accept human remains and that although Richardson had paid the company for its services, it "does not take the transaction outside the scope" of the law, "even if it ... may not qualify as a gift."
The court also ruled that under Iowa's disinterment code, the cryonic suspension of Richardson's head and the cremation of the rest of his body would constitute "reburial."
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