Cryonicist uses court order to get father's brain released by ME

(Note, the Cryonics Institute only accepts whole bodies as patients, so the brain described by this anonymous author was accepted as a tissue sample, rather than as a cryonics patient.)

In my father's case, autopsy had not been prevented, but the medical samples that had been retained by the medical examiner as a result of autopsy were ultimately sent to the Cryonics Institute for storage. I had initially learned that medical samples had been retained by the medical examiner through the autopsy report, which I had received a number of weeks after the autopsy had occurred. This report did not provide any information regarding the quantity or storage method of each sample, however, and only said that "specimens of femoral blood, bile, gastric contents, liver, and brain" were retained. The medical examiner was very difficult to deal with and not at all forthcoming with information regarding exactly what samples, and how much of each sample, had been retained at autopsy, and it was only after the filing of a court order that they would provide only basic information to my attorney.

There had been a single court order that had the dual purpose of ordering the medical examiner to provide pertinent information regarding the retained medical samples, as well as ordering them to release the medical samples to the legal possession of my mother (or her designees). An initial document received by our attorney from the medical examiner described the quantities, types, and preservation method of each sample. While it clearly describes the tissue samples that had been preserved in a frozen state, the samples that were formalin-fixed (which had included the near entirety of my father's brain) were only described as "Portions of various 10% formalin-fixed organs weighing 2790 g in total".

It is also worth noting that even after the point at which the medical examiner had been served with the court order, the medical examiner would still only communicate in writing to our attorney regarding the medical samples, and not to myself or my mother (technically, this was in violation of the court order). This greatly slowed down and introduced further difficulty to the process of receiving information regarding the samples from the medical examiner, as we had to use our lawyer's time, and he was often difficult to get a hold of.

It is also further worth noting that it was only after a large amount of time had passed, and a large amount of frustration with them had been endured, that I was notified by the medical examiner's office that a court order would be required at all. At first, the medical examiner had stated that all requests would need to be made in writing, and provided an email address. Later, they told me that any requests would need to be made in writing and mailed to them. After a while of not having received any response to my letter, I was told that they had moved their mailing address and provided a new mailing address that my letters would need to be mailed to. I was later told that any requests for information would need to come from the organization that was providing storage for the samples. Later, I was told that they could not provide the Cryonics Institute with any information. It was only after months had ultimately passed that they had told me they would require a court order for the release of the samples, as well as for the release of any information relating to the samples.

At this point, many local lawyers had stated that they would begin to work on such a case with large retainers, the amount of which would be subject to increase in the event that legal complications arose that would necessitate the expenditure of more time. It seemed that the lowest quotes I was receiving for the drafting of the court order were around the $10,000 range, and those were still subject to further cost increases in the event of any issues. This seemed like a large amount of money to spend, especially considering that at this point in time, I had no idea what samples had been stored by the medical examiner, and was under the presumption that the primary value of the medical samples would lie in the ability to preserve genomic information through them. Luckily, however, an attorney who was a longtime family friend was able to draft the court order, as well as correspond with the medical examiner through email, and he charged very little for it.

I had first learned that the entire brain, or close to the entirety of the brain, had been retained once I got a call from the Cryonics Institute notifying me that it had arrived at the facility. It had been apparently received in a condition well enough that it could be identified as a brain, in a frozen state. According to all correspondence from the medical examiner, the brain had been sectioned, but I am unsure of how visible this sectioning was upon its arrival. According to Hillary of the Cryonics Institute, it had appeared as though it were a whole brain, or close to it, though I am unsure of the finer details with regards to its condition as it would compare to a brain that had been preserved for less time and under better circumstances.

To handle the shipment of the medical samples, I had used a courier that was recommended by FedEx as having had extensive experience in shipping medical samples, and I had been assured by them that they would know how to ship any medical samples that had been stored, as well as be able to properly package the samples so that the packages would not be stopped at any point during their transport. I had also notified them that many of the samples were formalin-fixed, and to be extremely careful with any brain tissue. I am unsure if the brain had been frozen by the medical examiner, or if it were frozen by the courier, or if it was, for whatever the reason, viewed as a superior option to have the brain (or brain portions) frozen for transport, or what specific condition the brain had been in prior to its arrival at the Cryonics Institute (the medical examiner had been obviously not proving cooperative in this area at all), but it had arrived frozen. Obviously, I did not want the brain to have been frozen, though I am unsure of the details regarding the condition of the brain at this point in time, and to what extent cryoprotectant diffusion would have been feasible to improve the preservation of the brain. Primarily, at this point in time, I was very surprised to have been told that the brain was there. I did not know that it had been retained, and was very happy to receive this news, though if the medical examiner had only told me this earlier, and had been cooperative, it would have certainly greatly improved everything.

I hope to have covered the primary details regarding the course of action that myself and my family had to undertake. In hindsight, there are a number of things that I definitely would have done differently, though all in all it was a very difficult situation to have to deal with regardless. In the future, when I have the time, I am planning to write out this story in greater detail, perhaps with a greater focus on the psychological elements of this process. I feel that the majority of this stress came from how difficult the medical examiner was to deal with, in addition to the endless bureaucracy. It could have been much less difficult for us, and also led to a better preservation, if only the medical examiner had been forthcoming and cooperative from the beginning. Unfortunately, it appeared that they were taking every action possible in order to try to get us to give up, especially at the start. I would like to see this change in the future, as medical examiner difficulty is something that I hear about very frequently from cryonicists, and it seems that many of them do not care at all about the wishes of the deceased or their family when it comes to these matters. Hopefully one day that changes.