Don't let bill criminalise research

May 7, 2004

The Council of Heads of Medical Schools shares the concerns that have been widely expressed about the human tissue bill ("Fears on tissue bill 'are ignored'", April 30).

The CHMS strongly supports improved controls over the use of postmortem tissue, particularly the retention of tissues and whole organs: no one would dissent from the necessity for appropriate legislation in this area.

But it is quite wrong for the bill, in the form in which it passed the committee stage, to turn normal clinical and pathological research and teaching practice into a crime. Furthermore, there is evidence that the public supports the use of clinical material surplus to diagnostic requirements - for example, samples and tissue slides - for research.

The bill, as it stands, could be highly damaging to public health and epidemiological research. Recent important studies on subjects as diverse as the prevalence of infection in pregnancy, the extent of variant CJD in the community and the genetics of breast cancer would have been very difficult or impossible had the act been in force.

We urge the government to move surgically acquired tissues and remnant samples into Section 2 of Schedule 1, where they would join audit and public health monitoring in not needing appropriate consent. This is preferable to the suggestion that consent need not be onerous to obtain nor limited in duration or extent - as we believe that consent needs to be informed in order to be valid.

David Gordon
Council of Heads of Medical Schools

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