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Property and the body: Applying Honoré


This paper argues that the new commercial and quasi-commercial activities of medicine, scientists, pharmaceutical companies and industry with regard to human tissue has given rise to a whole new way of valuing our bodies. It is argued that a property framework may be an effective and constructive method of exploring issues arising from this. The paper refers to A M Honoré’s theory of ownership and aims to show that we have full liberal ownership of our own bodies and as such can be considered to be self-owners.

  • property
  • body
  • self-ownership
  • Honoré

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  • i Moore v Regents of the University of California 793 P 2d (Cal, 1990) is a good example of how advancing biotechnology and the commercial activities surrounding such technology can lead to concerns over the control and ownership of human tissue.

  • ii Note that this is an Anglo-American/Western European conception of property and the body.

  • iii This was not explicit in the original text but was suggested by Richard Flathman.4

  • iv Honoré admits that the reason for this may merely be a deficiency in legal linguistics, as the body is not an “external material object”; however, he declares that it is more likely to be because “it has been thought undesirable that a person should alienate his body” (p 180).1

  • v As Steiner astutely puts it “it’s not that slaves have few rights: they have none”. (p 231)2

  • Competing interests: None

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