There are no laws in the UK that are specifically targeted at cryonics, and it is not currently regulated. However, there are some areas of the law that do have some impact on cryonics, these work on the basis that a patient undergoing the cryonics process has died, so is treated as a dead person.
Who makes the decision on cryonics?
You can decide for yourself whether you want your body to be cryopreserved, and state in your Will or another official declaration that this is what you want. However, this does not mean that these wishes are guaranteed to be carried out. After your death, your body becomes the responsibility of whoever takes possession of your body. That person has a common law duty to arrange a ‘proper disposal’, but is not legally required to follow your wishes.
Regardless of the wishes expressed in your Will, it is possible that a coroner may take temporary possession of your body to investigate the cause of death in a coroner-ordered post mortem examination. This does not require consent. Alternatively, a hospital may request to carry out a post mortem examination to investigate for medical purposes, but this would require appropriate consent. If a post mortem examination is carried out on your body, whether requested by a coroner or hospital, the time taken and procedure carried out on your body would probably mean it is not in a condition to be cryopreserved.
If there has not been a post mortem examination, or your body is to be cryopreserved despite any damage resulting from an examination, the nominated executor of your Will can take possession of your body. If you have not made a Will or similar declaration, there is a further priority list of relatives who can take responsibility.
Whoever takes possession of your body may then be able to start the cryonics process. This depends on the hospital staff being prepared to follow different procedures than usual and, in the UK, work with the volunteers immediately after your death has been declared. The potential for disruption may mean that the hospital is not willing to cooperate. There are no laws that apply to the process of preparing a body for cryonics, although the hospital staff should follow their usual codes of conduct related to the respectful treatment of a body. Any volunteers should also treat your body with respect, but they are not subject to the same regulations as medical staff.
As there are no cryonics facilities in the UK, your body must be transported to a facility in the United States or Russia. The removal of bodies is governed by the ‘Removal of Bodies Regulations 1954 SI 448’ (as amended 1971), which states that the coroner must be notified of the plans by the representative of the deceased. The representative must also provide the certificate of death from the registrar. Finally, the 1954 Act also states that the body cannot be removed from England until four days have passed since the coroner was notified. Once the body has left the country to be cryopreserved elsewhere, it will then be subject to whatever regulations exist in the destination country.
Is there an age limit for cryonics?
There is no age limit placed on cryonics in the UK. Legally, the situation is similar to adults, with the difference being that the parents have default priority for decisions after the coroner and hospital, unless a court rules otherwise.
Are there plans to change the law?
There are no current plans to change the law or introduce regulation of cryonics, although the Department of Health and Social Care continue to work with the Human Tissue Authority to review any developments in this area. Following a case involving the cryopreservation of a 14 year old girl in 2016 (JS (Disposal of Body)), the HTA conducted a review to see how common an activity cryonics was in the UK, and what potential risk this posed to the public. Having spoken to a number of stakeholders and the sole provider of a service, it was deemed a rare activity and currently poses a low risk to the public.
What if the cryonics organisation goes bankrupt?
Early attempts at cryonics facilities have previously failed when the organisations went bankrupt. Several facilities existed in the US starting in the 1960s, which often relied on funding from the living relatives of the cryopreserved, and could not maintain conditions when relatives were no longer willing or able to pay. As a result, all but one of the documented cryonic preservations prior to 1973 ended in failure, and the thawing out and disposal of the bodies.
Cryonics facilities aim to avoid bankruptcy by having the patient pay for cryonics before death, or through a life insurance policy. However, there are no solid estimates as to when successful resuscitation might be possible; there is always the risk that the cryonic preservation cannot be maintained.