14-Year-Old Child Cancer Victim Cryonically Frozen
The 14-year-old British teenager, known only as JS, had a rare form of cancer for which she underwent 12 months of treatment.
Unfortunately, the treatment did not work and, aware of the fact that she would die soon, she started investigating cryopreservation in the last few months she had left.
Someone preserved this way is said to be in cryonic suspension. The hope is that, if someone has died from a disease or condition that is currently incurable, they can be “frozen” and then revived in the future when a cure has been discovered.
She sent a letter to the court:
“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.
The teenager’s parents are divorced. She had lived with her mother for most of her life and had not had any face-to-face contact with her father since 2008. She resisted his attempts to get back in touch when he learned of her illness in 2015.
She was at the centre of a fierce legal battle between her divorced parents – with her mother agreeing to her wish to be frozen while her estranged father, who is also battling cancer, refusing because of its £37,000 cost and the brutal process of preserving her.
Her father fears she could be woken in ‘200 years’ all alone in America, with no memory and no family.
He told the High Court:
“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. 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.”
In a landmark ruling, The judge, Mr Justice Peter Jackson, ruled that the teenager’s mother, who supported the girl’s wish to be cryonically preserved, should be the only person allowed to make decisions about the disposal of her body. Her estranged father had initially opposed her wishes.
The judge also ruled that nothing about the case should be reported while she was alive because media coverage would distress her. She was too ill to attend the court hearing but the judge visited her in hospital.
Jackson wrote: “I was moved by the valiant way in which she was facing her predicament. It is no surprise that this application is the only one of its kind to have come before the courts in this country, and probably anywhere else. It is an example of the new questions that science poses to the law, perhaps most of all to family law … No other parent has ever been put in [the] position [of JS’s father].”
He added: “A dispute about a parent being able to see his child after death would be momentous enough on its own if the case did not also raise the issue of cryonic preservation.”
The teenager died last month and is now in a ‘cryostat’ tank at around -196C (-321F) inside the Michigan-based Cryonics Institute.
High Court judge Mr Justice Jackson, who visited the girl’s bedside shortly before her death on October 17, said that the terminally ill teenager died peacefully knowing she would be frozen and discussed the arrangements on the day she died.
The girl’s solicitor, Zoe Fleetwood, said the teenager described Mr Justice Jackson as her ‘hero’ after being informed of the court’s decision days before her death:
“By October 6, the girl knew that her wishes were going to be followed. That gave her great comfort. Very sadly she died on October 17. She had those last few days knowing that her wish was granted.”
After her death, the teenager’s body was flown to America and she has since slowly been chilled over two to three weeks in Liquid Nitrogen and stored next to around 150 other bodies in one of America’s two main cryo-facilities – the Cryonics Institute near Detroit.
The Human Tissue Authority (HTA), which regulates organisations which remove, store and use human tissue, had been consulted but said it had no remit to intervene in such a case.
“The HTA would be likely to make representations that activities of the present kind should be brought within the regulatory framework if they showed signs of increasing,” Jackson said.
The HTA said: “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. We are in discussion with key stakeholders … and the possible need for regulatory oversight.”
A series of FAQ videos about Cryonics
How Cryopreservation Works
Cryopreservation is the deep freezing of a body to – 196C (-321F). Anti-freeze compounds are injected into the corpse to stop cells being damaged. The hope is that medical science will advance enough to bring the patient back to life. Two main US organisations carry out ‘cryonics’ – Alcor, in Arizona, and Cryonics Institute, Michigan.There is also a large body freezing facility it Russia.
The process can only take place once the body is legally dead:
The body must be packed in ice and injected with chemicals to reduce blood clotting.
At the cryonics facility, it is cooled to just above OC and the blood is replaced with a solution to preserve organs.
The body is injected with another solution to stop ice crystals forming in organs and tissues, then cooled to – 130C.
The final step is to place the body into a container which is lowered into a tank of liquid nitrogen at – 196C.
The scientific theory underlying cryonics is controversial and many health professionals ‘feel deep unease about it.’
Martin Ingvar, a cognitive neuroscientist at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute said the cryogenic process was bound to fail and accused its practitioners of charlatanism.
“When you look at the brain, with 100 billion cells and 10,000 links between these and other cells… there’s no way in hell you can restore the function in that,” he said.
Nick Bostrom, a professor of philosophy at the University of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute, and his colleague, Anders Sandberg, are both banking on thte possibility that the brain’s contents could be “downloaded” on to a computer, allowing the person to live as a robot in the future.
“As a head, my life would be limited, but by then we will be able to make real connections to computers,” Anders said in a 2013 interview. “So my hope is that, once revived, my memories and personality could be downloaded into a computer.”
Many neuroscientists have, however, pointed out that even if one could code the astronomical number of connections between the brain’s 100 billion neurons, even this would not capture the full complexity of the human mind.