Cryonics: frozen girl’s father says providers exploit the vulnerable

0
33

The Cryonics Institute uses insulated tanks for the long-term storage of bodies in liquid nitrogen. Photograph: Cryonics Institute/EPA

The father of a 14-year-old girl who was granted her dying wish to have her body cryogenically frozen has accused those who provide the service of taking advantage of vulnerable people.

The teenager, known only as JS, decided before her death from cancer that she wanted to be her body to be preserved in the hope that she could be brought back to life at a later time. Her wish was upheld by the high court.

Her estranged father initially opposed her wishes but changed his mind during the court case, saying it was “the last and only thing she has asked from me”.

In an interview with the Mail on Sunday, however, he said he remained strongly opposed and that discussions with the Cryonics Institute in Detroit, where his daughter’s body is stored, had failed to mollify his concerns.

“I believe they are selling false hope to those who are frightened of dying, taking advantage of vulnerable people,” he said.

“When I asked if there was even a one in a million chance of my daughter being brought back to life, they could not say there was.”

He described the prospect of bringing her back from the dead and curing the rare form of cancer from which she suffered as “doubly impossible”.

He also questioned whether there would be any relatives around in 100 or 200 years’ time to ensure her body was still being preserved.

Dennis Kowalski, the president of the Cryonics Institute, told the paper it was not taking advantage of anyone’s fears. He said it was a non-profit organisation that offered no guarantees, but even the smallest chance of returning to life was better than the alternative, “which is zero”.

The girl’s parents are divorced. JS lived with her mother, who supported her decision to be frozen, and had had no face-to-face contact with her father since 2008. She resisted his attempts to get back in touch when he learnt of her illness in 2015.

Her father, who himself suffers a type of blood cancer called lymphona, said he had made numerous court applications over the years to maintain access after an acrimonious divorce, but claimed the girl’s mother had opposed them all. He said that he had nevertheless sent letters and presents through social services.

He had initially tried to set the condition that he be allowed to see her body after her death in return for his approval for her decision to be cryogenically frozen, but JS refused and the court upheld the decision.

The former cab driver, in his 40s, said his opposition was not based on religion but on the consensus of experts.

“None of the hospital doctors were in favour of her being cryopreserved. None of them think it will ever work,” he said.

“I am no expert, but I am a rationalist, and I put my trust in their medical opinion.”

Among the experts who have expressed concerns about the viability of cryonics and the ethics of the way it is marketed is Clive Coen, a professor of neuroscience at King’s College London. He said: “Ethically it’s very complicated. The trade-off is that she got the comfort, but others may now be duped.

“There is no evidence outside amphibia and tissue slices that any of this works.”

The cosmologist and astrophysicist Prof Martin Rees described the claims made by cryonics enthusiasts as “ridiculous and not to be taken seriously”.