A widely publicised family court ruling which had the effect of allowing the freezing of the body of a 14-year-old girl does not set any precedent about the rights and wrongs of cryopreservation, the judge in the case has suggested.
The Honourable Mr Justice Peter Jackson was ruling in the case of Re JS (Disposal of Body), which resolved a dispute between the girl's divorced parents over her wishes for her body to be preserved in the US in the hope of reactivation in the distant future.
The judgment, in three parts, was delivered between 6 October and 10 November, and was subject to reporting restrictions preventing publication until one month after the girl's death, on 17 October. A indefinite restriction prohibits publication of any information identifying the girl, JS, or her family.
Press reports today said that, by ruling in favour of JS's wish to have her body frozen, the court had backed the 'right to return from the dead'.
However in the judgment, the judge stresses that the case 'is not about whether cryonic preservation has any scientific basis or whether it is right or wrong. The court is not approving or encouraging cryonics, still less ordering that JS's body should be cryonically preserved.'
Rather, he said, the court was doing what it 'can and should do', to provide a means of resolving a dispute between the parents. JS's father, who had not seen her for eight years, had raised objections to the cryogenics scheme. In the first part of the judgment, Jackson concludes that JS's mother was 'best placed to manage this unusual and difficult situation'.
He made a specific order permitting the mother to continue to make arrangements for cryopreservation and an injunction preventing the father from interfering with arrangements made with respect to the disposal of the body.
Jackson also stresses that the case does not set a precedent for other cases. 'If another health trust was ever to be faced with a similar situation, it would be entitled to make its own judgment about what was acceptable in respect of a patient in its care, and it might very well reach a different conclusion, as might another court.'
However he goes on to raise concerns about 'a number of serious ethical issues', including over procedures performed on JS's body after death. He notes that the NHS trust in which JS died expressed 'very real misgivings', including that on JS's last day, her mother 'was said to have been preoccupied with the post-mortem arrangements at the expense of being fully available to JS'.
He approved the intention of the trust to notify the Human Tissue Authority of its misgivings, concluding: 'It may be thought that the events in this case suggest the need for proper regulation of cryonic preservation in this country if it is to happen in future.'
Frances Judd QC and Dr Rob George, instructed by Zoë Fleetwood of family law firm Dawson Cornwell, acted for JS. Fleetwood told BBC Radio 4's Today programme it had been a 'great privilege' to be involved with the case of an 'extraordinary individual'.