The biomedical uses of the body: Lessons from the history of human rights and dignity

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter argues that human body parts that are detached from a living body cannot be protected by natural human rights. The reason for this is the absence of a real-time link between personal will and the embodied person. However, the ethics of human rights and dignity may bring important lessons to the ethics of using human tissues and remains. Firstly, human tissues are never morally value-free. They may be used only for specific culturally valuable purposes and only in the absence of reasonable substitutes. Secondly, the appropriation of human remains requires some form of consent or endorsement as well, since the human body and body parts are never 'found objects', to be exploited at will. Thirdly, dead bodies or tissues are always of concern to humanity. Possession of human tissues and human remains may imply elements of property rights (legal immunity from dispossession) but only in a manner commensurable with human dignity as a public value.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHuman Tissue Research
Subtitle of host publicationA European Perspective on the Ethical and Legal Challenges
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780191725630
ISBN (Print)9780199587551
StatePublished - 1 May 2011


  • Anatomy
  • Autonomy
  • Human dignity
  • Human rights
  • Human tissues
  • Post-mortem interests

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Medicine


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