(Family Division, Peter Jackson, 10 November 2016)
Private law children – Death – Disposal of body – 14-year-old girl sought to be cryogenically frozen – Estranged father opposed
An order was made granting the mother sole responsibility for disposing of the girl’s body and making arrangements for cryogenic freezing.
The young girl, who lived with her mother and was estranged from her father, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. When the father found out he initiated proceedings seeking an order for contact. Only indirect contact was ordered by the court.
In August 2016 when the girl was 14 she informed that her cancer was terminal and treatment ceased. She researched cryonics (the freezing of a dead body in the hope that resuscitation and a cure might be possible in the future) and decided that upon death she would like her body to be transported to the USA and frozen in perpetuity. The mother supported that wish but the father opposed it. He also sought permission to see the girl’s body after death.
As the girl was too young to make a will indicating her wish and appointing the mother as executor of her estate, she applied for an order which would, inter alia, permit the mother to make arrangements during the girl’s lifetime and appoint the mother as sole administrator of her estate.
The application was allowed. In the circumstances of the case the court had the power to make a decision with prospective effect. It could be argued that the girl’s present welfare could not be adequately protected by the court refusing to entertain the application.
Since all parties were now represented it would prevent undignified scenes later on and provide clarity to third parties to solve the issues at the present time. The girl did not want to be seen by the father or members of the paternal family after death and the possibility of that happening was causing her distress. There was a very deep and long-standing breakdown in family relations and there was no chance that there would be a change before the girl’s death.
The father’s role in the girl’s life had been extremely limited in recent years. The request to see her after death was only going to cause her distress in life. Preventing the father from seeing her was a serious conclusion but was justified on the exceptional facts of the case.
An order was made giving the mother sole responsibility for the preservation of the girl’s body and dealing with who was permitted to view it.