chapter  8
18 Pages

Research involving human tissues and body parts

The claim that ‘[T]he way in which human tissue is obtained is not a morally

neutral issue’ (Jones, 2000: 148) lies at the centre of the discussion of the ethics

and law relating to the use of human tissue in research. In recent years, several

high-profile scandals in the United Kingdom have resulted from the unauthorised

use of human tissues and body parts for research. A series of public inquiries

followed the discovery of incidents of organs and tissues being harvested and

retained without adequate consent, and even without the knowledge of those most

intimately involved. The Bristol Inquiry (Kennedy, 2000) examined events that

occurred at the Bristol Royal Infirmary, where the hearts of babies and children,

many of whom had died during or following open heart surgery, were retained

for research purposes. In 2001, The Royal Liverpool Children’s Inquiry Report was published (Redfern, 2001), which revealed details of the acquisition of a

large collection of children’s tissues and organs. Some of the details were grue-

some reading:

. . . the organs from children’s bodies were systematically and routinely

extracted, frequently without the consent, and sometimes against the

expressed wishes of their grieving parents. Some were examined to ascertain

the cause of death and then stored. Many were simply retained, often for no

apparent purpose other than the accumulation of a collection.