Cryonics in the courtroom: Which interests? Whose interests?

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In an apparent international first, the High Court has allowed a terminally ill 14-year-old to be cryopreserved after her death. The patient, JS, requested this, as she hoped one day to be reanimated and cured. Jackson J focused on the welfare (or best interests) of JS as she approached the end of her life and particularly on her (apparently) competent wish to be cryopreserved. I consider the interests involved in a decision to undergo cryonics, specifically exploring which interests and whose interests are engaged. Starting with autonomy interests, the judgment implicitly supported a relational account of autonomy, but was dominated by a subjective interpretation of autonomy, which prioritised JS’s wishes. Questions nevertheless arise about whether the dying person is entitled to legislate for the reanimated person he or she might become. Temporal concerns also feature when we interpret welfare in terms of happiness, because the dying person and the (potential) future reanimated person might have different interests at different times. Finally, I widen the analysis to accommodate the interests of others, by exploring whether cryonics is in, or contrary to, the public interest. Utilising different accounts of the public interest, I argue that the case for cryonics is not entirely made out. These observations on autonomy, happiness and the public interest combine to suggest that, although there may not be a decisive case for denying a wish like JS’s, there is a case for caution, at least while we seek to clarify and resolve the different interests in issue.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberfwx045
Number of pages24
JournalMedical Law Review
Early online date25 Oct 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Oct 2017


  • Autonomy
  • Best Interests
  • Capacity
  • Cryonics
  • Identity
  • Public interest


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