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Monday, April 17, 2006

Property Rights

Rebecca Skloot:
"Though he died 21 years ago, Slavin is worth keeping track of. Not because his cells produced extremely valuable proteins that were important for scientific research. But because Slavin's relationship to those cells was unique: they weren't just part of his body; they were his business, his property. Slavin was one of the first people in history to decide that contrary to the way things usually work in science, he would maintain complete control over any blood and tissues removed from his body. He would determine who used them for research, how and, most important to Slavin, who made money from them.

This may not sound like a particularly groundbreaking idea, unless you consider it with a little-known fact: blood samples and other excised human tissues have an afterlife. When you go to the doctor for a routine blood test or mole removal, when you have an appendectomy, tonsillectomy or any other kind of ectomy, the stuff you leave behind doesn't always get thrown out. Doctors, hospitals and laboratories keep them. Often indefinitely. Some get consent with admission forms that say something like, I give my doctor permission to dispose of my tissues or use them in research. Others don't."

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