It was a case that made international headlines – a 14-year-old British girl, robbed of her life at such an early age by cancer, made a request that her body be placed in cryogenic suspension. Her hope was that, one day, a cure for cancer will be found and that her body could be treated and she could have the chance to live the life she has missed.
As tear-jerking as the tale is, it’s also raised some serious questions about cryogenic suspension and the insurance industry. While the issue of freezing bodies is far from new, the potential implications are exacerbated by the legal issues that surround the more commonplace practices of freezing human eggs, sperm and even blood.
“The freezing of human sperm and eggs is closely regulated… this raises the question of whether cryogenics should be regulated,” commented Claire Petts, head of healthcare at global law firm Clyde & Co. “The challenge is that cryogenics is international in nature with [in this case] British subjects being transported for storage in the US.”
According to Petts, the idea of bodies being transferred to the US raises a host of questions – particularly relating to medical malpractice and cargo. According to a report in the Daily Telegraph
, one pioneer company went bust and around 20 bodies thawed out and needed to be buried.
“The bodies are frozen by volunteers, who are unlikely to be insured,” she explained. “Transportation can be tricky and the bodies must enter the US, which could create an issue for public health and the customs authorities. The law will vary in the US from state to state.
“With regard to the long-term storage, questions arise about who owns the body and what happens if the storage and preservation systems fail. There have been reported incidents in which cryogenic storage facilities have failed and the bodies thawed.”
Costs also vary widely depending on the facility – leading US facility Alcor charges around £162,000 for the preservation of a full body, with the option also available to take out life insurance to pay the company.
Ms Petts added: “As technology advances, we are going to find more ways of preserving parts of the human body. It therefore makes sense for the insurance industry to gain a deeper understanding of the issues this type of preservation entails. This is a practice which is not going away.”
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