Tis but a scratch: The human tissue act and the use of tissue for research, issues for research ethics committees

Abstract

The Human Tissue Act 2004 in the United Kingdom clearly represents not a principled approach but instead a compromise, a pragmatic approach which balances several different ethical considerations against each other. In regards to the use of tissue in research it has left much of the more difficult decisions to be made by research ethics committees on a case by case basis. In particular it is now the role of research ethics committees to decide whether research can be carried out using human tissue where no consent was given for the use of this tissue in research. Likewise research ethics committees are now charged with approving of human tissue banks which then need no further ethical approval to carry out research solely using tissue from that bank. There has however been little guidance in regards to the decisions these committees must make. This paper aims to delineate these decisions and offer some philosophical guidance to research ethics committees in making these decisions.

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David Hunter
University of Adelaide

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