Evolution or Revolution? The Biomaterials Property Debate and Changing Ethical, Legal, and Social Norms

Introduction :

Over the past thirty years, there has been considerable debate over the legal status of human body parts. While the body and biomaterials were traditionally considered to be outside of the realm of property in common law jurisdictions, recent legal decisions have challenged this. There has been a gradual shift towards recognition of some proprietary interests in body parts by the courts. Similarly, while academic opinion originally weighed against according body parts any status as a form of property, the tide has turned increasing to favour (at least) a limited property approach. Although approval of these recent moves is not universal, with regards to property and human biomaterials, this two day workshop will explore the possible foundations and implications of this transformation in legal thinking. It will examine why such a shift has come about, asking whether it has been driven in part by (a) a realisation of the challenges that maintaining a ‘no property’ paradigm presents in the biotechnological age and (b) an evolution in the way that the concept of property is understood as applied to human biomaterials.

The objectives of the workshop are to:

  • Explore changing ethical, legal, and social norms with regards to the human body and its parts;
  • Examine the evolution of the law in relation to the human body and its parts in both common and civil law jurisdictions, with an explicit focus on using property frameworks as the lens for analysis;
  • Evaluate the inter-relationship between the law and the ethical and social norms in the area; and
  • Investigate what these changes mean for both the law in practice and our relationships to both the law and our bodies.

The workshop is organised by Prof. Imogen Goold (University of Oxford) and Dr Muireann Quigley (University of Bristol).


Dr Nicolette Priaulx, Reader in Law, Cardiff University

Dr Sakari Tamminen, Researcher, Department of Social Research, Helsinki University

Prof. Nils Hoppe, Professor of Law, Co-Director, Centre for Ethics and Law in the Life Sciences, Leibniz University

Prof. Heleen Weyers, Assistant Professor Theory of Law, Sociology of Law and Bioethics, University of Groningen

Dr Gill Haddow, Senior Research Fellow, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh

Prof. Tsachi Keren-Paz, Professor of Private Law, Keele University

Prof. Christian Lenk, Professor, Institute of the History, Philosophy and Ethics of Medicine, Ulm University

Dr Simon Douglas, Lecturer in Law, Faculty of Law, University of Oxford

Prof. John Tasioulas, Quain Professor of Jurisprudence, University College London

Mr Luke Rostill, Wadham College, Oxford University

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