A High Court judge has approved a dying 14 year old girl's wish to be cryonically frozen after her death in the hope that a medical treatment may one day be found that would permit her to live.
Mr Justice Peter Jackson made his ruling in the case of JS, who had a rare form of cancer for which active treatment had come to an end. JS had used the internet to investigate cryonics, the freezing of a dead body in the hope that resuscitation and a cure might be possible in the distant future. Her parents were divorced; she did not wish contact with her father but her mother's parents had raised the necessary £37,000 for the procedure to be carried out in the United States.
JS had written: "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.” The judge had no doubt as to her capacity.
He noted: "Cryonic preservation, whether or not it is scientifically valid, requires complex arrangements involving the participation of third parties. The body must be prepared within a very short time of death, ideally within minutes and at most within a few hours. Arrangements then have to be made for it to be transported by a registered funeral director to the premises in the United States where it is to be stored. These bridging arrangements are offered in the UK for payment by a voluntary non‐profit organisation of cryonics enthusiasts, who are not medically trained. Evidently, where the subject dies in hospital, the cooperation of the hospital is necessary if the body is to be prepared by the volunteers. This situation gives rise to serious legal and ethical issues for the hospital trust, which has to act within the law and has duties to its other patients and to its staff."
The judge also observed: "This case does not set a precedent for other cases. If another health trust was ever to be faced with a similar situation, it would be entitled to make its own judgment about what was acceptable in respect of a patient in its care, and it might very well reach a different conclusion, as might another court. There are clearly a number of serious ethical issues, and I have received information about procedures performed on the body after death that would be disturbing to many people."
JS's father's position had fluctuated, until he said he would agree on condition that he and his family could view JS's body after her death, and that he would not be liable for any of the costs. Mr Justice Jackson held that an order placing JS's body in the car of her mother after death, and preventing the father intervening, was justified on the exceptional facts, and that there was no way he could possibly be held liable for costs.
He also ordered that the case be mot publicised until a month after JS's death; she died on 17 October. In a further part of his judgment, he noted that what happened at that time made "unhappy reading". On JS’s last day, her mother was said to have been preoccupied with the post mortem arrangements at the expense of being fully available to JS; and the voluntary organisation was said to have been underequipped and disorganised, resulting in pressure being placed on the hospital to allow procedures that had not been agreed. "Although the preparation of JS’s body for cryogenic preservation was completed, the way in which the process was handled caused real concern to the medical and mortuary staff."
The judge concluded: "It may be thought that the events in this case suggest the need for proper regulation of cryonic preservation in this country if it is to happen in future."