Medicine and the Law

Who owns human tissue? Part 2

Loane Skene, Paul Nisselle



The debate about who owns human tissue continues with a look at the need to balance patients’ rights and the public good.

Article Extract

I reported in Medicine Today, just two months ago, on a woman’s application to the Supreme Court of Western Australia to gain access to tissue removed from a deceased man during surgery and preserved in paraffin wax in a pathology laboratory (Roche v. Douglas [2000] WASC 146). She wanted to have the tissue DNA-tested to prove that she was the man’s daughter so that she could share in his estate. The Master of the Court recognised that the stored tissue was property, so the court had jurisdiction to make an order for it to be DNA-tested (and he ordered that the test be done). However, he said that ‘it [was] not necessary for [him] to determine who holds the proprietary interest in the tissue’, that is, who owns it.

It was only a matter of time until the ownership issue arose more specifically. Now, it has, in two UK cases recently reported in The Times.