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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 August 2006, 23:11 GMT 00:11 UK
Q&A: Human Tissue Act
Plastinated body (PA)
Bodies on display will need a licence from HTA
The Human Tissue Act comes into force on 1 September, but what is it and how will it work?

What is the Human Tissue Act?

The Human Tissue Act replaces the Human Tissue Act 1961, the Anatomy Act 1984 and the Human Organ Transplants Act 1989.

It aims to make consent a fundamental principle underpinning the use and storage of human tissue.

It will be overseen by the Human Tissue Authority (HTA), which will regulate the removal, storage, use and disposal of human bodies, organs and tissue.

Why did we need a new act?

The organ-retention scandal at Liverpool's Alder Hey hospital brought issues of consent, and organ and tissue use and storage under the spotlight.

It became apparent that existing laws needed updating and in 2003, the Human Tissue Bill, a draft of the act was published.

Were these proposed changes welcomed?

Both the public and medical community accepted a need to change the current laws, but the draft of the act came under fire from scientists.

The Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK said the proposed changes went too far and would jeopardise medical teaching and research.

Are scientists and medics happier with the finished product?

On the whole, yes, although there are still some critics of the new act, who say the bureaucratic burden will be too great.

What changes will the Human Tissue Act introduce?

The following will be illegal:

  • Removing, storing or using human tissue without consent
  • DNA "theft" - taking and testing DNA without consent
  • Organ trafficking
  • Storing tissue or organs for a purpose not stated.

The penalties range from a fine to three years imprisonment, or both.

How does the HTA work?

The HTA will issue licences and carry out inspections for the following practices:

  • Anatomical examinations
  • Post-mortem examinations
  • Removal of post-mortem material
  • Storage of post-mortem material
  • Storage of anatomical specimens
  • Storage of material from a living person
  • Public display of a body or material from a deceased person.

The HTA will also regulate transplants, working with UK Transplant.

When do the licences come into force?

Storage of human tissue and cells for therapeutic use has needed a licence from April 2006. Licences for the other practices will be needed from 1 September.


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