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14-year-old's attempt to cheat death: a symptom of a hopeless society

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In this article, Christian Concern's Communications Officer, Camilla Olim, comments on news that a 14-year-old girl, dying of cancer, won the right to be cryogenically preserved. She writes that the availability of such techniques, which are extremely expensive and have a low probability of success, "is a sad reflection of where we are as a society".

Last week, the news reported the case of a 14-year old girl who, dying of cancer, wished her body to be cryogenically frozen, in the hope that in the future she may be 'brought back to life' and cured.

The girl, known only as JS, was supported by her mother, but her estranged father was deeply against the idea. She asked the High Court to intervene, and won the right to have her wish carried out, before she died last month. 

JS is one of only ten Britons to opt for this process. She had researched cryogenic freezing on the internet out of desperation, and heartbreakingly told the court: "I don’t want to die but I know I am going to...I want to live longer...I want to have this chance."

The story is an utter tragedy and riddled with ethical problems. I was a student of English Literature at university, and one of the novels that most fascinated me was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the story of a medical student who recreated human life, but paid dearly for his efforts. I found the novel to be way ahead of its time for the way it depicted the disastrous consequences of man’s overreach. Dr Frankenstein’s selfish ambition, desire to elevate himself to a god-like status, and disregard for humanity itself in his quest for 'progress' resulted in his ruin, and the destruction of his loved ones. 

Mary Shelley's message was clear: There are some boundaries that should never be crossed in the name of science. But society does not appear to have heeded Shelley’s warning. Some ethical lines have already been transgressed in the relentless quest for the 'Brave New World', with the approval of 'three-parent babies' and manipulation of the human genome. 

Thankfully, scientists say we are a long way from cryogenic preservation being successful. The general consensus amongst medical professionals is that this girl’s wish to ‘come back’ hundreds of years into the future will not come true. This means the company offering their services are exploiting this family. The girl’s maternal grandparents shelled out a huge £37,000 to fund the process. Such costs, with such a low probability of success, are immoral. 

The girl’s estranged father said this week that the companies offering cryogenic preservation are "hope-traders"

"Only once I talked to JS on the phone," he said. "She said 'I'm dying but I'm going to come back again in 200 years'. And then she asked me for £50,000. I said, 'Look, I don't know how they brainwashed you but this is impossible. If you find a professor in hospital who supports this theory then I will go out and find the money for you'.

"But these companies are hope-traders. They are just trying to get money off people. Who is going to come back in 200 years? Please tell me? They trade in hope and brainwash people on the internet.

"I talked to doctors and professors and scientists and no one thinks it's possible. None of my family on this side supported this process. We wanted JS to have a grave in the earth so we could visit her and pay our respects."

One can almost hear the bitterness and regret in his tone.

According to the Telegraph, the process of preparing and freezing the girl’s body, which was carried out by non-profit group Cryonics UK, did not "go entirely according to plan", was "disorganised" and "caused real concern"among the hospital staff. As though the death of this young girl were not already traumatic enough for her family – particularly for the father, who was so against the idea in the first place and was not granted permission to say goodbye to her before her death. 

In fact, in preserving the body in this way, none of the family were given proper opportunity to grieve her death. 

The availability of such techniques is a sad reflection of where we are as a society. We display a vast amount of arrogance in our attempts to cheat death itself. We display, too, a vast lack of hope. There is a certain emptiness in the idea of going to such lengths to extend our lives on this broken planet. 

Let's say, hypothetically, that this technique actually works. 200 years into the future, scientists have found the cure to her type of cancer. They bring her back to life and manage to cure her. She is then free to live the rest of her life – in a foreign land, without friends or family, without a completed education, without skills to adapt to a world that no doubt has changed considerably over two centuries. 

There are several other hypothetical questions that could be asked: In 200 years’ time, who would consider it worthwhile to bring a cryogenically preserved person back from the dead? Who would pay for such an undertaking, if indeed it could be done? Once brought back to life, could the girl’s cancer be cured before it killed her again? This is to say nothing of the soul. 

The whole idea of cryogenics is desperate and sad. 

It is quite natural, though, that we should not want to die. God has "set eternity in the human heart" Ecclesiastes 3:11). But we cannot escape reality: we will all die, eventually, and face judgement (Hebrews 9:27). 

Though we do not have all the answers to cancer or the pain of lives lost too young, what we can say with certainty is that Jesus paid the price of sin, which is death, on the cross. In Him we find ourselves made new. We find abundant life on this earth through relationship with Him, and eternal life in Heaven in His presence. 

It is tragic that this suffering girl did not have this promise of eternal life in Christ, which removes the fear of death and offers a hope that no man can steal.

It is tragic that her family do not have this reassurance either. 

But if there is any encouragement to be found in this story, it is that we as believers have this hope to share. Let us do so with increasing boldness. 

Related links: 
Girl, 14, who died of cancer cryogenically frozen after telling judge she wanted to be brought back to life 'in hundreds of years' (Telegraph)
Father of cryogenically frozen girl: She died without me being able to see her (Telegraph)


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