On 18 November 2016, the High Court upheld a teenagers wish to preserve her body before death from cancer through a procedure known as cryonics, in the hope that she could be brought back to life and cured at a later time (Judgment: https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/js-judgment-20161118.pdf).
Cryonics is a process of deep cooling the body with the aim of preserving the body tissue at very low temperatures. It is hoped that if the body is preserved in such a way, future breakthroughs in science and technology will enable the frozen body to be cured of the cause of death and bring the body back to life.
Notwithstanding any religious, moral or socio-economic considerations, this judgment raises a number of interesting legal conundrums:
1. Does the cryonic company owe a continuing duty of care to the frozen individual? If the company then fails in delivering this duty of care – who would have the locus standi' to bring a claim?
2. If the cryonic procedure is successful, what legal status would the unfrozen individual have within the society of that time?
3. Would an unfrozen individual be legally able to recover any savings from a bank / trustee (if available) and if so, would there be any limitation period for this?
Cryonic freezing is currently unregulated and not subject to any laws in the UK, however, it will be interesting to see how the Government responds to this case for future policy purposes.
It also seems that Mr Benjamin Franklin's famous quote "there are only two certainties in life - death and taxes' may not stand the test of time...
The legal ramifications of successful cryonics could be complex and far-reaching said Prof Nils Hoppe, an ethicist and leading academic in the field of life sciences law. “As long as it never works then we don’t have to talk about regulation, but in 10 years’ time if it has progressed to the stage where it might be possible then there are serious ethical, legal and societal questions to answer,” he said. That possibility raised a plethora of legal and ethical complications including who would have access to expensive technology and whether people would choose to be frozen as soon as they became ill, as well as throwing inheritance laws into disarray. But he cautioned against imposing restrictive regulations or laws. “Strong laws can hinder innovation which we do need in this area,” Hoppe said.