Thawing through the law

By | News & Politics
Cryonic Storage Tanks Credit@HawaiianSeavia.Flickr

Last week, the landmark case regarding the cryonic freezing of a terminal 14 year-old was settled by the Honorable Mr. Justice Peter Jackson in the High Court of Justice, when he ruled her desire to be cryogenically preserved after passing may be granted. The judge said “the only one of its kind to have come before the courts in this country, and probably anywhere else,” potentially beginning a dialogue of revolutionary science and law.

Following a widespread embargo of the story, which may have led several papers to conceal their headlines on Wednesday night, there was a large degree of social media interest in her case. For privacy reasons, her name is withheld from all documents and she is known only by JS in all legal papers and media, and despite her passing in October, the case was finalised last week on the 10th of November.

Cryonic (or Cryogenical) vitrification is the experimental process in which  concentrations of chemicals called cryprotectants are added into the body, which is then cooled to sub-zero temperatures, with the aim of preserving the body for the potential of future, more developed treatment to save the life of those with presently untreatable ailments. The legal status of this procedure may still be largely undocumented, as it re-imagines many legal and scientific terms which have been put in place across documented history, such as the definition of ‘deceased’ and ‘suspended’.

According to Alcor, one of the American companies with which JS’ suspended body may be held, the patients are to be considered as legally passed away, however this is a ‘label’ which may be changed in the future. In following this notion, Judge Jackson qualified how this case may be “an example of the new questions science poses to the law, perhaps most of all to family law”. One of the topics, which this case may have raised aside from the ethical and legal procedure surrounding the process itself, may also regard the freedom of choice for minors versus their parents’ desires. For instance, whilst he has been separated from the family since 2008, JS’ father and his aim to avert the process may be one of the prominent reasons the case reached the high courts.

CryogenicTestingCredit@NASAsMarshallSpaceFlightCentervia.Flickr

CryogenicTestsCredit@NASAsMarshallSpaceFlightCentervia.Flickr

JS’ mother supported her wish to be preserved, whereas her father went on the record throughout the trial to voice his own concerns as a parent, however his overwhelming aim was to convey his deep “respect” for his daughter’s requests and the courts verdict. Throughout the process, JS seems to have had an active role in verbalising her desires, demonstrating the potentially shifting role of minors and their own free desires in 21st century British law. One way by which she may have addressed her wishes actively and publicly was in her letter to the judge and courts, in which she stated “I have been asked to explain why I want this unusual thing done… I think being cryo-preserved gives me a chance to be cured and woken up, even in hundreds of years’ time… I want to live and live longer and I think 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.”

In his closing notes regarding the case, the judge suggested how “the events in this case suggest the need for proper regulation of cryonic preservation in this country if it is to happen in future,” enforcing an attitude of conversation and dialogue between society, law and science in order to continue the ethical and legal evolution of the United Kingdom.

What may cases such as this provoke in future rulings for the freedom of choice in minors?

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