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"This is Mine!": Property and Ethical Rights of Your Body by Yourself and Others
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality,
1754 wrote "The first man who,
having fenced in a piece of land, said 'This is mine,' and found people naïve
enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society." Of course, property rights has continued
through the ages and their defense has let to law suits as well as wars. The question in recent years as applied to
the human body is how property rights are applied to the body or tissues or
cells or the genetic DNA of the cells themselves. I found a very interesting discussion of this
issue titled "Whose Body Is It Anyway?
Human Cells and the Strange Effects of Property & Intellectual
Property Law" written by Robin Feldman, Professor of Law and Director, Law
& Bioscience Project, UC Hastings College of the Law and which can be
accessed through this link.
She begins her analysis with the following:
"There are many
aspects of our lives over which we can exercise what can be called ownership, control, or dominion.
However one conceptualizes ownership, it is
clear that people can hold such rights in many things, ranging from more
concrete items, such as automobiles,
jewelry, or a plot of land, to more abstract concepts such as our labor, our writings, our innovations, and
even our commercial image.
Whatever else I might own in this world, however, it would
seem intuitively obvious that I own the cells of my body. Where else could the
notion ofownership begin, other than with the components of the tangible corpus
that all would recognize as 'me'?
The law, however, does not view the issue so neatly and clearly.
Through the rambling pathways of property and intellectual property law, we are
fast approaching the point at which just about anyone can have property rights
in your cells, except you. In addition, with some alteration, anyone can have
intellectual property rights in innovations related to the information
contained therein, but you do not.
I should be clear at the outset that I am talking about
property and intellectual
property rights to cells when they are no longer in your
body. The sanctity of control over one’s body remains reasonably intact, as
long as the cells are attached to you. When cells are no longer attached,
however, the legal landscape shifts, and the resulting tableau has a strong
effect on the choices one can make with those cells that do remain in the body.
As so often happens in law, we have reached this point, not
by design, but by the piecemeal development of disparate notions. Various doctrinal
strands have emerged in isolation of each other, each appearing to solve a
particular problem in its own domain. When gathered together, however, the
doctrines form a strange and disconcerting picture."
As one can see from her discussion, the answer to my question has
been legally muddled over the years. My question to my visitors here is
how do you look at the property rights of your own bodies? Should you have
potential control of any cells or tissues removed from your body both when you
are alive and even after death? If the
cells or tissues are used by others which end up in financial gain, should you
or your beneficiary also have access to
that gain? How far should your exclaiming "This is Mine" apply? ..Maurice.
Graphic: Photograph taken by me June 7 2014 and modified