Terminally ill teenager wins landmark case to preserve body after death

UK court rules body can be cryogenically frozen in hope she can later be brought back to life

Mr Justice Peter Jackson ruled that nothing about the case should be reported while she was alive. Photograph: Getty Images

Mr Justice Peter Jackson ruled that nothing about the case should be reported while she was alive. Photograph: Getty Images

 

A terminally ill 14-year-old girl won the right before her death last month to have her body cryogenically frozen so that she might be revived at some time in the future.

In a ruling which was only made public on Friday, the high court sided with the girl and her mother, and against her father, who objected to having her body sent to the United States to be frozen.

In a letter to the court, the girl, who had a rare form of cancer which could not be treated successfully, said she wanted to live longer and did not wish to be buried underground.

“I have been asked to explain why I want this unusual thing done. I am only 14 years old and I don’t want to die but I know I am going to die. I think being cryopreserved 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 may find a cure for my cancer and wake me up. I want to have this chance. This is my wish,” she said.

Mr Justice Peter Jackson, who visited the girl at her bedside shortly before she died on October 17th, said he was moved by the valiant way she faced death. The judge said his ruling was solely about the dispute between her estranged parents over how the girl’s body should be disposed of and did not imply any evaluation of the merits of cryogenic preservation.

Cryogenic preservation, or cryonics, is a process whereby the whole body is preserved in very low temperatures, in the hope that they can be revived and cured at some time in the distant future. The procedure, which is available at some clinics in the US and Russia, is controversial, and there is no evidence that any of the preserved bodies will ever be capable of resuscitation.

The girl’s mother supported her decision to have her body preserved and her family paid for the procedure, which cost £37,000. Her father, who had not lived with the girl and her mother for six years before her death, objected.

“Even if the treatment is successful and she is brought back to life in let’s say 200 years, she may not find any relative and she might not remember things and she may be left in a desperate situation given that she is only 14 years old and will be in the United States of America,” he said.

Mr Justice Jackson acknowledged that the scientific theory underlying cryonics was speculative and controversial and that it raised ethical questions.

“On the other hand, cryopreservation, the preservation of cells and tissues by freezing, is now a well-known process in certain branches of medicine, for example the preservation of sperm and embryos as part of fertility treatment. Cryonics is cryopreservation taken to its extreme,” he said.