In Cryonics Lawsuit, Son Fights for Father’s Frozen Head
By Tyler Hayden
Dr. Laurence Pilgeram didn’t believe in heaven, but he did believe in life after death.
In 1990, at the age of 66, Pilgeram signed a contract with the Alcor Life Extension Foundation to freeze his body upon his death with the hope that, decades or centuries from now, medical science would resurrect him. Alcor, headquartered in a sand-colored business park in Scottsdale, Arizona, offers two types of “cryonic suspension” services: full-body for $200,000, and head-only for $80,000. It’s a bargain for a shot at immortality. Clients typically pay by signing over their life insurance policies.
The head-only option, the company explains, is the most cost-effective way to preserve a patient’s identity; using future nanotechnology, a new body might be grown around the brain. But Pilgeram never liked the idea of “Neurocryopreservation,” his family has said, so he chose “Whole-Body Cryopreservation” by initialing the appropriate box in the contract with his characteristically ornate handwriting. He also requested that Alcor freeze all of his remains, regardless of any damage caused to them by trauma or decomposition.
In 2015, when Pilgeram was 90 years old, he died of an apparent heart attack on the sidewalk in front of his Moreton Bay Lane home in Goleta. Alcor was contacted and preparations for Pilgeram’s suspension began. But things didn’t go as planned. Alcor dispatched two of its technicians to the morgue, where they removed Pilgeram’s head, packed it on ice, and drove it back to Scottsdale. The rest of his remains were cremated and mailed to his son Kurt in Montana.
When Kurt demanded to know why his father’s whole body hadn’t been preserved, he received conflicting accounts from Alcor, according to court records. First, the company said Laurence’s body had decayed beyond saving. Then, it claimed he hadn’t kept up with his yearly $525 membership dues. Finally, it suggested the technicians didn’t want to wait for the permit necessary to transport a full body across state lines.
Not satisfied with any of those answers and incensed by what he considered a dismissive attitude by Alcor throughout the process, Kurt blocked the payout of his father’s life insurance and demanded the company relinquish his head. Alcor refused and sued Kurt for the money; Kurt sued back. Thus began a tangled, four-year legal battle that will go to trial in Santa Barbara Superior Court next year.