A teenager (known as JS) had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 2015. Unfortunately she was unresponsive to treatment so in 2016, began researching cryonics hoping that her body could be frozen on death and reanimated sometime in the future, if a cure became available. JS lived in the United Kingdom and the closest cryogenic facility was located in the United States.
“I have been asked to explain why I want 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.”
The girl’s parents were divorced; both were entitled to decide how their daughter’s remains were treated, but were on bad terms. The mother supported her daughter’s wish to be cryogenically preserved, however her father was concerned that his daughter might ‘wake up’ in 200 years’ time, alone in the United States. Eventually JS Father changed his mind, on condition that he and members of his family could view her body after death.
The relevance of the deceased’s wishes in determining who should be awarded the right to dispose of their body was discussed by the Court that agreed that as a minor cannot make a valid Will that appointment of an administrator other than in accordance with the hierarchy stated by intestacy rules was necessary or expedient by reason of special circumstances.
“the views of a deceased person as to funeral arrangements and the disposal of his or her body must be taken into account … [I]n this type of case a person’s wishes can be regarded as a special circumstance …”
JS lived with her mother, had not had any face‐to‐face contact with her father since 2008, and was refusing to see him or give him detailed knowledge of her medical condition. JS refused to allow her father and his family to view her body after death; JS sought a court ordered resolution.
The Court acknowledged the application was novel, and although set against a tragic backdrop of childhood illness and family conflict the application should be decided in accordance with established principle, or with principle correctly established’.
As a person cannot control the disposition of their body after death and there may be a later change of circumstances that would undermine the decision as a matter of policy the court may not wish to encourage similar applications.
In Williams v Williams the Will maker instructed his executors to give his body to his friend so that she could arrange for the cremation of his body, the Will maker’s wife and son buried him in unconsecrated ground in their local cemetery. Using the pretext of moving he body to consecrated ground his friend had the body exhumed and took it to Italy to have it cremated in accordance with Italian law. When the friend asked to be reimbursed for her expenses, the executors refused.
The Court held that ‘It is quite clearly the law of this country that there can be no property in the dead body of a human being’ It follows that a person cannot leave binding instructions regarding the disposal of their body. While it also follows that an executor does not own the body they are obliged to dispose of, they nonetheless have the right to possess the body until it is properly buried.
All parties were represented before the court; the court wished to provide a resolution at the earliest opportunity as it would be difficult to reassemble effectively after JS’s death; would prevent undignified scenes later; that clarity will help third parties to know how they should act; that the arrangements for JS after death will be particularly complex if she is to be preserved; that JS does not want to be seen after death by her father or his family and the possibility that this might happen causes her present distress; and that consideration of JS’s welfare during life, with her dependence on her mother who is herself under considerable stress.
The Court believed that as there was no likelihood of a change of circumstances and all interested parties were before the court, found that the power exists and that, taking account of all the considerations it should be exercised in this case.
The judge noted that the high costs of freezing the body in perpetuity were around ten times the cost of an average funeral and this cost were being met by the girl’s maternal grandparents; the hospital trust where JS was receiving palliative care was willing to grant a specialist, stand‐by cryonics team access to prepare the body within minutes or hours of death.
The Court accepted that cryonics was not regulated by the Human Tissue Act 2004; however what JS was proposing [did] not seem to be illegal as long as the various legal requirements for doing so were met her remains could be shipped elsewhere.
The Court ‘fully under[stood] the father’s misgivings’ around cryopreservation. However, as the father’s role in his daughter’s life had been ‘extremely limited in recent years’, while his request to see JS after her death would ‘only cause her distress in life’ the mother should be allowed to make arrangements for her daughter’s body to be preserved; preventing the father from applying for a grant of administration in respect of his daughter’s estate; making or attempting to make arrangements for the disposal of JS’s body; and interfering with arrangements made by the mother