Thursday, February 25, 2010

Court to Decide Who Gets Head

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Alcor Life Extensions, a Scottsdale, Arizona, firm that specializes in cryonics (the fine art of freezing recently deceased human bodies in the belief that they can possibly be thawed out later and reanimated) was in the news back in 2002 when famed baseballer Ted Williams died. Two of Williams children decided to preserve Williams' severed head with Alcor in the hope that they could be reunited with their dead father sometime in the distant future. A third child went to court to stop the sideshow. By the time it all played out in the tabloids, the legacy of a great American athlete had been subsumed by weirdness.

After Mr. Williams' head was severed and frozen, a disgruntled former employee of Alcor named Larry Johnson said in his book Frozen: My Journey Into the World of Cryonics, Deception and Death that he watched an Alcor official swing a monkey wrench at Williams head. He was trying to remove a tuna can that was stuck to the base of the neck. Johnson reported that the first swing accidentally struck the head, and the second knocked the tuna can loose. (Just for clarification, the head had apparently been intentionally set atop the tuna can so that it would sit upright in the freezer. Is that too much information?)

That was in 2002. Since that time one of Ted Williams' children, one of the strange ones, has also died and had his head frozen at Alcor - so an Addams Family Reunion is definitely in the works!

All of that cryonics history is provided as background, because Alcor Life Extensions of Scottsdale is in the news again.

Mary Robbins, a seventy-one-year-old woman from Colorado Springs, Colorado, kicked the bucket recently. Ms. Robbins, who was supposedly of sound mind, had signed her head away to Alcor in 2006, along with a stipend of $50,000 - apparently to pay the freezer bill.

Enter Darlene Robbins, a daughter of the recently deceased. Darlene stated that her mother had verbally told her prior to death that she wanted the agreement with Alcor cancelled. An attorney for Alcor spit back that the law in Colorado is crystal clear - any anatomical gift must be declared and canceled in writing.

Anatomical gift? It's not like the head is going to be used in a transplant, is it? Could it be that the $50,000 is as much of an issue as the poor old woman's cranium?

The body is on ice awaiting a court hearing in Colorado where a judge will have to decide who gets what.

For some odd reason I am reminded of a book that I once read that involved young men who worked nights at a grocery store stocking shelves. One of their recreations during those late hours was a game called turkey bowling. They would make pyramids of canned goods, and then use frozen turkeys as bowling balls to knock the cans down.

But I digress...


Mike Box said...

A Williams Family double header, really? Sorry Charlie, but I'll have to pass on the tuna. Alton Brown from the food network would have told them about nonstick food spray and plastic wrap to safely remove the can.

Alcor's position is weak as the old lady clearly did not intend to give her carcass to Alcor. It seems to be a case of property law where a bailment was created. That means that Alcor is holding the property for someone else. These idiots will outspend the fifty thousand in lawyers fees.

Life imitates art. Before being brougt back to a stellar NFL career the retired Cardinal/Rams Superbowl champion Kurt Warner worked nights in a grocery store. I think it was a HyVee. Yes, he and the gang of stockers engaged in Turkey Bowling.

Rebecca said...

Mike, you're clearly no an attorney despite the legal jargon you throw around. The only clear thing in this case is what is in writing. So far, the only written documentation is the agreement Mary signed with Alcor.

Moreover, the fact that Alcor might spend more than $50,000 fighting for Mary's wishes should indicate to you and any other logical observer that they have her best wishes in mind and are not doing it for the money.

Jordan Sparks said...

Anatomical gifts are also used for scientific research, not just organ transplants.

Anonymous said...

Cryonics doesn't care about the "head" except as a natural and effective packaging material to prevent mechanical brain trauma. All of the tissue of the body, head included, can be replaced by young healthy cells without killing you. Only the grey and white matter of the brain can't be replaced as that would "delete" the personality and memories.

Bear in mind that they are already printing and growing organs in the lab. Google "organ printing" if you haven't heard of this, it is a fascinating area of recent scientific advancement. People are already walking around with lab-grown transplants of simple organs (like windpipes or blood vessels) made from their own cells, this is not science fiction.

The money that goes to cryonics is mainly put into a trust by the nonprofit, which accrues compound interest to pay for not only cooling, but also reanimating the patient later. That means research into regrowing organs and more effectively treating brain damage. The bigger the trust grows the more money it will have to advance and perfect these sciences.