NOV 20, 2016 5:28 AM PST

14-Year-Old Won Rights to be Cryopreserved

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham
A 14-year-old cancer patient in the United Kingdom recently won the legal right to be cryopreserved after her death. Although the news may sound controversial from many different aspects, some say this is a “historic” ruling and could set a precedent for how cryonics will be regulated in the future.
 

Death is a scary event, but perhaps less so for the people who believe in cryonics – the technique of deep-freezing the body or brain after death, with the hope that modern medicine and technology will be capable of reviving them in the future.
 
For a 14-year-old girl who was battling an aggressive and rare cancer, this was her wish. Identified only as “JS,” the girl fully understood her chances of surviving and extensively researched cryonics before making her decision.
 
Unfortunately, although her mother was in support of her wishes, her father disagreed. Because the girl was under 18 and her divorced parents were not in agreement, the case went before a judge.
 
In a heartfelt letter to the judge, she wrote: "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. 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."
 
Of note, cryonics is controversial due to the high expense and the lack of science supporting the success of this technique. "The scientific theory underlying cryonics is speculative and controversial, and there is considerable debate about its ethical implications,” the judge said.
 

Also against the decision, JS’ father wrote: “Even if the treatment is successful and [JS] 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."
 
In the end, the judge ruled in favor of JS’ wishes, although he made it clear it wasn’t because of any deep faith in the science of cryonics.
 
JS died on October 17, and her body was cryopreserved by the Cryonics Institute, based in Michigan. JS is the institute’s 143rd “patient.” Of note, the institute refers to its cryopreserved members as patients “because [they] do not regard the cryopreserved person as being inevitably 'dead'."

Additional sources: Popular Science, CNN
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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