The 14 year old who won the right to be cryogenically frozen

Posted by Laura Bennett on
It is a common misconception that a solicitor specialising in family law is just a 'divorce lawyer'.  This is far from the reality; the practice of family law is extremely varied and can encompass a very wide range of issues that have resulted in a dispute between private individuals. 

A recent case in the Family Division of the High Court demonstrates this.  Mr Justice Peter Jackson was asked to make a decision in a landmark case about the treatment of a fourteen year old girl's body after her death. 

The girl, known as "JS", tragically died from a rare form of cancer in October 2016.  In the months before her death, she expressed a wish to be cryogenically frozen, with the hope that future medical advances would find a cure that would enable her to be effectively brought back to life.  Heartbreakingly, JS said in a letter to the Court "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."

JS's mother supported her wish but her father opposed it.  Due to JS's age, she needed the permission of both of her parents before the process could be undertaken.  JS, with the support of her mother, consulted a solicitor and ultimately the matter was brought before the Family Court.

A crucial feature within this case is the fact that JS had not had a relationship with her father, who himself had cancer, since 2008.  Mr Justice Jackson ordered that JS's wish should be granted, although it is important to note that Mr Justice Jackson was clear that he was not making any ruling about the proposed cryonic preservation.  An injunction was also granted which prevented JS's father from attempting to make any arrangements regarding the disposal of her body.

A key factor within Mr Justice Jackson's decision was that JS had the capacity to make the decision, and in fact she had instigated her own research into the process and had pursued matters despite a number of people trying to dissuade her.  Her doctors are described as having a great deal of unease about the decision.  Mr Justice Jackson visited JS in hospital and concluded that the prospect of her wishes being followed would reduce her distress.  

Going forward, it is safe to say that this case is likely to be the topic of heated debate as people consider the ethical implications of the cryogenic freezing process.  There are also further legal principles to be considered outside of the Family Court arena regarding the regulation of the cryogenic process.  Whilst this is the first case of this nature to come before the Family Court, emotive cases involving disputes regarding the medical treatment of children have been a mainstay of the Family Court for many years. 

All members of the Blake Morgan Family team provide advice and support to parents where there is a dispute relating to a child or children.     

About the Author

Laura is a Senior Solicitor in the Family team based in Oxford.

Laura Bennett
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01865 258052

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