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To know the value of everything—a critical commentary on B Björkman and S O Hansson’s “Bodily rights and property rights”
  1. J R Karlsen1,
  2. P L de Faria2,
  3. J H Solbakk1
  1. 1Section for Medical Ethics, Department of General Practice and Community Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Oslo, Norway
  2. 2National School of Public Health and Faculty of Law, New University of Lisbon, Portugal
  1. Correspondence to:
 Jan Reinert Karlsen
 Section for Medical Ethics, Department of General Practice and Community Medicine, University of Oslo, Frederik Holsts Hus, Ullevål terasse, PO Box 1130 Blindern, No-0318 Oslo, Norway; j.r.karlsen{at}

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Though the authors of this commentary have deep felt doubts about the fruitfulness of Björkman and Hansson’s analysis of bodily rights, they do not doubt their capacity to develop both creative and provocative thoughts

It is always welcoming to be confronted with thoughts that, even though one wholeheartedly disagrees with them, have the effect of stimulating one’s own reflections on matters, which without such confrontations, would have been less distinct, less critical—and we would gladly admit, less polemical. Thus it is thanks to Barbro Björkman and Sven Ove Hansson’s article, “Bodily rights and property rights”, that we have been able to set our present course into these murky waters. The issue they want to address is by no means of a kind that lends itself easily to theoretical speculation. This has, perhaps, as much to do with the inherent intricacy of the issue itself as with the controversy it has managed to arouse. The issue is: is it possible to have ownership over one’s own body—that is, is it appropriate to treat the body and its components as property? What are the implications of conceptualising the body and its parts in terms of property? Should one, as a general rule, be able to sell and buy human biological material? If so, who should be allowed to buy and sell it? Does the sale or donation of one’s own bodily parts imply a transfer of ownership rights to the buyer or receiver, or is it rather that ownership of human bodily parts can only be acquired after the material has been, say, manipulated in a laboratory?

Contrary to Björkman and Hansson, who see “the primary normative issue” to be “what combination of rights a person should have to a particular item of biological material”, we believe that their decision to construe …

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