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Man sues cryonics company for $1m and wants dad’s head returned

A US man is suing a cryonics company for $1m (£950,000) and wants his father's head returned, after he claims it wrongly cremated his father's body and sent the remains in the post.

Laurence Pilgeram had agreed to pay $120,000 (£9,500) to Alcor Life Extension Foundation to preserve his whole body indefinitely, in the hopes he could be brought back to life when medical technology advances.

However, his son, Kurt Pilgeram, alleges the company cremated his father's body and preserved only his head, sending the remains to his home in Montana.

"They chopped his head off, burned his body, put it in a box and sent it to my house," Mr Pilgeram told the Great Falls Tribune.

Alcor says it met its agreement with Laurence Pilegeram and a lawyer for the company argued the contract he had signed allowed Alcor to have the final decision on how Mr Pilgeram's body was preserved.

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"It's explicit that Alcor has sole and absolute discretion to make that decision and that was signed by Laurence Pilgeram," the company's lawyer James Arrowood said.

Cryonics is an experimental procedure in which bodies of the recently-deceased are kept at ultra-low temperatures to preserve them until they can be revived by future medical technology.

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Alcor, which says it has had 170 patients so far, writes on its website that its practice is an "experiment" and asks: "Would you rather be in the experimental group, or the control group?"

Mr Pilgeram says his father had wanted his entire body preserved and he was shocked when he received a box containing his father's ashes a month after his death.

He is now seeking an apology from Alcor and the return of his father's head, if the company still has it.

The company has accused Mr Pilgeram of feigning concern about his father's cryonic preservation in an attempt to receive his life insurance funds – which had been spent on the scientific procedure.

Mr Arrowood told Sky News that Mr Pilgeram was "an early pioneer in the field of cryopreservation" and was "fully aware" of what he was signing.

He continued: "It comes down to whether his blatant wishes as evidenced by the contract can be challenged by a surviving child who simply does not agree with their parent's choice."

Image: Alcor specialises in cryonics which aims to preserve the dead

Laurence Pilgeram, a molecular biologist and biochemist who had a life-long interest in aging and finding cures for disease, entered into the contract with Alcor in 1990.

He died on Friday 10 April 2015 after suffering a cardiac arrest while walking home from a restaurant. He was 90 years old.

According to Alcor, the preservation process must start as soon as possible from the moment of death.

Alcor claims that because his body was kept at a county morgue for three days before being released, a "neuro separation" was necessary.

Sky News has seen court documents which show that Laurence Pilgeram had signed a contract agreeing Alcor could change the method of preservation to "neuropreservation" (freezing only the head) from his preferred method of "whole body suspension" in an emergency situation.

Mr Pilgeram says he had tried to contact Alcor on the weekend of his father's death, but had reached an answer machine.

Alcor is a non-profit organisation and says it has not yet received payment for Mr Pilgeram's cryopreservation as the funds are held in escrow – a contractual arrangement where a third party receives and disburses money for the primary parties.

Kurt Pilgeram says he has put $500,000 (£394,000) of his own money into the legal case so far and hopes to have his father's head cremated so the last of his ashes can be spread at the family ranch in Eden.

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