Judge mulls fate of body

Cryonics foundation, family at odds over possible exhumation.

The Hawk Eye, Iowa/June 9, 2009

"It is my wish that upon my legal death my human remains be preserved by the cryogenic treatment known as cryonic suspension," Orville Richardson wrote in 2004.

In February, at 81, he died and was buried.

On Monday, a hearing of what may turn out to a lengthy battle for the man's remains began, with Alcor Life Extension Foundation, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based non-profit corporation, wanting to exhume him, while his brother and sister are demanding his peaceful rest be left alone.

"Obviously, this is a case with very unique facts," Alcor's Cedar Rapids-based attorney William Vernon told District Court Judge John Linn.

Vernon said it is Richardson's wishes to have his head frozen through cryonic process in the hopes that future technology can revive his life and health. He added Richardson paid for a lifetime membership to Alcor in 2004 and accompanied it with the will, where he made the foundation his next of kin.

Cryonics is the preservation of human remains -- and sometimes animals -- at very low temperature in the hope that future science can restore them to life, youth and health.

In April, Richardson's brother, David Richardson of Ohio, and sister Darlene Broeker of West Burlington -- co-administrators of the estate -- sent a letter to Alcor demanding it refund more than $50,000 their brother paid the foundation.

Linn asked Vernon to clarify the court filing, whether it represented a lawsuit or a motion to disinter the remains.

Both, sort of, the attorney said.

According to attorneys, Richardson did not leave an estate will, only the anatomical will, which raised the question of validity in Iowa.

Vernon argued the anatomical will is not intended for "distribution of property."

"Since he was put in the ground, a permit is required," Vernon said.

The permit comes from the Department of Public Health, who told Alcor a permit could not be issued without the consent of the next of kin.

John Cray, a Burlington attorney representing David Richardson and Darlene Broeker, said disinterment requires one of two conditions for approval. Either an autopsy is required or the body is to be reburied. Alcor plans neither.

Cray says Alcor did not make any steps to see if Orville Richardson's family would cooperate with his wishes, not even after they found out the brother and sister were appointed to handle the estate.

"It was up to (Orville) to find someone to cooperate with his plan," Cray said. "There is no duty (to the brother and sister) to notify Alcor when Orville was dying and had died."

The siblings apparently tried to talk their brother out of the idea and "emphatically told him they would have nothing to do with his plan."

Time is of the essence in the case, hence the expedited hearing. There is no telling how far the decomposition of Orville Richardson's body has progressed.

Cryonics procedures, according to Alcor, should ideally begin within the first one or two minutes after the heart stops and preferably within 15 minutes.

Linn has taken the matter under advisement and will issue a ruling -- whether to grant another hearing or address the disinterment -- some time this week.

If Alcor is allowed to exhume the body, Vernon said the foundation will shoulder the cost.

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