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Would you cryonically preserve your body after death?

Imagine having your body cryonically preserved and brought back to life after a cure for your illness had been found. It might sound like science fiction, but some claim this is not outside the realms of possibility.

Cryonically preserved bodies are iced, injected with anticoagulants to stop blood clotting, and kept at -196 degrees Celsius in a cryonic centre, of which there are currently a handful around the world.

In a landmark ruling, a 14-year-old girl known as JS recently won the right to have her body cryonically preserved after she dies. The UK High Court ruled in her favour when she proved that she’d spent months researching her options and was able to show that she was of sound mind when reaching her decision.

It’s not illegal, but is it right?

In the case of JS, the judge pointed out that cryonic preservation is not illegal under the UK’s Human Tissue Act. However, Dr Neera Bhatia, Senior Lecturer in Deakin University’s School of Law points out that the act was written in 2004, with the freezing of things such as sperm and embryos in mind. ‘At that time they had never thought that in the future there’d be someone wanting to have their entire body cryonically preserved,’ she says.

The result sets a remarkable precedent for how people around the world could look at life after death. But, whether we’ll be able to use new technology to bring people back to life after they’ve died remains to be seen. Dr Bhatia is more concerned about the ethical implications. She believes that providing unfounded faith in bringing loved ones back to life potentially exploits vulnerable people, and says those in the cryonic preservation business are ‘trading hype for hope’. In particular, she has concerns for parents of gravely ill children, who could take false optimism from cases like this.

Even in the unlikely event that scientists can find a way to revive the dead, Dr Bhatia asks if that’s fair on the person who’s died or those they’ve left behind: ‘What happens if you wake up 200 years from now? What world would you wake up in?’

'What happens if you wake up 200 years from now? What world would you wake up in?'

Dr Neera Bhatia,
Senior Lecturer, School of Law, Deakin University

Do we need new legislation in Australia?

According to Dr Bhatia, ‘there is no need for legislative reform in Australia because we don’t have anything happening here’. But, the Greater Hume Shire Council has just granted approval for a cryonics facility to be built by Southern Cryonics in Holbrook, NSW, in 2017, so the debate will soon become a local one.

Until we see some development, regulation of this new industry is unlikely to occur. Dr Bhatia says that approximately 250 people in the US have registered to have their bodies cryonically preserved. Despite that, she reinforces the message that at this stage it is little more than a hypothesis that creates an opportunity for an ethical debate about how we manage our own deaths.

Interested in the legislation of the future? Consider studying a Bachelor of Laws at Deakin University.

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Dr Neera Bhatia
Dr Neera Bhatia

Senior Lecturer, Deakin University Law School
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