Bioethics Blogs

Is someone reanimated from cryogenic freezing legally dead or alive? And other problems

The idea that your dying or recently deceased body could be frozen in the hope that some future technology could revive you is no longer science fiction. It is now something people will pay handsomely for – as the recent court ruling that allowed a 14-year-old British girl with terminal cancer to have her remains cryogenically frozen and stored indefinitely in a US clinic has shown. While the possibility that even future medical technology could revive anyone from death is moot, in the here and now the practice of cryopreservation raises all sorts of novel legal issues.

Freezing a corpse keeps its physical structure intact – and there have been stories of grieving relatives preserving a loved one’s remains in this way. Long-term cold storage of the dead in purpose-built refrigeration facilities is permissible, although DIY preservation in a freezer at home is not such a good idea and inevitably prone to electrical or technical failure, as was the case for a frozen French doctor and his wife who unexpectedly thawed.

Cryonics takes this to a whole new level, seeing freezing as an interim solution. A speculative technology, it uses extremely cold temperatures of –196°C to preserve human remains until a medical cure is found for whatever caused death in the first place. At this point, so the theory goes, the corpse can be thawed and reanimated. Sometimes the whole body is frozen, or sometimes just the person’s head – with the intention of reconstructing the individual from their brain. H

However, the science itself is at least suspect.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.