Body backlash

January 9, 1998

A growing gap between how medical scientists and the average person view the human body could threaten research if ignored, two law professors in the United States have warned.

Lori Andrews of Chicago-Kent College of Law and Dorothy Nelkin of New York University, writing in The Lancet, say that scientists often see the body and its parts as impersonal objects to be used for research, banked, patented, bought or sold.

But many lay people see the body as having important symbolic meaning. For some, donating organs violates cultural and religious belief, while others, though eager to donate tissue, believe it should be freely available, objecting to patenting and commercial exploitation of their donations.

The researchers say scientists have for the most part dismissed these objections, stressing the importance of research. But they warn that they risk a backlash if they continue to ignore growing public disquiet.

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