The sci-fi future, that was previously only dreamt about in sci-fi novels and shows like Star Trek or Westworld, is approaching faster than ever. That future is closer than people think, considering a 14 year old girl from the United Kingdom was recently cryogenically frozen with the hopes to be able to return her to life after a battle with cancer. The girl, whose identity is concealed under the name JS, was first diagnosed with an unusual form of cancer in August of 2015 and after a year of battling, her condition was determined terminal by UK doctors. As a result, JS was exploring the possibility of cryogenics being used to give her a chance in extending her life, even if centuries may pass before a treatment might become available.
Her story received public spotlight when the decision of allowing her to become cryogenically frozen was disputed between her divorced parents. JS’s mother, who she has been living with a majority of her life, was content with following her daughter’s wishes, while her father did not wish for her to undergo the process. His argument stemmed from further emotional discomfort that the family may experience as a result of the procedure and the possibility that payments might need to be made in order to maintain her preservation. The conflict required a UK High Court to make a decision since there was not an agreement among the parents of the child. Mr. Justice Peter Jackson was the deciding judge on the matter. He emphasized that the case was a decision about which parent would determine how JS’s body would be handled post mortem and not a verdict about the standing of cryogenics. The judge made the decision to give control to JS’s mother, thus allowing JS to become cryogenically preserved. The judge’s choice came shortly before JS passed away on October 17th and it is said that the approval of her choice made her more at ease before her passing.
So what became of JS now that her freedom to be frozen has passed? The company, one of only three cryogenic companies in the world, The Cryonics Institute, immediately began the process once she was declared legally dead when her heart stopped beating. Because the brain was still partially active, although the heart had stopped beating, the group of volunteers had to move fast to complete the procedure by first beginning to cool the body and replace her blood with a fluid designed to operate similar to antifreeze. The fluid will prevent ice formation from water within the body while it is subjected to the extreme cold. JS’s body was then placed in a container surrounded in dry ice, which was then shipped from the UK to Michigan, where The Cryonics Institute is located, and placed in a storage unit at around -330 degrees Fahrenheit. The cryogenic process cost JP’s family £37,000 or around $46,000.
With this instance many questions are brought to light that will probably need to be addressed soon in response to the growth of cryogenics. First of all, the science behind long term freezing is not completely understood and while small scale cryogenics such as embryos and sperm have been successful, the effects of freezing an entire body are hazy at best. Furthermore, the regulations over cryogenics are non-existent, which allowed for a team of volunteers to operate without formal licensing or government oversight in JS’s case. While there around 300 bodies worldwide that are currently cryogenically preserved, the exponentially fast development of today’s technology will lead to more people cryogenically freezing themselves with the hope that the future can save them from the blights of today.