Dying teen's heartbreaking letter helps win battle to have body cryogenically frozen

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A teenage girl with terminal cancer, who gave instructions for her body to be cryogenically frozen in the hope she could be cured in the future, has won a legal battle shortly before her death.

The 14-year-old, who lived in London and is known only as JS, was dying of rare cancer when she used the internet to investigate cryonics and, supported by her mother, sent a heartbreaking letter to the court:

"I have been asked to explain why I want this unusual thing done," she wrote.

"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," she continued. "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."

Her words helped convince High Court Judge Peter Jackson, who later visited her in the hospital, to grant her final wishes. The ruling came through in October, but due to court-ordered reporting restrictions the result couldn't be released until a month after the teen's death.

The girl's solicitor told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that when she was told about the court's decision she had been "delighted" and started calling the judge "Mr Hero Peter Jackson."

The ruling was about a dispute between parents over the disposal of their daughter's body and not about the ethics of cryogenics, the judge said.

The girl's parents are divorced and her estranged father initially said no, though he softened his stance as his daughter's death neared.

He said at first: "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 and she may be left in a desperate situation given that she is only 14 years old and will be in the United States of America."

JS had lived most of her life with her mother and had had no in-person contact with her father since 2008. Her father attempted to get back in touch when he learnt of her illness in 2015 — but she refused.

The father eventually changed his mind and told the court: "I respect the decisions [my daughter] is making. This is the last and only thing she has asked from me."

Unprecedented

The judge called the case unprecedented and wrote in the ruling back in October, just before the teen's death: "I was moved by the valiant way in which she was facing her predicament. 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."

"It is an example of the new questions that science poses to the law, perhaps most of all to family law ... No other parent has ever been put in [the] position [of JS's father]."

He added: "A dispute about a parent being able to see his child after death would be momentous enough on its own if the case did not also raise the issue of cryonic preservation."

After the ruling, the body of JS was preserved and transported from London to the U.S. where it has been frozen for an infinite amount of time by a commercial company for the price of £37,000 ($45,948).

A controversial procedure

Cryonics is a controversial procedure which is regarded with widespread skepticism by many in the medical community.

It has been performed only a few hundred times since the 1960s. Facilities in the U.S. and Russia — but not in the UK — allow bodies to be preserved in liquid nitrogen at very low temperatures (less than -130C).

Barry Fuller, a specialist in low-temperature medicine at University College London, told The Associated Press the technology of preserving cells at ultra-low temperatures is promising but cannot yet be applied to large structures like a human kidney.

"At the moment we have no objective evidence that a whole human body can survive cryopreservation with cells which will function after re-arming," he said, referring to the process of re-activating cells in the future.

He said there is ongoing research with the immediate hope that scientists could use the technology to preserve human organs for transplantation. He said that would be "a major first step into proving the concept."

The Associated Press contributed reporting.

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