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New bill 'will ultimately fail the public'

The new human tissue bill threatens medical research and will ultimately fail the public, argue experts in this week's BMJ. Although the bill is necessary to regulate the use of human organs and tissues taken after death, it applies to any material that contains human cells - even urine and spit.

Using such material for research, or for staff training that's not "incidental to the diagnostic process" will be a criminal offence unless "appropriate" consent has been obtained. Possible penalties include three years in jail.

But politicians have underestimated the size of this problem, say the authors.

Across the United Kingdom, about 150 million samples from living patients are examined each year. If just one minute of staff time was taken for each sample, this would equate to 1,339 full time jobs - comparable to the entire staff of a medium sized NHS hospital. But as yet, the Government has allocated no money for this task at all.

Other problems surround tissue storage and DNA analysis, which threatens to criminalise bona fide public health research.

Possible solutions include using anonymised 'residual' tissue samples (which would otherwise be incinerated as waste) without consent or seeking 'up front' consent at the time of booking into hospital or registering with a general practitioner.

If the human tissue bill is not amended then it will ultimately fail the public, say the authors. "A requirement for consent sounds good, but unless there's a way for staff in NHS laboratories to know what patients want, it actually becomes a prohibition."

Perceived improvements in the regulation of human tissue will then come at the price of less medical research, education, and training. Those who suffer will be the very individuals the bill claims to protect.


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Contact: Emma Dickinson
edickinson@bmj.com
44-207-383-6529
BMJ-British Medical Journal
4-Mar-2004


Page: 1

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