Marketable Products from Human Sources

Another challenging problem arises when an individual's body parts or cells are transformed into valuable commodities. In one such case, a patient's removed spleen contained unique cells that a physician-researcher cultured into a patented cell line. Should the patient have been apprised, as part of the informed-consent procedure, that the cells had potential commercial value? Fully informed consent would have allowed the patient to evaluate the physician's potential conflict of interests and choice of treatments more effectively. Because society and the law have typically been hesitant to "commodify" the body and do not allow the sale of organs, it might seem inappropriate to grant the patient a share of the profits based on the theory that the tissue is his or her "property." In contrast, the system appears to allow the biomedical entrepreneur to benefit from the sale of body parts. Developers of such innovative products might argue that the resulting cell line is not a body part but rather the result of their labor and ingenuity and that these efforts deserve to be rewarded and encouraged by traditional patents. Even granting this argument, it may be unjust to allow others to benefit from an innovation while the person upon whose existence the development rests receives nothing. Consequently, it seems fair and equitable that individuals receive some benefit from their unique physical characteristics that have been used to create great profits. The amount of remuneration could depend upon the nature of the informed-consent agreement, the degree to which the body tissue contribution was changed by the researcher before it was offered as a product, and the uniqueness of the physical material used (Murray).

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