Tag: cryopreservation

Bioethics Blogs

Premortem Cryopreservation Does Not Cause Death

In 1990, Thomas K. Donaldson sued the California Attorney General for the right to an elective premortem cryopreservation. Most cryopreservation is postmorterm. But Donaldson wanted to act before a malignant tumor destroyed his brain.

Unfortunately for Donaldson, the Santa Barbara trial court and an appellate court rejected Donaldson’s claims. The courts construed his request as one for assisted suicide. That was a crime in California and the courts found (like state appellate courts everywhere in the USA) that there was no constitutional violation in applying that law to Donaldson’s situation.


But why was the case framed as a right to assisted suicide?  The whole point of cryogenic preservation is that sometime in the future, when a cure for Donaldson’s disease is found, then his body may be “reanimated.” If true, then he would not be brought back from the dead.  Legally, he would have never been dead.  


Since the Uniform Determination of Death Act requires irreversibility, it seems that premortem  cryopreservation does not cause death. Yes. Donaldson’s cardiopulmonary functions and brain functions may cease. But that cessation would not be irreversible. Of course, cryopreservation may not work. But it seems that factual predicate was not carefully examined.  


The case was dramatized in a 1990 episode of LA LAW.


[embedded content]

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Françoise Baylis and Carolyn McLeod (eds), Family-Making: Contemporary Ethical Challenges, Oxford University Press, 2014

This fascinating anthology focuses on the question of how we make families, and how bionormative assumptions shape or distort our collective thinking about parenting, children’s welfare, and state obligations to parents and children. The editors are primarily interested in the question of whether parents’ moral responsibilities toward children differ for children produced through assistive reproductive technologies (ART) compared to children brought into the family via adoption. As the editors point out, in the realm of ART, most of the philosophical literature has been focused on parental autonomy and rights to assistance in reproducing, while the adoption literature is almost entirely focused on the protection of children. The anthology does an excellent job of exploring this disconnect, and probing assumptions about moral responsibilities within family-making. Taken as a whole, the chapters explore “whether people should rely on others’ reproductive labour in having children, whether they should ensure that they will have a genetic tie to their children or that their children will have some connection to genetic relatives, whether they should bring a new child into the world at all, whether they should agree to what the government would require of them for an adoption, where they should live if the family they make is multi-racial, at what age they should forgo having children, and the list goes on” (6).

The first section of the book sets the stage with two excellent chapters on the goods of parenting (Harry Brighouse and Adam Swift) and the goods of childhood (Samantha Brennan). The goods of parenting are distinguished from other related goodsintimacy with another adult or friend, friendship with a child, being an uncle, having a pet, etc.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Web Round Up: Time to Chill? Egg Freezing and Beyond by Moira Kyweluk

A focus on age-related fertility decline, and exploration of ways to expand the timeline and options for biological parenthood have been consistent cultural and web-wide fixations. The $3 billion United States fertility industry was in the headlines once again this month including coverage of the launch of Future Family, a service offering  a “fertility age test” to women and negotiated-rate infertility medical care, alongside newly published research on ovarian tissue preservation, an alternative to oocyte cryopreservation or “egg freezing”, both procedures aimed at potentially extending a woman’s fertility window.

In the wake of findings presented in July 2017 at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology conference in Geneva, Switzerland by Marcia Inhorn, Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs at Yale University, popular media headlines blared:  “Why are women freezing their eggs? Because of the lack of eligible men”  and “Women who freeze their eggs aren’t doing it for career reasons.” The study analyzed interviews from 150 women in their late 30s and early 40s who opted for egg freezing in Israel and the United States. Results “show that women were not intentionally postponing childbearing for educational or career reasons, as is often assumed in media coverage of this phenomenon, but rather preserving their remaining fertility because they did not have partners to create a family with. The researchers conclude that women see egg freezing as ‘a technological concession to the man deficit’, using it to ‘buy time’ while continuing their search for a suitable partner to father their children.”

The American Society of Reproductive Medicine, the regulatory board that governs the safe and ethical use of fertility technologies, reclassified egg-freezing technology from “experimental” to standard-of-care in 2012.

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.

Bioethics News

The complications and practicalities of cryopreservation

Someday we might get the technique right    

The publicity surrounding the cryopreservation of the body of a 14-year-old British JS after her death from cancer has prompted more commentary.

Heather Conway, of Queen’s University Belfast, ruminated on the legal complications arising from reanimation after decades or even centuries on ice.

From a legal perspective, the problems are obvious – starting with the fact that the person has already been declared legally dead. How would, how could, the law reinstate them? Could that person reclaim assets that they owned in life, but had passed to family members on death? Could inheritance laws be undone? And if the person’s spouse is still alive but has now remarried, would that marriage still be valid when the former partner returns from the dead? Even before this happens, what is the status of the corpse during its time in the deep freeze: does it have any legal rights? How long should a frozen corpse be stored, and would the individual’s family have the right to thaw or destroy the corpse without reanimating it?

And Alexandra Stolzing, a lecturer in regenerative medicine, at Loughborough University, in the UK, points out that it is still impossible to cryopreserve brains successfully. Besides she points out,

But there’s another huge hurdle for cryonics: to not only repair the damage incurred due to the freezing process but also to reverse the damage that led to death – and in such a manner that the individual resumes conscious existence.

From a purely technical point of view, this added complication might be worth avoiding.

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.

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.

Bioethics News

14-year-old to be cryogenically frozen in UK

[embedded content]

A 14-year-old British girl who was dying of cancer won a court battle last month to be cryogenically frozen in the hope of being revived in 200 years’ time. Her divorced parents could not agree about whether to carry out her wishes, so she sought permission from the UK High Court. In a letter to the judge, the girl, known only as JS, wrote,

“I have been asked to explain why I want this unusual thing done. I’m only 14 years old and I don’t want to die, but I know I am going to. 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. 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. I want to have this chance. This is my wish.”

According to the Telegraph, JS told a relative: “I’m dying, but I’m going to come back again in 200 years. After her death on October 17 her body was frozen and taken to a facility in the United States.

Only 10 Britons have ever been frozen. Even the companies which store frozen bodies and heads admit that there is currently impossible to revive a frozen cadaver. So at best cryopreservation is a leap of faith; at worst it is quackery. It is not cheap, either. Basic cryopreservation packages costs about £37,000, or, in the words of the Judge, Justice Peter Jackson, “about ten times as much as an average funeral”.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Justice Cryogenically Delayed is Justice Denied?

Guest Post by Nils Hoppe

Re JS (Disposal of Body) [2016] EWHC 2859 (Fam)

This unusual and sad case concerns a court application by a 14 year old girl, JS.  In 2015 she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer which proved terminal and, at the time of her application, she was receiving palliative care as an in-patient at a hospital.  The other parties involved in the application were JS’s parents, who were acrimoniously divorced.  JS had no direct contact with her father after 2008.

Knowing that she would soon die, JS carried out online research into commercial cryogenic preservation techniques, defined in the judgment as “the freezing of a dead body in the hope that resuscitation and cure may be possible in the distant future”.  Such techniques are not uncontroversial, being regarded with scepticism by the majority of the medical and scientific community.  They are also not cheap: the judgment describes the costs associated with the basic cryopreservation package as being in the region of £37,000, or, as Mr Justice Peter Jackson put it, “about ten times as much as an average funeral”.

Of most significance to the court application was the fact that the proposed procedure required the cooperation of the hospital in which JS was a patient.  This concern was described in the following terms by the judge:

The body must be prepared within a very short time of death, ideally within minutes and at most within a few hours.  Arrangements then have to be made for it to be transported by a registered funeral director to the premises in the United States where it is to be stored. 

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Another Ethical Slippery Slope for A.R.T.?

Medical business opportunities usually seem to make for interesting ethical discussions these days. Forbes recently published an article showcasing Prelude Fertility, an assisted reproduction technology (ART) start-up seeking to combine all the technologies of egg harvesting, cryopreservation and IVF under one umbrella for the purpose of controlling one’s biological clock. Aside from the business issues, the article does a fair job of discussing the medical… // Read More »

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.

Bioethics News

IVF doctors issue new ethical guidelines for errors

Some IVF clinics are run like “like a 19th-century grocery”, says Art Caplan   

Cases of mix-ups, losses and genetic defects have given IVF clinics and sperm banks a black eye in the past year in the United States. A recent story in the New York Times was headlined “Sperm Banks Accused of Losing Samples and Lying About Donors”. The Times spoke of “a new wave of lawsuits against sperm banks, highlighting claims of deception and negligence, and adding an array of challenges beyond the longstanding issue of undetected genetic problems”.

Quality control has often been poor in the clinics. “Even in New York, when they inspect, they’re looking at hygienic conditions not record-keeping,” said bioethicist Arthur Caplan, of New York University. “Nobody confirms that you have what you say you have… It’s absurd that we have these materials so valuable that people pay to store them, but we run it like a 19th-century grocery. Cryopreservation has historically operated in a casual laissez-faire environment, where people were just supposed to trust.”

Now the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the peak IVF body in the US, has issued non-binding ethical guidelines for its members. It states that clinics are ethically obliged to inform people of mistakes “of respect for patient autonomy and in fairness to patients”. Clinics should inform patients as soon as a mistake is discovered. And clinics should also foster “a culture of truth-telling”.

The temptation to avoid informing patients about mistakes must be great, but the ASRM insists that mistakes must be acknowledged as soon as possible:

“Principles of open and honest communication with patients have special significance in reproductive medicine.

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.

Bioethics News

A New Edition of Human Reproduction Update is Available

July 21, 2016

Human Reproduction Update (vol. 22, no. 4, 2016) is available online by subscription only.

Articles include:

  • “Genome Engineering Through CRISPR/Cas9 Technology in the Human Germline and Pluripotent Stem Cells” byR. Vassena, B. Heindryckx, R. Peco, G. Pennings, A. Raya, K. Sermon, and A. Veiga

  • “Oocyte Cryopreservation: Where are We Now?” by Catrin E. Argyle, Joyce C. Harper, and Melanie C. Davies

  • “Investigating Psychosocial Attitudes, Motivations and Experiences of Oocyte Donors, Recipients and Egg Sharers: A Systematic Review” by Timothy Bracewell-Milnes, Srdjan Saso, Shabana Bora, Alaa M. Ismail, Maya Al-Memar, Ali Hasan Hamed, Hossam Abdalla, and Meen-Yau Thum

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.