Removal of Woman’s Head for Freezing Probed
Authorities are trying to find out if a terminally ill woman was clinically dead when her head was cut off and frozen in hopes that she could some day be brought back to life with a new body.
Rick Bogan, a Riverside County deputy coroner, said Thursday that no doctor was present when 83-year-old Dora Kent died Dec. 11 at the Alcor Life Extension Foundation. Her head was removed and frozen in the hope that medical technology will advance to the point where she can be revived.
Authorities said the woman’s son, Saul Kent, 48, a member of Alcor, chose to freeze the head because his mother suffered from severe arthritis and he hoped that someday the rest of her body could be replaced. Alcor is holding seven other heads and one body.
Had Brain Disease
In addition to her arthritis, Dora Kent had been suffering from a degenerative brain disease and was near death when she was brought to Alcor, Bogan said. Although her son, a longtime believer in cryogenics, gave his permission for the decapitation, Bogan said, the woman had not given Alcor written authorization. He also said the operation was not conducted or supervised by licensed doctors.
A doctor, whose identity was not immediately known, signed the death certificate one day after Mrs. Kent’s death and decapitation, but the document was rejected by the county Health Department because it falsely stated that Kent died at a residence unattended, Bogan said.
“We were suspicious and when we found that her head had been removed, we began our investigation,” he added.
No violations of law are alleged, but Bogan said several problems have emerged about the way Mrs. Kent’s case was handled.
State law requires that the county coroner be notified of any death outside a medical facility in which a doctor is not present, Bogan said.
Alcor officials have acknowledged that it was a mistake to bring the woman to the facility to die, and that an outside authority should have been present.
Bogan said authorities also view the decapitation as the equivalent of taking a deceased person’s vital organs for transplantation.
Organ transplants are strictly governed by laws requiring that a person be brain-dead before vital organs are removed, he said.
“In this case they didn’t do that,” Bogan said. “She stopped breathing and they opened her up. It was a very sloppy procedure.”
“The outside world is going to look at us as being too intimate (with the case),” Alcor President Michael Darwin said. “We should have had a separation of people in terms of care.” He added that Mrs. Kent was the first cryogenics client ever brought alive to the facility.
The coroner’s office is forming a task force with police and the Riverside County district attorney “to make sure we cover all of the bases,” Bogan said.
Cryogenics Not Regulated
Bogan said the practice of cryogenics is not regulated by state law, adding that he hoped the case would result in legislation.
“One of the problems in filing charges is that what’s going on here falls in a tremendous gray area. We’re having to look at business and health code violations,” he said.
Saul Kent said his father died when he was 10 months old, and he and his mother, a former New York garment center dressmaker and draper, had lived together most of their lives.
“I loved my mother. She devoted her life to me and we were very close,” Kent said. “She wanted to be cryonically preserved. We’re hoping for tremendous advances in science and that some day she can be brought back.”
However most doctors believe cryogenics to be more fiction than science.
“It just doesn’t work,” said Dr. Ronald Andiman, a brain specialist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. “It’s not like fixing someone’s plumbing. The idea you can freeze someone’s brain or head and then revive it in the future is far from anything based on fundamental science.”
Andiman said cryogenics is more “in the realm of Hollywood than medical science.”