Knowing she had only weeks to live rather than her whole life ahead of her, a dying schoolgirl desperately turned to cryogenics in the hope she could one day be brought back.
Described as a “bright, intelligent young person”, the tragic 14-year-old spent her last months fervently researching how she could be frozen until a cure is found for her rare form of cancer in the future.
But as she ran out of time, her divorced parents were locked in a bitter battle about what to do with her remains.
Too young to make a will, the teenager went to court to protect her dying wish.
In a heartbreaking letter to the judge, she said that while she did not want to die, she had accepted her fate.
She wrote: “I want to live and live longer and I think that in the future they may find a cure for my cancer and wake me up. I want to have this chance.”The girl will be frozen in a cryongenic chamber like this until a miracle cure is found.
After a battle in the High Court, her wish came true and she made British legal history.
Details of the case can only be revealed now after the youngster passed away last month.
Her remains have already been shipped to the US for storage.
Presiding judge Mr Justice Peter Jackson said: “She died peacefully in the knowledge her body would be preserved in the way she wished.”
The mother, who lived with her child in London, supported her.
But her father, whom she had not seen for eight years and did not want any contact with, was against the move.
He said he was worried about his daughter potentially being revived as a 14-year-old, in America in the distant future.
The father 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.”
But he eventually backed down, telling the court: “I respect the decisions she is making. This is the last and only thing she has asked from me.”
The judge said the father’s change of heart was understandable and added: “No other parent has ever been put in his position.”
Her application is the only one of its kind to have come before a court in England and Wales – and possibly elsewhere, according to Mr Justice Jackson.
He said he was not ruling on the rights and wrongs of cryogenic science but on the disagreement between the parents.
Because the girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was too ill to attend court, the judge went to see her in hospital.
He said he had been moved by the “valiant way” in which she had faced her “predicament”.
The girl is now among a small number of people frozen in the hope that future science means they will one day be brought back to life.
Soon after death, patients are put in an ice bath to cool the body before it is pumped full of an “organ preservation solution”.
Those like the schoolgirl who come from outside the US are flown or shipped over while packed in ice.
Once in the facility, the body is further cooled under computer control by nitrogen gas at a temperature of -110C over several hours.
During the next two weeks, their temperature is lowered to -196C before being suspended in liquid nitrogen in a “patient care bay”, waiting for the day science can revive them.
Since the technology was introduced in the 1960s, only three organisations – two in the US and one in Russia – have made it a commercial business, the court heard.
The schoolgirl died on October 17. She arrived at the Cryonics Institute in Michigan eight days later, becoming the 143rd patient.
Among the others are its founder Robert Ettinger – an academic known as the “father of cryonics”.
The second US facility, Alcor, has a similar number of patients in storage. Mr Justice Jackson said the cost was around £37,000 and while the family were not well off, the mother’s parents had raised the funds.
With no official organisation in Britain, the initial preservation of the girl’s body was carried out by a group of volunteer enthusiasts lacking official medical training, the judge said.
And he added that if cryonic preservation became more common, authorities should look at “proper regulation”.
Mr Justice Jackson said: “This situation gives rise to serious legal and ethical issues for the hospital trust, which has to act within the law and has duties to its other patients and to its staff.”
He revealed bosses at the hospital where the girl was cared for had been willing to co-operate for her sake. The judge added: “The decision centres entirely on what is best for [the girl].
“The [hospital] trust is not endorsing cryonics: on the contrary, all the professionals feel deep unease about it.”
The judge said cryonics was “controversial”.
Girl’s heartbreaking letter
I have been asked to explain why I want this unusual thing done.
I am only 14 years old and I don’t want to die but I know I am going to die.
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 may find a cure for my cancer and wake me up.
I want to have this chance.
This is my wish.
Daughter’s wishes honoured, by Alison Phillips
What a desperately tragic story.
That a teenage girl with her whole life ahead of her should have it snatched away by cancer.
And that her refusal to submit to the grave led her to fight –with the passion and rebelliousness only a teenager possesses – to keep the possibility of life alive.
As a parent it must be agonising to see your child clinging desperately to life. Most parents would do everything in their power to make death seem less terrifying.
Those with faith would be able to comfort their child about a warm and loving afterlife ahead. But these parents couldn’t comfort their daughter – she was insistent on fighting.
For them the idea of their daughter being mechanically frozen then abandoned on earth until a distant time in the future when she may awake without friends, family or familiarity, must be horrific.
But in the end they respected her wishes, so she could go in peace.
Let us hope they’ve gained some solace from knowing their daughter’s dream was fulfilled.
Big names lining up for treatment
People planning to be frozen include
- Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane
- Talkshow host Larry King
- X Factor chief Simon Cowell
- Singer Britney Spears
People who have already been frozen
- James Bedford, a 73-year-old psychologist, who was the first in 1967
- Baseball legend Ted Williams, whose head and body are being stored separately
- Matheryn Noavaratpong, two, from Bangkok in Thailand who is the youngest to be frozen after her death from brain cancer in 2015.
What is cryogenics by Barry Fuller, Professor in Surgical Science at UCL
Cryopreservation is a remarkable technology that lets us store living cells almost indefinitely at ultra-low temperatures.
It has many useful applications, such as cryopreserving blood cells, sperm and embryos.
To survive the process, cells must be treated with special non-toxic antifreezes and be handled in very specific ways.
In fact, frozen cells are not “frozen” – they must contain no ice crystals, which would kill them.
The water inside the cells needs to be drawn out. The ultra-low temperatures are needed to allow cells to survive the dehydration.
However, cryopreservation has not yet been successfully applied to large structures, such as kidneys for transplantation. We have not yet produced suitable equipment.
This is why we have to say, at the moment, we’ve no evidence that a whole body can survive the process.