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Human tissue and body parts have been used in one way or another for millennia. They have been preserved and displayed, both in museums and public shows. Real human hair is used for wigs, while some artists even use human tissue in their works. Blood, bone marrow, whole organs and a host of other structures and human substances are all transplanted into living persons to treat illness. New life can be created from gametes through in vitro fertilisation (IVF), while the creation of cell lines keeps tissue alive indefinitely. These uses create significant challenges for the legal system in the UK. The major challenge for the law is to balance the competing demands of those groups who have vested interests in human tissue-researchers, medical practitioners, patients, families, the community and the police, among many others. It must provide sufficient control to users of tissue, but also take account of the fact that our bodies hold psychological importance for us while we live and, after we die, for those we leave behind. To some degree the law has been successful, but we still lack a comprehensive, coherent approach to the regulation of human tissue. Partially as a reaction to this lack of a comprehensive approach, some commentators have turned to applying the concept of property to human tissue means to achieve regulatory outcomes they support.

Original publication




Journal article


J Med Ethics

Publication Date





3 - 9


Bills, Laws and Cases, Donation/Procurement of Organs/Tissues, History of Health Ethics/Bioethics, Law, Legal Aspects, Biological Specimen Banks, Biomedical Research, Commodification, Education, Medical, Ethics, Medical, Family, Fertilization in Vitro, Fetal Blood, Government Regulation, Human Body, Humans, Organ Transplantation, Research Personnel, Tissue and Organ Procurement