Abstract: Inevitably a policy-oriented report on issues as complex and as rapidly changing as the medical and scientific uses of human tissue can achieve neither philosophical purity nor regulatory completeness. The council’s strategy has been to begin with robust ethical principles, for which sound philosophical arguments can be given, which will (it is hoped) command widespread support. The council went on to argue for guidelines of sufficient, but not vapid, generality which could be of practical use to the various medical intermediaries, professional and regulatory bodies and research ethics committees which will carry out the tasks of detailed regulation and of making decisions that affect uses of human tissue. The council’s hope is that the recommendations of the report can be absorbed into regulatory and professional practice, and where needed into government policy. If they can, the increasing diversity of uses of human tissues need lead neither to overt nor to covert ‘commercialisation of the human body’, but will also not put unnecessary restrictions on advances in research and medical practice.
Comment: This text provides a quick introduction to, and overview of, ethical positions concerning the use of human tissue in scientific and medical research (including utilitarianism, rights, property rights, and dignity). It would be an excellent reading for introducing a unit on research concerning human tissue in a bioethics or medical ethics course. It would make sense to teach it as a framework for understanding moral and policy issues involved in the case of Henrietta Lacks or HeLa cells.