Genes and Spleens: Property, Contract, or Privacy Rights in the Human Body?

Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics 35 (3):371-382 (2007)
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The legal status of the human body is hotly contested, yet the law of the body remains in a state of confusion and chaos. Sometimes the body is treated as an object of property, sometimes it is dealt with under the rubric of contract, and sometimes it is not conceived as property at all, but rather as the subject of privacy rights. Which body of law should become the law of the body? This question is even more pressing in the context of current biomedical research, which permits commodification and commercialization of the body by everyone except the person who provides the “raw materials.” The lack of property protection for tangible parts of the human body is in stark contrast to the extensive protection granted to intellectual property in the body in the form of patents upon human genes and cell lines. Moreover, even courts that reject ownership claims on the part of those who supply body parts appear willing to grant property rights to scientists, universities, and others who use those body parts to conduct research and create products.



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