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Your Body, Their Property by Osagie K. Obasogie

In biology, ethics, law, medicine, science, technology on October 5, 2013 at 01:19

From: Your Body, Their Property by Osagie K. Obasogie, Boston Review, http://www.bostonreview.net

An important example of this can be seen in the litigation surrounding John Moore’s spleen. Moore was a Seattle businessman who suffered from hairy cell leukemia, a rare cancer that caused his spleen to grow to fourteen times its normal size. Moore first traveled to UCLA Medical Center in 1976 for treatment, where Dr. David Golde told him that he should have his spleen removed. Moore complied and returned to UCLA for follow-up examinations with Golde for several years after the surgery. During the visits he routinely gave blood, skin, and other biological materials. Moore was told that these return visits and sample withdrawals were a necessary part of his ongoing treatment. What he was not told, however, was that Golde and the university were cashing in.

Researchers quickly realized that Moore’s cells were unique. The scientists took portions of Moore’s spleen to distill a specialized cell line—affectionately called “Mo”—and found that the cells could be useful in treating various diseases. Golde, researcher Shirley Quan, and UCLA were assigned a patent for the cell line in 1984. At the time, analysts estimated that the market for treatments stemming from Moore’s spleen was worth roughly $3 billion. Golde worked with a private company and received stock options worth millions, and UCLA also received hundreds of thousands of dollars in outside funding. Moore, whose spleen made all of this possible, received no compensation.

Moore sued the researchers and UCLA, claiming not only that they deceived him for their own financial benefit, but also that he was entitled to a portion of the revenues stemming from the Mo cell line because his property—his spleen and other biological materials—was taken from him and commercialized without his consent. In 1990 the California Supreme Court found that Golde and UCLA did not fulfill their disclosure obligations. Yet Moore was not owed a penny since the Court found that he no longer had a property interest in his own spleen once it was removed and used for research.

Read the article

Reposted with permission from: Boston Review

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