Terminally ill girl won right to have body frozen

  • Video report by ITV News Reporter Rebecca Barry

A terminally ill teenager who wanted her body to be frozen in the hope she could later be brought back to life won a landmark court ruling before she died.

The divorced parents of the 14-year old - who had a rare form of cancer - were involved in a bitter court dispute as to whether her remains should to be taken to the US and cryogenically preserved.

The girl, who lived with her mother in London for most of her life, took legal action and wrote an emotional plea to the judge asking the chance to "live longer".

She also asked the High Court judge that her mother - who supported her wish - be the only person allowed to make a decision about the disposal of her body.

Mr Justice Peter Jackson, who visited the child in hospital after she was too ill to attend court, allowed the ruling at the Family Division of the High Court in October.

However the case could not be reported whilst the child was still alive as he said the media coverage would distress her.

He also ruled that no-one involved in the case - which is believed to be the first of its kind in the world - should be identified.

Her remains have now been taken to the US and frozen.

The judge said he had been moved by the "valiant way" she had faced her "predicament", but argued the case related to a dispute between her parents - not the rights and wrongs of cryogenic preservation.

As a child cannot make a will, the judge was asked where her best interests lay.

The girl had refused to have contact with her father and had not seen him for eight years at the time of her death.

She did not want him to have details of her illness, or for him to see her body after she died.

The judge described the relationship between the parents as "very bad".

Although her mother approved of her wishes, the girl's father was initially reluctant.

He said: "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.

"She may be left in a desperate situation - given that she is still only 14-years-old - and will be in the United States of America."

However during legal proceedings his position changed. He told the court: "I respect the decisions she is making. This is the last and only thing she has asked from me."

The judge understood her father's fluctuation and said: "No other parent has ever been put in his position.

"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.

"[The case] is an example of the new questions that science poses to the law - perhaps most of all to family law."

He added the case was a "tragic combination" of childhood illness and family conflict.

However, there is little evidence to suggest that bringing someone cryogenically frozen back to life can be successful.

Cryonics expert Dr David Shaw said that it is "very implausible" that the brain of an individual cryo-preserved would survive the procedure.

"But on a pragmatic and rational level," he said. "Despite it being very unlikely, it does make some sense to maybe go for this option just in case it works."