A 14-year-old British girl who died of cancer won a landmark court battle in her final days allowing her body to be cryogenically frozen with the aim of “bringing her back to life” in the future.
The girl, who remains unnamed, wrote a heartbreaking letter to the High Court after her divorced parents disagreed over the whole ordeal of taking her body to a specialist facility in the United States of America and keeping her frozen. Living in London with her mother, who supported her idea, she had a rare form of cancer rendering her terminally ill.
“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,” she wrote in the letter. “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.”
High Court judge Mr. Justice Peter Jackson ruled in the girls’ favour and said that her mother, who supported her wish to by cryo-preserved, should have the sole right to decide what happened to her daughter’s body.
The court proceedings ended just shortly before her death on October 17 in a London hospital. Her body was frozen and transferred to a storage facility in the United States. She became one of only 10 Britons to have been frozen.
The Science Behind Cryo-Preservation
To start off, here is another similar sounding word called “Cryonics” that people unwittingly interchange with Cryogenics and vice versa when debating on the subject. In layman terms, Cryogenics is the study of the behaviour of materials at extremely low temperatures. It succeeds the phase of refrigeration. It is still debated when refrigeration stops and cryogenics begins but the general consensus is around -150 degrees Celsius.
Cryonics on the other hand is the science of preserving people who are legally dead in extremely cold temperatures in the hopes of reviving them in the future. But how does that even work?
First off, to undergo this procedure a person has to be pronounced dead legally – meaning the person has no heartbeat but they might still retain some brain function. In purely theoretical terms, the person could be brought back to life in the future subjected to medical advancements.
The body is given an ice bath to bring the temperature down. CPR is administered as well to prevent brain cells from dying. The blood is drained from the body and is replaced by a cryoprotectant which protects the tissues from sustaining damage through freezing. Polar organisms like insects, fish and amphibians create cryoprotectants in their body to survive the harsh temperatures.
This is essential in cryo-preservation of a body or risk the tissues bring burst open by water that is present in the cells. The body is then packed in ice and transferred to a specialist facility. On arrival, the body is frozen well below -130 degrees Celsius using Nitrogen gas. During the next two weeks the body is frozen until it is at around -196 degrees Celsius. It is then suspended in liquid nitrogen and moved to a “patient care bay” where it will remain indefinitely waiting for medical advancements.
The ethics behind this is still debated. The whole process itself is theoretical, speculative and unproven. But with technology advancing at an alarming rate there is still hope that cryonics might one day become a reality.