This story reads like a science fiction novel... but it's all unfolding here in Colorado Springs. Right now, a legal battle is underway for the head and brain of a Colorado Springs woman who died last week.
Family members say Mary Robbins was a beautiful, vibrant and energetic woman until she died of cancer on February 9. Robbins, who was 71, made it clear to her daughter Darlene, as well as the rest of the family, that she wanted to take a leap of faith with her death. Upon her last breath, Mary wanted her brain to be preserved using cryonics. In fact, in 2006 she signed a contract with an Arizona non-profit called Alcor to undergo its procedure when she died and donate her remains to charity.
She signed paperwork agreeing that upon her death, $50,000 would also be paid to Alcor to cover the cost of the procedure. On its web site, Alcor says it uses ultra-cold temperatures to preserve human life, with the goal being that years later, when technology advances, she may be restored to good health.
Darlene says the family understood all of this and was willing to go along with it, until her final days.
"There's an extensive list of things that had to be done, including, you know, putting in a tube in your nose, putting in a tube in your throat, and you know an IV line and pushing medications," Darlene explains. Darlene says that's when her mother changed her mind and signed new paperwork, naming family members as her sole beneficiaries, not Alcor.
So instead of Alcor getting a $50,000 annuity to pay for the cryonics process, the family would get the money. Darlene says the family was preparing for Mary's funeral when the mortuary told them, Alcor was demanding they hand over her head.
"They've gone so far as to suggest a settlement with my attorney that they'll go into the mortuary and cut off her head and we could have the rest of the body," says Darlene.
Robert Scranton, the attorney for the family, says "I've never tried a case where we're talking about the dismemberment of a body and fighting over pieces of a body."
Eric Bentley, an attorney representing Alcor, has now asked a court to honor Mary's contract and issue a ruling, giving Alcor the right to Mary's head. He says the non-profit's goal is to carry out Mary's wishes, which she put in writing three and a half years ago.
Right now, Mary's body is at the mortuary on dry ice, with an Alcor representative monitoring the conditions. Bentley says the cryonics process is usually done right away, not days later, so Mary's future chances may have been compromised.
A hearing next week should decide who has the rights to Mary's remains - the family or Alcor.
Mary's family says they now wish they had consulted with Mary during those final days. Experts advise as difficult as it may be, have these discussions early on, so you have time to grieve without a legal battle.
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