A man is suing a cryonics firm for allegedly not respecting his late father’s wishes—or contract—to have his entire body cryogenically preserved. Instead, the firm severed and stored the man’s head, sending his cremated remains to his son.
The firm in question is Alcor Life Extension Foundation, the first and largest business of its kind. The Arizona-based organization cools down recently deceased individuals in the hopes of bringing them back in the future. Laurence Pilgeram, a scientist long involved in the cryonics community, was Alcor’s 135th patient, and is the subject of the aforementioned lawsuit.
According to a complaint filed against Alcor by Dr. Pilgeram’s son, Kurt Pilgeram, “Alcor has intentionally caused severe emotional distress to Kurt when they cremated his father’s remains and had them shipped to his house in a box without notice. Furthermore, Alcor committed fraud against Kurt when they promised him that his father’s whole body would be preserved and then cut off his head.”
The complaint states that Dr. Pilgeram entered into a contract with Alcor in October of 1990, which was approved by the organization in January 1991. Dr. Pilgeram was 67-years-old at the time. According to the complaint, he checked a box in the agreement for “Whole Body Suspension.”
Dr. Pilgeram died in April 2015 at the age of 90 after hitting his head during a fall. According to the complaint, Kurt attempted to reach Alcor over the weekend—his father had died on a Friday—but no one answered his call. He was able to reach a senior consultant at the company on Monday, and he claims he told the Alcor employee that his father wanted his entire body preserved, a contractual agreement the employee allegedly promised to abide by. About two weeks later, after no word from Alcor, Kurt received a shipment with his father’s cremated remains, according to the complaint. His father’s head, however, remained stored at Alcor’s facility in Arizona.
According to the complaint, Alcor reasoned that Dr. Pilgeram’s entire body was not frozen because it was “medically unable to be preserved.” An Alcor spokesperson told Gizmodo in an email that, “At this time Alcor cannot specifically comment about this case but Alcor generally is confident that the legal system will properly run its course, as it has in the past.”
Alcor’s services are still very much a niche option for the posthumous handling of an individual’s body. Dr. Pilgeram was only the 135th individual to opt in for the cryogenic preservation of his body with the firm as of 2015.
There are now 159 bodies stored at the facility and over 1,000 paying “members,” according to the Telegraph. The organization was founded in 1972 and began preserving bodies in 1982. It’s also not a cheap option. As the complaint states, Dr. Pilgeram took out a life insurance policy intended to pay Alcor $120,000—the cost for preserving his entire body—at the time of his death. Preserving only the head costs $80,000, according to an earlier report from Gizmodo, and a membership costs $525 a year. Dr. Pilgeram was a cryopreservation member of the organization since 1991, according to Alcor.
The company did not shy away from announcing its business with Dr. Pilgeram. Alcor published a blog post shortly after his death, highlighting his close ties with the community and even stating that the firm did, in fact, sever his head. “Aaron Drake and Steve Graber traveled to California to perform a neuro separation in the mortuary’s prep room and then returned to Arizona for continued cool down which began on April 15, 2015,” the post states.
The lawsuit also argues that Alcor is preying on the elderly, persuading them to sign agreements that the complaint states are “largely illusory,” adding that the company exploited Dr. Pilgeram by convincing him to enter an agreement that they didn’t plan on complying with. Although it can be argued that Dr. Pilgeram, a scientist devoted to studying cryogenics, wasn’t unfamiliar with the far-reaching promise of reanimating his body. “Not only is it unlikely that these individuals can ever be resurrected, in this case, as to Mr. Pilgeram, they promised to preserve his entire remains yet failed to do so without justification,” the complaint states.
“The current problem is that it’s hard to sell something without a guarantee,” Alcor CEO Max More told Gizmodo in 2016. “We make absolutely no promises about our offering—and in fact, we even provide our clients with a lengthy list of all the things that could go wrong.”
Kurt is seeking at least one million dollars in damages, according to the complaint, with a court date reportedly set for January.