When as a Judge you are faced by a young girl struggling through the final stages of a terminal illness, trying at all costs to make sense of her all too short life, to win an appeal to request the cyro-preservation of her own body after death I can only imagine the pain you would feel. The pain of identification – how have I got to my age and she will be taken so young? The pain of comparison – what if she were my daughter? The pain of powerlessness – how can this cruel world leave me so impotent to act? There is a lot going off – too much.
So what to do? Well, you arrange, at her request to visit her – to see for yourself just who this lovely, young, articulate young girl is. And you listen to her bravery. How she has undergone months of pain, medication and therapy – the best on offer – and yet without success. And you look into her moistened eyes and see the tears that speak of loss, of desperation, of, of not wanting to die. And you die inside – you die at the unfairness of the beauty, the robbed opportunity – the missed potential.
The young girl known only as JS wrote to court: ‘I think being cryo-preserved gives me a chance to be cured and woken up, even in hundreds of years’ time. I don’t want to be buried underground. 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.’
Her fear of death speaks to all of us – as does her absolute desire to cling to life. It also underlines the great challenge we face in our own mortality and how we reconcile that with this innate desire to live forever. The ruling of Mr. Justice Peter Jackson to hand over authority for the disposal of her body to only her mother gave the young girl her dying wish – a final act of compassion perhaps in an otherwise impossible judgement. Her body will now lie in liquid nitrogen at minus 130 degrees indefinitely.
It’s the first ruling of its kind and is without precedent in the UK – but what to make of it? Death is something about which we speak most commonly in the context of either humor or solemnity. We simply don’t know what to do with it in the West. And yet it remains the ultimate statistic – one out of one people die.
The power of death is in its finality. And of course it is the preparing for death – and what that means which needs to be part of life. For me today’s surprise story points to a greater sense of need in our world – and that is to speak of death with openness and to include it as part of the creation narrative. I also believe that we should frame death in the context of a creation story that offers the message of resurrection but we need to do this with both grace and truth. To point to the resurrection of Jesus at this point of my own meanderings is not without risk. I would never understate the sincerity of the young girl wanting to grasp at any prospect of a future life nor pour comment on a mother in supporting such a wish. Rather I use the resurrection story to remind us all that deeply embedded in the darkness of the human soul is a glimmer of impenetrable light that comes to us from Christ. It reminds us that not only do we have a longing to see beyond the grave but that also we have a soul that craves for it. My prayer is that on a day when human science is offered as a single source of future hope that there is an ancient message that has stirred the human soul for age millennia and needs to have its voice heard again – Christ has died; Christ has risen; Christ will come again.
There is a reason why faith never dies in the human conscience – a reason why despite all our improvements in medical science that philosophy still features high in our universities; a reason why the pastor and the prophet still have a voice in the modern age. It’s because for many – neigh, maybe for most, there is the believe that there is a soul that exist as part of but separate to the body. And it is the soul that we must all tend to as we journey through life – for in it and through it are the mysteries of the universe revealed.
But for today our prayers are with the family of the young girl known to us as simply JS.