Frozen Corpses and Feuding Parents: Re JS (Disposal of Body)

Publication Date01 Jan 2018
AuthorHeather Conway
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/1468-2230.12319
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CASES
Frozen Corpses and Feuding Parents:
Re JS (Disposal of Body)
Heather Conway
In October 2016, a dying teenager won the legal right to have her remains cryogenically frozen
and stored indefinitely in an American clinic. The cryonics aspect was novel, posing questions
around the legality of this particular method of corpse ‘disposal’ in the UK and the processes
involved. More significantly, the case raises other substantive legal issues around the fate of the
dead, including the status of funeral instructions under English law, and how courts adjudicate
parental disputes over the funeral arrangements for a dead child.
In October 2016, a fourteen-year-old English girl with terminal cancer won
the legal right to have her remains cryogenically frozen and stored indefinitely
in an American clinic following her death.1While the cryonics aspect was
novel and fuelled intense media interest,2the case raises other important legal
issues around the fate of the dead - issues which have much wider implications.
FACTS AND OUTCOME
The teenager (known only in proceedingsas ‘JS’) had been diagnosed with a rare
form of cancer in 2015. When active treatment came to an end in August 2016,
she began researching cryonics on the internet, in the hope that her body could
be frozen on death and reanimated sometime in the future, if a cure became
availa ble.3The girl’s parents were divorced and on very bad terms with each
other; JS lived with her mother, had not had any face-to-face contact with her
School of Law, Queen’s University Belfast. Thanks to the anonymous referee for their comments
on the original submission.
1Re JS (Disposal of Body) [2016] EWHC 2859 (Fam) (Re JS). The judgment had three parts: the
first, determining the application and subject to an initial reporting restriction (to avoid any
upset to the girl and her family), was handed down orally on 6 October 2016; the second,
containing further legal analysis, on 19 October; and the third, dealing with subsequent events,
on 6 November.
2 ‘Terminally Ill TeenWon Historic Ruling to Freeze Body’ BBC News Online 18 November 2016
at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-38012267 (last accessed 1 February 2017); ‘Terminally Ill
Teenager with Rare Form of Cancer Wins Landmark High Court Battle to be Cryogeni-
cally Frozen’ The Independent 18 November 2016 at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/
home-news/cryogenically-frozen-teenager-terminally-ill-cancer-a7424036.html (last accessed
1 February 2017).
3 The scientific and ethical aspects of the process are addressed in the second part of this note,
below.
C2018 The Author.The Moder n Law Review C2018 The Modern Law Review Limited. (2018) 81(1) MLR 132–153
Published by John Wiley& Sons Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA

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