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Terminally ill 14-year-old girl wins historic specific issue order to preserve body – but what is a specific issue order?

Terminally ill 14-year-old girl wins historic specific issue order to preserve body – but what is a specific issue order?

A 14-year-old girl who wanted her body to be preserved, in case she could be cured in the future, has more recently “won” a historic legal fight shortly before her death.

A summary of the news report can be found here and upon reading no doubt the reader feels nothing but remorse and heartfelt condolences to the family members concerned.

The girl, who was terminally ill with a rare form of cancer, had the support of her mother in her wish to be cryogenically preserved – but not by her estranged father.

She wrote to the judge explaining that she wanted “to live longer” and did not want “to be buried underground”.

The girl, who died in October 2016, has been taken to the US and preserved there.

This is far from a unique case and she is not the youngest child to be so preserved – a girl from Thailand at 2 years old for example moments after brain death is also now being cryogenically preserved – but why did the court in the case of this 14 year old girl sanction her wishes and feelings?

Under the Children Act 1989 the court has the ability to make ‘child arrangements orders’, which replaced residence and contact orders as they once were known by, but the family court can also make other types of orders so far as it would relate to minor children.

Anyone who read the judgment of Mr Justice Peter Jackson in case will have noticed that one of the orders that he made was a ‘specific issue order’ relating to the making of arrangements during the girl’s lifetime for the preservation of her body after death.

Despite the fact that the father was not in agreement, Mr Justice Jackson made a specific issue order permitting the mother to continue to make those arrangements on behalf of her daughter.

As the name suggests, a specific issue order is an order dealing with a specific issue that has arisen in relation to a child, whereby the court makes a decision upon that issue, usually when the parents are unable to reach agreement as to the issue.

The law doesn’t define what amounts to a ‘specific issue’ but usually it is generally a non-trivial issue relating to the child or the child’s upbringing, which needs to be resolved for the benefit of the child.

There aren’t an awful lot of reported decisions relating to specific issue orders, but a few of the issues that the courts have been asked to adjudicate upon in recent years are:

  • Changing the child’s forename or surname – Just a couple of months ago there was a case reported in which the court granted an application by the mother for a specific issue order permitting a change of her children’s surname, in circumstances where the father had been imprisoned for serious sexual offences;
  • Temporary removal of the child from the jurisdiction, for example to take them on holiday
  • The child’s education – A relatively common issue for debate and acrimony is where the parents are unable to agree what school their child or children should attend. This is quite often linked to the issue of religious education.
  • Whether the child should have medical treatment – for example , vaccinations like the MMR vaccine:

A specific issue order and application is a useful tool in the armoury of available orders to apply for especially in relation to questions that arise regarding the appropriate use of parental responsibility and decision making.

When should you apply then for a specific issue order? Clearly that will always depend on the circumstances of the case in question but in the case of the 14 year old girl at the centre of cryogenic debate, the issue is undoubtedly one that the family only brought as a last resort and one in accordance with the wishes and feelings of the child concerned.

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At Prism Family Law, we offer free 30 minute initial appointments so that we can discuss your requirements and case so as to allow us to advise you on all the available options – including then when it would be appropriate to make an application for a specific issue order.

Should you require the services of Prism Family Law for any family law related matter please do not hesitate to contact solicitor Andrew Wraith in the first instance. Prism Family deliberately offer free initial consultations. You can call us on 0191 269 6871 or email us via legal@prismfamilylaw.co.uk. You can also follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook for the latest news and views on family law.