The Honourable Mr Justice Peter Jackson’s recent ruling, that allowed a dying teen her final wish to be frozen upon her death, in the case of JS v M and F, has proven controversial. Yet I hope to illustrate why I believe it’s the right decision.
Although there have been a number of British people who have chosen to have their bodies cryonically preserved after their death, including the likes of Simon Cowell, this case made the headlines because it involved a 14-year-old child. To clarify, the judge was not ruling on whether the freezing process is ethical, whether it was likely to work, nor whether it was the right decision for this girl. Justice Peter Jackson was deciding whether the girl’s mother or father should decide what happens to their daughter’s body after her death. The Judge was asked to rule during JS’s (the name given to the girl in this case) lifetime as lengthy litigation would not be possible after her death, as the cryonic preservation method is time sensitive.
The background to the case was that JS had a rare form of cancer, meaning she would inevitably die young. JS’s parents were divorced. JS’s mother supported her wish to be frozen, and her father, with whom she had no face-to-face contact with since 2008, refused to consent to JS being frozen. JS wrote a letter imploring the Judge to grant her wish, as she “didn’t want to be buried underground. She wanted to live and live longer and she thought that there might be a cure for her cancer in the future and she wanted a chance”.
Many people seem to be focusing on the negative ethical implications of this judgement and whether there is any scientific basis for cryo-preservation. Although the preservation of cells and tissues in sperm and embryos are an established and successful system in fertility treatment, the cryonic preservation technique is still developing and remains wholly speculative. The cost for JS to be cryo-preserved was approximately £37,000, which some might view as a significantly high cost to pay for a false hope that JS might be brought back to life. It is of popular opinion that one should just accept that living beings have a natural lifespan and freezing people in order to bring them back once medical advances have been made would exacerbate the world’s continuing overpopulation. Whilst a valid point, it digresses from the point of the ruling in JS v M and F.
JS’s father was put in an unprecedented position in having to deal with this matter, as none similar have come before the UK courts. He expressed reasonable concerns that even if the process was successful, she could wake up in 200 years time in the USA ,with no-one she knows still alive and not remember anything about her life. After initially opposing the idea of cryonic preservation of JS, once legally represented, he conceded that she could undergo the treatment, however one of his final requests was to see her body after her death. Justice Jackson stated that as JS’s father had barely any role in JS’s life, to fulfil his request would only cause her distress in life. Therefore, Justice Jackson granted:
- A specific order permitting JS’s mother to continue making arrangements during JS’s lifetime for after her death;
- An injunction preventing JS’s father making or attempting to make arrangements for the disposal of JS’s body and an injunction against him interfering with JS’s mother’s arrangements; and
- JS’s mother as sole administrator of her estate.
To summarise, this ruling is simply states that a father, who has only had written contact with his daughter for the last 8 years, does not get to prevent JS’s mother’s attempts to fulfil JS’s post-life requests. The role of the court here was not to give directions about how JS’s body should be disposed, but about who should get to decide what happens to her body. Under English law, one cannot dictate how they want their body disposed of in their will, as it is not property. Therefore, in theory JS’s mother could have chosen to have JS’s body cremated or buried anyway!
*photos taken from Google images*