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Alcor Life Extension Foundation v. Richardson

    Citation. 785 N.W.2d 717 (Iowa Ct. App. 2010).

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Orville Richardson intended to donate his remains to Alcor Life Extension Foundation (Plaintiff) and to have his head cryopreserved. His brother and sister (Defendants) disagreed and when Orville died, had him buried without notice to Plaintiff. Plaintiff sued for an order compelling Defendants to allow disinterment for cryopreservation.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    An individual has the right to make an anatomical gift of all or part of his body for cryonic preservation without revocation by family members.

    Facts.

    Orville Richardson applied for membership to Plaintiff’s foundation in order to have his remains donated and his head removed and cryopreserved. Among the documents Orville signed was a “Last Will and Testament for Human Remains and Authorization of Anatomical Donation” that donated his remains to Plaintiff for cryobiological and cryonic research. Orville also paid Plaintiff a lump sum lifetime membership fee. Eventually, Orville Richardson suffered from dementia and his brother and sister, David Richardson and Darlene Broeker (Defendants) were appointed co-conservators. Defendants disagreed with Orville’s wishes to be cryopreserved and requested that Plaintiff return certain sums of money, which it did. Upon Orville’s death, Defendants were named co-administrators of his estate. Orville was buried. Two months later, Defendants requested a refund of Orville’s lifetime membership fee. Plaintiff demanded Orville’s remains and sought an order from the court compelling Defendants to approve disinterment of Orville’s body to allow for cryonic preservation.

    Issue.

    Does an individual have the right to make an anatomical gift of all or part of his body for cryonic preservation without revocation by family members?

    Held.

    (Mansfield, J.) Yes. An individual has the right to make an anatomical gift of all or part of his body for cryonic preservation without revocation by family members. The 2006 Revised Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (“RUAGA”), adopted in Iowa, prevents families from making or revoking anatomical gifts against a donor’s wishes. Under RUAGA, an anatomical gift of a donor’s body or body part may be made during the donor’s life for purposes of transplantation, therapy, research, or education. The donor may make this gift by will. Once the gift is made, no other person may amend or revoke it. This case is different than most, in that Orville paid Plaintiff and Plaintiff was to perform certain services with the donated remains. Normally, an anatomical gift requires 1) donative intent, 2) delivery, and 3) acceptance. The donor’s intent controls. When the putative donor compensates the qualified done for preserving all or part of the donated body the gift remains governed by the RUAGA.

    Orville made the donation for the purpose of furthering cryobiological and cryonic research. His payment does not disqualify the gift from being governed by the RUAGA. Other situations that were deemed not to be gifts occurred when the putative donor received compensation, not when the qualified done did. Orville wanted to undergo cryopreservation. Plaintiff has no other adequate remedy at law, as there exists no suitable substitute for Orville’s remains. Defendants knew of Orville’s decision and allowed him to be buried despite those arrangements. Plaintiff is entitled to its injunction directing Defendants to allow disinterment. Reversed and remanded.

    Discussion.

    The RUAGA was written specifically to prevent the problem that arose in this case, where family members disagree with the decedent’s wishes. The finding that Orville’s donation was a “gift” as contemplated by the RUAGA led to the conclusion that Plaintiff was entitled to the order it sought.


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