J Med Ethics 31:470-475 doi:10.1136/jme.2004.009944
  • Law, ethics, and medicine

Is the body a republic?

  1. Simona Giordano
  1. Correspondence to:
 Simona Giordano
 Institute of Medicine, Law and Bioethics (IMLAB), School of Law, University of Manchester, Williamson Building, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL, UK
  • Received 6 July 2004
  • Accepted 28 October 2004
  • Revised 22 October 2004


The ethics of post-mortem organ retention and use is widely debated in bioethics and law. However, the fundamental ethical issues have often been inadequately treated. According to one argument, dead bodies are no longer “persons”. Given the great benefits dead bodies offer to human kind, they should be automatically treated as public property: when the person dies, the body becomes a public thing (a res publica, a republic). This paper articulates the ethical issues involved in organ and tissue retention and use, both in the case in which the deceased’s wishes are known and in the case in which the wishes are not known. It contends that a dead body is not a republic. The state should maximise availability of organs and tissues by inviting or requiring citizens to make an informed and responsible choice on the matter.