JS (Disposal of Body), Re  EWCH (Fam) (10 November 2016) – read judgment
A great deal has been written about this case but few of the headlines reflect the humanity and sensitivity of the decision, which may not be ground breaking nor precedent setting, but reflects how the law should respond to individual wishes if those play out in a way that cannot harm anyone else. Post-mortem cryonics may have a certain morbid ring, but it is a matter of individual choice, provided the resources are there to pay for it. As the judge observed, it was
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.
Background facts and law
Peter Jackson J was faced with an application from JS, a 14 year old cancer patient whose condition had become untreatable. After researching the diminishing options available to her, JS had come across cryonics, the freezing of a dead body in the hope that resuscitation and a cure may be possible in the distant future. The science ofcryopreservation, the preservation of cells and tissues by freezing, is now a well-known process in certain branches of medicine, for example the preservation of sperm and embryos as part of fertility treatment. But whole body cryopreservation has not been achieved in any mammal species, largely due to the difficulties of reviving brain tissue. As the judge said,
cryonics is cryopreservation taken to its extreme.
Only three organisations in the world provide this service, one in the United States being involved in this case. The cost is about ten times as much as the average funeral. Although JS’s family is not well off, her grandparents had raised the necessary funds. Whatever anyone may think of this procedure, there was no doubt about JS’s intelligence and her capacity to make this decision. She wrote, in response to asking to explain why she wanted “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.”