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A landmark decision on preserving the dead - or simply a parental dispute with a macabre twist?

Byline: Brian Farmer Reporter

AHIGH Court judge's ruling on a case involving a 14-year-old girl whose remains have been frozen is not a "landmark" decision on the rights and wrongs of cryonic preservation, according to her lawyer.

The teenager was terminally ill and had wanted her remains to be frozen in the hope that she could be brought back to life.

But her divorced parents became embroiled in a dispute relating to whether her remains should be taken to a specialist facility in the United States and cryogenically preserved.

The girl, who lived in the London area with her mother and had a rare form of cancer, had taken legal action.

She had asked Mr Justice Peter Jackson to rule that her mother - who supported her wish to be cryogenically preserved - should be the only person allowed to make decisions about the disposal of her body.

Mr Justice Jackson had made the ruling she wanted - following a private hearing in the Family Division of the High Court in London - shortly before she died.

But the girl's solicitor, Zoe Fleetwood, said yesterday that Mr Justice Jackson had ruled on a dispute between parents - not on people's rights to have their remains frozen.

"This is not a legal landmark on cryopreservation," said Ms Fleetwood, who is based at Dawson Cornwell.

"It is a ruling on a dispute between parents."

Ms Fleetwood said the teenager had described Mr Justice Jackson as her "hero" after learning of his decision days before she died in October. She said the youngster had "extraordinary" determination and said it had been a privilege to represent her.

Mr Justice Jackson had said that nothing about the case could be reported while the teenager was alive, after she said media coverage would distress her.

He also ruled that no one involved could be identified - again in line with the girl's wishes.

She had been too ill to attend the court hearing.

The teenager had been represented by lawyers and had written to the judge explaining that she wanted a chance to "live longer".

Mr Justice Jackson had also visited her in hospital. The judge said he had been moved by the "valiant way" she had faced her "predicament".

He said the girl's application was the only one of its kind to have come before a court in England and Wales - and probably anywhere else.

The judge said the case was an example of new questions science posed to lawyers.

Yesterday, a voluntary group that prepared the girl's body for cryonic preservation said her wishes would not have been granted if it was not for the group's help.

Cryonics UK is believed to be the only organisation outside of the US to provide an emergency service to those who want their remains to be preserved after their death.

The group has been criticised by the teenager's hospital for being "under-equipped and disorganised".

But volunteers have dismissed the criticism and agreed with Mr Justice Jackson's suggestion for proper regulation of cryonic preservation. Tim Gibson, who runs the team, said his volunteers gave the 14-yearold the best chance of success. He said: "The little girl who has just been preserved wouldn't have been preserved without us. It was too difficult.

"Without us, the best she could have hoped for would be relying on a funeral director to pack her in dry ice and send her to America."

Mr Gibson described the hospital's comments as a "defensive strike" and said proper protocols would be helpful to all parties.

He said: "In simple terms, they set out what they were willing to do and they're limited by their responsibilities to patients, staff and insurance limitations.

"The staff had been asked to do stuff that was not in their job description for a start."

He added: "The hospital is dealing with something that isn't set in stone, they can't cope with it. When you go into a case, no-one knows where they stand."

Mr Gibson, a student landlord from Sheffield, signed up to be cryogenically preserved when he was 20. He said: "I kind of identified the idea that dying seems to be a really rubbish idea.

"We have one option available, I don't see any alternative.

"I'm perfectly willing to take the risk with almost a zero possibility chance of success because it's a better chance than being buried." Mr Gibson has looked after Cryonics UK's equipment and ambulance since 2009.

The team, which is not medically trained, has up to 20 volunteers on call to travel to members' homes or hospitals to prepare their bodies for cryonic preservation in the US or Russia.

Members, who can pay up to PS28,000 for the standby service, are asked to give the team notice so it can arrive 12 to 24 hours before they are legally pronounced dead.

The volunteers will then begin the process of cryonic preservation, which includes cooling the body and replacing the blood with cryo-protectant before shipping it to the chosen cryonics storage provider. Mr Gibson, who was trained by the Alcor cryonics preservation service in the US, said medical training is not necessary but volunteers need a certain amount of knowledge.

He said: "Initially, I was trained by Alcor in the US, the rest of it just came from practical experience "You end up teaching parts of it to newcomers, that really hones your knowledge, you realise what you're missing from your skill-set, you just pick stuff up."

'Playing on people's inability to deal with human mortality' A Newcastle University doctor has accused the cryogenics industry of "selling a pipe dream" after a teenage girl won the right to have her body frozen.

Simon Woods, an expert in medical ethics from Newcastle University, said he believed the cryogenics industry was "exploiting vulnerable people" by "dangling false hope".

Dr Woods said: "You have got a family here who are dealing with a serious illness, leading to death, of a young child.

"They're obviously very distressed and distraught and they're clutching at straws - the cryogenic option seems to be the perfect solution for people finding it difficult to deal with human mortality."

He said there was no question that cryogenic freezing - the process of preserving a dead body with liquid nitrogen - does work.

But he added: "The websites for these companies describe the bodies as 'patients' - they are cultivating the idea that the person is just, in some sense, asleep and will be woken up in the future, when there is no real scientific basis for believing that will happen.

"Scientists would say 'never say never', but there's no real basis in what we know about the science of freezing to think something as complex as a whole human body could be revived.

"The cryogenics industry is really playing on people's inability to deal with human mortality by dangling this false hope that science will deliver a cure for death."

Dr Woods also said: "Even if you imagine it could happen, I'm a parent and it's a terrible thought to imagine my daughter waking up in 100 years when her current family are long dead, in a world she doesn't know.

"It's such a bizarre idea but people get comfort from different sources and I would never be critical of people for their wishes.

"But it says something about humanity that the end of life is part of what makes us human and we still can't face up to it."


The High Court made the decision that the terminally ill teenager wanted. But experts are concerned at the implications
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Nov 19, 2016
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