Judge denies request for man's remains

Brother, sister win legal battle with cryonic foundation.

The Hawkeye, Iowa/July 16, 2009

Orville Martin Richardson died and was buried in February at the age 81, and on Wednesday, he may finally rest in peace.

District Court Judge John Linn ruled in favor of Richardson's brother and sister, denying a motion from Alcor Life Extension Foundation, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based non-profit corporation, to have Richardson's body disinterred so it could be suspended in a cryonic process.

The ruling signals what may be the end to a legal battle, which started last month, for Richardson's remains. The hearing was June 8.

Linn addressed many issues, including that "Alcor's request for the equitable relief" that the court compel David Richardson of Ohio and Darlene Broeker of West Burlington, Orville Richardson's brother and sister "consent to the issuance of a permit for disinterment is an effort to side-step or make an end-run" around Iowa law.

Attorneys for the foundation said Orville Richardson decided to donate his remains "not only in the hope of potential revival, but also to prove and perfect the process" of cryonic suspension -- the preservation of human remains at very low temperature in the hope that future science can restore them to life, youth and health.

Orville Richardson signed a membership with the foundation in 2004 and chose neurosuspension. He executed a series of documents later that year, including contracting Alcor for the transfer of his remains after his death, paying the foundation $50,000 for a lifetime membership.

In return, Alcor was supposed to freeze his brain or entire head, then cremate "and dispose of the non-suspended portion" of his body.

In the ruling, Linn pointed out that the foundation did not appear to be pursuing a petition for disinterment but rather a court order compelling the siblings to give consent for the exhumation.

The judge said the dispute between Alcor and David Richardson and Broeker does not involve Iowa law covering anatomical gifts nor disinterment, but a code section that deals with who has the right to control final disposition of a decedent's remains.

Upon Orville Richardson's death, his brother and sister had the right to control the body since he had no surviving spouse, children, parents or grandchildren.

That particular law also says that an alternate designee can exercise control if a declaration is executed "on or after July 1, 2008."

Orville Richardson in December 2004 made a declaration relating to his contract with the foundation, giving Alcor full custody on his remains "by whatever legal means may be available for the purposes of placing them into cryonic suspension."

"Alcor cannot qualify as a designee," Linn said in the ruling, adding Alcor cannot seek the remedy if it is contrary to state law. "Iowa law vested David (Richardson) and Darlene (Broeker) the right to control disposition of Orville's remains."

Furthermore, Alcor did not establish that the decision the sibling's made to embalm and bury their brother was the result of "fraud or mistake."

"David and Darlene simply made a family decision as to the final resting place of their brother," Linn wrote, noting that it was a lawful decision.

Even if the motion was not a petition for disinterment, Linn addressed the issue and cited that disinterment has two requirements: if there is an autopsy needed and if the body will be reburied.

And since the body already is buried, a permit from the Department of Public Health must be obtained.

Alcor can seek the permit, but it eventually will be denied because the purpose of the disinterment is not for autopsy or reburial. It also will be denied because Iowa law requires consent from next of kin.

"Cryonic suspension of Orville's brain and head, so that Alcor can perform experimental procedures in the hope that at some future date the science of medicine will have advanced to the point which permits restoration of life, is not reburial," Linn said.

In the suit, Alcor wanted a judge to "compel or force" the siblings to give their consent.

Linn said consent must be voluntary, adding "consent that is forced or compelled by court order is not consent."

Now that Alcor has lost, it will be liable for the cost of the proceedings.

Case background

To understand the case is to look back at the life of Orville Richardson.

He was reared in Burlington with his brother and sister and was a trained pharmacist. He had no children, and his wife died before him.

Orville Richardson entered his membership with Alcor in June 2004. In December that same year, he signed a consent for cryonic suspension and a last will and testament for human remains and authorization of anatomical donation, paying the foundation $50,000.

David Richardson and Broeker said in court papers that their brother discussed with them the notion of donating his brain or entire head for cryonic suspension.

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."

In the fall of 2007, Orville Richardson's health -- physical and mental -- deteriorated, and he was admitted to the hospital where he was evaluated as having dementia. This limited his capacity to care for himself, including making financial decisions.

In May 2008, the court appointed David Richardson and Broeker as co-conservators for Orville and soon after, Broeker was appointed as guardian.

Alcor would, at times, issue a check to Orville Richardson, which amounted to interest from his $50,000 prepayment account.

Broeker and David Richardson, after their brother died, found a $2,374.39 uncashed check made out to their brother. In May 2008, they requested Alcor to reissue the check and asked if there were other uncashed checks made out to their brother.

In April, David Richardson, citing that his brother did not use the foundation's services, demanded Alcor refund the $50,000.

Alcor responded by asking why it was not notified of the man's death and demanded the siblings "deliver possession, custody and control of Orville's remains."

The brother and sister "violently opposed" the demand and asked Alcor not to disturb their brother's final resting place.

They said, since they are not parties in the contract, the believed the court cannot "impose upon them a duty to perform an action they never agreed to undertake."

Attorneys for the siblings said Alcor did not make any steps to see if any of Orville Richardson's family would cooperate with his wishes, not even when they found out that the brother and sister were appointed to handle the estate.

It is not known whether David Richardson and Broeker will pursue trying to get the money their brother paid Alcor. Contact numbers for them could not be located Wednesday.

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