You wouldn’t normally expect a cryogenic “life extension foundation” to get into hot water for freezing a man’s head. After all, cryonics labs have been freezing people’s disembodied heads for decades - just ask Walt Disney’s icy, jar-bound domepiece. That is, if you can find it in the labyrinth of tunnels hidden under the utopian Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, or EPCOT center.
Whether or not Walt’s head is actually down there continuing to pump out the Disney jams, cryonics labs around the world are full of decapitated, frozen heads waiting for some hypothetical future in which they can be thawed and, I don’t know, attached to robot bodies? Plugged into a virtual reality utopia? If you ask me, and nobody did, cutting off your head doesn’t seem like a great idea for potentially extending your life in the future.
That’s exactly why the family of a prominent biochemist and physiology researcher are suing the Phoenix, Arizona-based Alcor Life Extension Foundation for freezing their father’s head - without the rest of him. Laurence Pilgeram, then 90, passed away at his California home in 2015 of natural causes. Pilgeram had arranged for his body to be cryogenically preserved upon his death, but Alcor apparently misread his toetag or whatever else they use to identify their clients. Upon receiving his body, Alcor performed what they call a “neuro separation” on Pilgeram’s remains, meaning they severed his head right off. His family is now suing Alcor for $1 million, claiming they never consented to the decapitation.
The lawsuit is based on the fact that Pilgeram’s family claims the scientist had arranged for his entire body to be preserved “no matter how damaged." The family did not discover the “neuro separation” procedure had been performed until their father’s cremated headless remains showed up on their doorstep. In their court filing, Pilgeram’s family notes that “shockingly, in a addition to cremating [his] remains without any authority, Alcor did not even have the courtesy to notify [Kurt] that his father's remains had been cremated or that they were being shipped to his house” until the moment the bored FedEx guy plopped them on their presumably Walt Disney welcome mat.
It used to be that we just put on our best ceremonial headdresses, spoke a few words in the ancient tongue, and tossed our loved one's half-rotted bodies onto the burial mound to be consumed by carrion birds. Now, we have lawsuits between scientists and cryonics labs over improper freezing of heads. What’s next, lawsuits over deceased loved ones’ consciousnesses being uploaded into the wrong virtual reality construct? Grandma’s mind being downloaded into the wrong synthetic body, forcing her to live the rest of her immortal days in the body of a 19th-century strongman complete with handlebar mustache and those weird leotards?
Stories like this really let you know that we’re living in some version of the dystopian future promised to us by the best science fiction writers of the 20th century. Does that make it the dystopian present?