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Ownership and human tissue – the legal conundrum: A response to Jordaan’s critique

S Mahomed, M Nöthling-Slabbert, M S Pepper


The debate over whether there should be a property or non-property approach with regard to human tissue is only the tip of the iceberg, because the issues involved are very complex, reflecting profound considerations on the nature of the self and the structuring of society; the balance of power between the citizen, the government and commercial interests; and human beings’ perceptions of themselves and their bodies. This article responds to a publication by Donrich Jordaan titled ‘Social justice and research using human biological material: A response to Mahomed, Nöthling-Slabbert and Pepper’ in the July 2016 SAMJ. The original article to which Jordaan’s critique refers and that provides the source for his response appeared in the South African Journal of Bioethics and Law in 2013, titled ‘The legal position on the classification of human tissue in South Africa: Can tissues be owned?’. It is our contention that Jordaan’s critique is based on a misinterpretation of the issues raised relating to the ownership of human tissue, an issue extensively debated in the academic sphere for many years. Jordaan’s critique focuses on selected aspects of the original article and draws unjustifiable inferences from these. The purpose of this article is to contextualise Jordaan’s critique and reaffirm the validity of the arguments made in the original article in 2013. There are, however, certain aspects of Jordaan’s critique that we as authors of the original article acknowledge and appreciate in the spirit of academic discourse.

Authors' affiliations

S Mahomed, Department of Jurisprudence, College of Law, University of South Africa

M Nöthling-Slabbert, College of Law, University of South Africa

M S Pepper, Institute for Cellular and Molecular Medicine; South African Medical Research Council Extramural Unit for Stem Cell Research and Therapy; and Department of Immunology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Pretoria, South Africa

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Ownership; Human tissues; Legal conundrum

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2017;107(3):196-198. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2017.v107i3.12062

Article History

Date submitted: 2017-02-27
Date published: 2017-02-27

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