The legal and ethical considerations relating to the supply and use of human tissue for biomedical research: A UK perpective
Alder Hey Children's Hospital supplied parts of the thymus gland removed from young children during heart surgery to a pharmaceutical company. The circumstances raised a number of very serious issues to the medical research community and have led to a consideration of the legal and ethical framework in which human tissue is used for medical research. The use of human tissue has become an increasingly common feature of the drug discovery and preclinical research process in the last decade. This is because, as the understanding of human biochemistry increases, it is important to study the biochemistry of drugs in the tissue in which they are intended to act. The use of animals is currently the subject of much debate, but if the need for animal experiments is to be reduced more reliance will have to be placed on experiments based on the use of human tissue. Several problems have been encountered in this area over the last few years. These include the retention of organs by Bristol Royal Infirmary and the Alder Hey Hospital but also the more bizarre case of Anthony-Noel Kelly, an artist who had acquired body parts for use in his sculptures. This has been an area of some debate for several years and the historical precept that the body of a deceased person could not be owned has been considered in relation to the use of the human tissue in research. The debate about the ownership of human remains as such is not reviewed, but the current case law is applied to the use of human tissue both in the context of treatment and in research.
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