Judge grants dying wish to freeze body
18 November 2016 by Andrea Godfrey
A landmark ruling has allowed a 14 year old girl who has died of cancer to become the first British child to have her body frozen in the hope that at some point in the future she will be brought back to life – a process called cryonic preservation. Cryopreservation is the preservation of cells and tissues by freezing. This is a well-known process in the medical world such as the preservation of sperm and embryos as part of fertility treatment. However the Court said “cryonics is cryopreservation taken to its extreme”
The girl who was known as “JS” throughout the proceedings, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and at the time of the hearing, she was hospitalised and receiving palliative care. The case came before the High Court because her parents could not agree on what is to happen to her once she dies. They are divorced and JS had spent most of her young life with her mother, having had no direct contact with her father for 8 years. Sadly JS died 11 days after the hearing.
It is estimated that the process will cost £37,000 and JS grandparents are raising the monies to fund it.
The Court considered JS to be a very intelligent young person and she had conducted her own research into the process. She had written a letter to the Judge saying: “I have been asked to explain why I want this unusual thing done. I’m only 14 years old and I don’t want to die, but I know I am going to. I think being cryo‐preserved gives me a chance to be cured and woken up, even in hundreds of years’ time. I don’t want to be buried underground. I want to live and live longer and I think that in the future they might find a cure for my cancer and wake me up. I want to have this chance. This is my wish.” On her request, the Judge also went to visit her in hospital.
JS’s mother supported her application but her father initially did not. He himself had cancer and later confirmed he would support the application provided certain conditions were met.
The Court considered whether the process could practically be carried out, as the body would have to be transported to the USA where it is to be stored. The Court ascertained that with the assistance of volunteers and the hospital trust it would be possible. The hospital made it clear that it was assisting but purely because it was JS wishes and if they were to be followed it would reduce the “”agitation and distress about her impending death”.
There is no legislation to cover such an application and the further complication is JS’s age. As she was under 18 she could not make a valid Will and both her parents would be entitled to a grant of administration over her estate with a duty to arrange for the disposal of her body. If she had been over 18, she could have made a Will and appoint her mother as executor – who in turn would have been able to carry out her wishes. In order to avoid any further conflict in this regard, the Court made an order preventing her father from applying for a grant to administer her estate and made a prospective order that on JS’s death her mother be appointed as the sole administrator of her estate in place of the mother and father jointly.
The Judge made it clear that the Court were not considering whether the process had any scientific basis or making an order that the body be frozen – they were simply settling a dispute between the parents. Also, the case was not setting a precedent and each case has to be heard on its own merits.
Sadly on the day she died criticism was levied by the hospital that the volunteers who undertook the initial process of freezing the body where “under-equipped and disorganised”. The mother was also criticised for being pre-occupied by the arrangements and was not there for JS’s final moments. Although the Court made no ruling on this, it has been suggested that there may be a need for proper legislation to regulate cryonic preservation in the country.
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