Recently debated in the High Court of Justice was a case concerning a 14-year-old girl who was terminally ill with a rare cancer and desired to be cryogenically preserved, in the hope that she will be cured in the future. Shortly before the girl’s unfortunate death in October, she won the historic legal fight that has allowed her to be taken to the US and be preserved there. Cryogenic preservation is a process whereby the body of a deceased person is held in very low temperatures in the hope that medicine will make advances that will allow them to be revived and treated at some time in the future. The procedure is generally controversial as there are many surrounding arguments that deem cryogenics as an act of playing God.
Many years ago, the idea of artificially preserving one’s body by cryogenics and later being resurrected would have seemed delusional, and impossible, however this is not the case today. The process is in fact rather simple to comprehend. Once legally pronounced dead, a glycerol based chemical (human antifreeze) is pumped through the body to prevent the water in the cells from freezing and expanding. The body is then cooled on a bed of dry ice until reaching a temperature of -130°C before being stored into a container to be submerged head first (to prevent brain damage) in a tank of liquid nitrogen.
The reason a court battle arose was due to the objection by the girl’s father to being frozen, despite the fact her mother fully approved. The Court held that the mother had the sole right to decide to send her body to cryonic storage following her death in line with the girl’s wishes as a result of the father’s estrangement from the family. During the last months of her life, the girl (known as JS), used the internet to research cryonics due to her unwillingness to be buried. She believed that being cryopreserved gives her, “a chance to be cured and woken up- even in hundreds of years’ time,” as stated in her letter to the judge, Mr Justice Peter Jackson. Justice Jackson, who visited the girl in hospital shortly after receiving her plea, ruled that the case was not concerning the rights or wrongs of cryonic, but about the dispute between parents over the disposal of their daughter’s body.In defence of the father, cryogenic preservation has alarmed many people as no one has currently been revived despite the many hundreds of people who are preserved. The father’s concern over cryopreservation was that:
“Even if the treatment is successful and she if 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 left in the United States of America.”
There are many questions that have surfaced as cryopreservation has become more acknowledged, such as:
What if these companies run out of money or if the storage technology goes wrong one day?
Or perhaps what happens in the unlikely event that they do wake up. Will they be guaranteed complete brain function restoration?
According to scientists, it is unlikely that people post-thawed will have fundamental side effects such as memory loss, however who’s to say their predictions are accurate? What concerns most people is the existence awaiting those frozen. We’ve seen that nothing stays the same forever and it is likely it will take many decades until scientists will be able to cure those preserved, therefore when they do awake, the question of what kind of world they would be inhabiting arises. They would likely be returning to an unfamiliar time and place and most likely without friends or family, which is perhaps a daunting prospect that could lead to isolation and loneliness.
Perhaps prolonged life isn’t worth the risk. The fact is, death is inevitable and natural, and therefore ought to be embraced rather than cheated as some would say, so humankind should accept their fate and concentrate on the present moment.
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”
― Eleanor Roosevelt