Teen’s wish to be cryogenically preserved granted by high court

In an historic court case, Judge Jackson at the High Court in London ruled that the mother of a 14-year-old girl could carry out the girl's wish to be cryogenically preserved after her death, despite objections from the girl's estranged father.

futuristic illustration cryogenics

A 14-year-old girl with terminal cancer wanted her body to be frozen after her death in case she could be cured in the future. Since she was not old enough to write a will, she wrote a letter to the High Court in London asking that her mother would be the sole decision maker regarding the disposal of her body when she died.

She wrote "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".

The ruling by the High Court judge in London that the girl's mother should be allowed to decide what happened to the body of her daughter was made on 6 October.

The judge highlighted that he had not made a ruling on cryopreservation, he merely gave the mother the legal right to follow her daughter's last wish. The girl died peacefully later that month comforted by the knowledge that her remains would be preserved.

A publicity ban was imposed at the time of the hearing so that the girl was not subjected to further distress in her final days of life. Immediately after her death, the girl was flown to the US (cryogenics is not available in the UK) where her body is now being stored indefinitely in liquid nitrogen at temperatures below -130 ̊C. The cost of £37,000 had been raised by the family once the girl had made her wishes known.

Cryonics is based on the theory that the whole body is preserved in the hope that resuscitation and a cure are possible in the distant future. Although frozen embryos have been showed to remain viable and successfully used in fertility treatments, there is no evidence that it would be possible to bring a frozen body back to life.

Although the hospital trust co-operated in the procedure needed for the girl's body to be preserved, they raised concerns and highlighted the need for proper regulation. The process required for a body that is to be cryogenically preserved is similar to that used after the death of a potential organ donor.

The Department of Health, who are monitoring the situation in collaboration with the Human Tissue Authority, commented:

Cases such as this are rare. Although there are no current plans for legislative change in this area, this is an area we will continue to keep under review with the Human Tissue Authority."
We are gathering information about cryopreservation to determine how widespread it is currently, or could become in the future, and any risks it may pose to the individual, or public confidence more broadly".

 

The Human Tissue Authority.

Additional reading

Statement from the Human Tissue Authority. 17 November 2016. Available at:

Kate Bass

Written by

Kate Bass

Kate graduated from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne with a biochemistry B.Sc. degree. She also has a natural flair for writing and enthusiasm for scientific communication, which made medical writing an obvious career choice. In her spare time, Kate enjoys walking in the hills with friends and travelling to learn more about different cultures around the world.

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