In legal first, body of British teen who died of cancer frozen

LONDON (AFP) - A British girl who died after a terminal illness won the right to have her body frozen in an unprecedented ruling, the High Court said on Friday (Nov 18).

The 14-year-old girl from London had written to a judge explaining she wanted a chance to “live longer” after suffering from a rare form of cancer.

She had researched and decided to undergo cryonics, the process through which people’s bodies are frozen in the hope they will be brought back to life with the help of future medical advancements.

“I am only 14-years-old and I don’t want to die, but I know I am going to die,” she wrote to the judge.

“I think being cryo-preserved gives me a chance to be cured and woken up – even in hundreds of years’ time.”

The girl launched legal action to request that her mother, who supported the child’s wishes, be the only person allowed to make decisions about the disposal of her body.

Her parents are divorced and the teenager’s father initially objected to his daughter’s plan.

Judge Peter Jackson ruled in the girl’s favour in October following a private hearing at the High Court of England and Wales in London.

The girl was too ill to attend the hearing and has since died, with her remains being taken to the United States and cryogenically frozen.

US-based Cryonics Institute issued a statement saying that the teenager had arrived at their facility and “packed in dry ice, at 5pm on the 25th of October, approximately 8 days after death”, becoming its 144th patient.

Its minimum fee for cryopreservation is US$28,000 (S$39,851), according to its website, and The Times reported the cost to the girl’s family was US$46,000.

The case was not reported before Friday in keeping with the wishes of the teenager, who also asked that no one involved be identified.

Judge Jackson said his decision was based on the dispute between the girl’s parents and the best outcome for the child’s welfare, not on the science itself, in what he described as an unprecedented ruling.

“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,” he said.

“It is an example of the new questions that science poses to the law – perhaps most of all to family law,” Judge Jackson added.

The judge described the case as a “tragic combination” of childhood illness and family conflict, while praising the girl for the “valiant way” she approached the situation.

In her letter to the judge, the 14-year-old wrote: “I don’t want to be buried underground. 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 girl’s solicitor, Ms Zoe Fleetwood, said her client had called Judge Jackson her “hero” after being told of the court’s decision shortly before her death on October 17.

“By October 6, the girl knew that her wishes were going to be followed. That gave her great comfort,” she told BBC Radio 4.

For the last eight years of her life, the teenager had not had face-to-face contact with her father, who raised his concerns about the costs and consequences of his daughter being frozen.

“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 was said to have told Judge Jackson.

The father’s position, however, shifted during the case, saying that he respected his daughter’s decision.