British High Court allows teenager who died of cancer to be cryogenically frozen so she could be revived in the future

By @chelean on
Pavel Belousov, a fitter of space apparatus, works on a cryogenic shield of the Millimetron space observatory at the large-sized transformed mechanical systems centre of the Reshetnev Information Satellite Systems company in the Siberian town of Zheleznogorsk, outside Krasnoyarsk, Russia, August 21, 2015. Reuters/Ilya Naymushin

A 14-year-old British girl who died of cancer last month has been cryogenically frozen after winning a landmark case in her final days. The girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, begged a High Court judge to let her be cryogenically preserved so she could be cured and woken up in the future.

Known only as “JS,” the girl was diagnosed last year with a rare form of cancer. She was told this year that her illness was terminal, and therefore treatments were stopped. JS began researching about cryonic preservation online, though, and decided that she wanted to be frozen after her death.

As a minor, she needed the permission of both her parents to sign up for the controversial process, which involves the freezing of a dead body for future resuscitation when cure is made available. Her mother was supportive of her decision, but her father, who is divorced from her mother, opposed it. She had then asked Mr Justice Peter Jackson to allow her mother to make decisions about the disposal of her body.

Her father, who is also battling cancer, was opposed because of the £ 37,000 (AU$62,300) cost and the brutal process of preserving her through cryonics, the Daily Mail reports. He also shared his misgivings about what the future may hold for his resurrected daughter.

“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,” he told the High Court. “She may be left in a desperate situation – given that she is still only 14 years old – and will be in the United States of America.”

He conceded in the end, though, saying he respected his daughter’s wish. His only condition was to see his daughter’s body after she died, but JS and her mother said no. As both of her parents could not afford to pay for the expensive process, her maternal grandparents raised the money.

The teenager is now in a cryostat tank around -321F inside the Cryonics Institute, an American company that provides cryonic suspension and storage for humans and pets.

In a heartbreaking letter, JS told the court that she did not want to die and that she wanted to be cryogenically frozen to have a chance to live longer.

Although the judge and her doctors were sceptical about the process, the judge granted JS her wish before her death on Oct. 17. He also prevented the father from attempting to make any arrangements for the disposal of the girl’s body, adding he had been convinced JS had the capacity to decide on her own fate.

According to the Telegraph, she is one of only 10 Britons and the only British child to have been frozen. The case is only allowed to be reported now because the judge ruled that its publication must be after a month of the girl’s death. Her names and her parents’ names, as well as other specific details, should also be kept private.

What is cryopreservation and how does it work?

Cryopreservation is the process of freezing a body to -196C (-321F) to prevent the body’s cells from being damaged. It is hoped that medical science will advance in the future to revive the person.

As Cryonics Institute believes, clinical death is distinct from absolute final death, or information theoretic death. The latter is the loss of information within the brain, making the recovery of the original person theoretically impossible.

Many experts don’t believe in the successful revival of a person cryogenically frozen. According to them, once cells are damaged during freezing, they cannot be converted back to living tissue anymore. Still, cryonics companies are positive that medical science would be advanced enough in the future to allow the patients to be woken successfully.

When a patient is declared legally death, his/her body is immediately – from two to 15 minutes at most –

packed in ice and injected with anti-freeze chemicals, which cool the body to -70C. The body is then packed in dry ice for transportation to a storage facility. At the cryonics facility, the body is cooled and then injected with a solution to stop ice crystals from forming in organs and tissues. The blood is also replaced with a solution to preserve the organs. The body will then be lowered into a tank of liquid nitrogen at -196C.

The first person who was cryopreserved was James Bedford, a US psychology professor who died of kidney cancer in 1967. Since then, about 200 people have undergone the same procedure.