London girl’s remains cryogenically preserved in Michigan
Clinton Township — The remains of a 14-year-old London girl whose dying wish was to be cryogenically preserved with the hope of someday being brought back to life are being kept at the Michigan-based Cryonics Institute.
“It was her wish to be cryopreserved, and her wish was granted,” Andy Zawacki, facility manager at the Cryonics Institute in the Detroit suburb of Clinton Township, said Monday. It is one of three full-service cryonics facilities in the world. The others are in Arizona and Russia.
The unidentified girl’s remains were brought to the facility last month after a British High Court judge granted her wish. She died in mid-October after telling the court she hoped she could be woken after a cure for her cancer is found, even if that’s “in hundreds of years’ time.”
“I don’t want to be buried underground,” the girl wrote. “I want to live and live longer and I think that in the future they might find a cure for my cancer and wake me up. I want to have this chance. This is my wish.”
The matter ultimately was resolved in the Family Division of the court because the girl was a minor whose divorced parents did not agree on what should be done with her body. The girl’s father, who initially opposed the procedure that offered no evidence of success, eventually softened his stance as his daughter’s death neared and after she expressed her wishes in a heartfelt letter.
“The idea of freezing whole bodies and bringing them back to life has basically zero scientific support at this point,” said Hank Greely, a professor and director of the Stanford University Center for Law and the Biosciences.
Cryonics Institute was incorporated in 1976 and preserved its first patient in 1977. It now has 145 human patients and 125 pet patients. It has more than 600 “contracted members” who “signed up to be frozen upon death.”
“The ultimate goal is to revive our patients,” Zawacki said. “We refer to them as ‘patients,’ because we don’t believe that they’re corpses. We haven’t given up on them.”
Joe Kowalsky, a Cryonics Institute board member, said he could not confirm if the London girl is one of the institute’s patients.
Is there a guarantee that the process will work? No, he says, but it’s worth taking the chance.
“We don’t know what medical technology will be 50 years from now,” he said. “Perhaps at the time they’ll say cancer — we can fix that. Aging — we can deal with aging ... If we’re wrong, we’re still dead. You haven’t really lost anything.”
Of the pets housed there, 90 percent are cats and dogs, he said. Other animals include a parrot, an iguana and a hamster.
Cryonics Institute has two types of memberships. A lifetime membership requires a one-time payment of $1,250 and $28,000 to be frozen. An annual membership calls for a $120-a-year payment with a one-time initiation fee of $75 and $35,000 to be frozen.
Only members can cryopreserve pets. The cost varies by size with the cost of a cat at $5,800.
“If you think about this as a health intervention, I think it’s ethically problematic,” Greely said. “If you think about it as just another form of a funeral or an embalming or undertaking, if the person knows what they’re getting into, if they’re not lied to about the chances of success and they have the money to spend, we let people waste money in all sorts of ways.”
Zawacki defended the practice.
“This isn’t a scam,” he said. “We say we’re going to freeze you, we’re going to hold you in the hopes of revival, and that’s what we do. So, there is no scam to it.”
Staff Writer Candice Williams contributed to this report.