Intended for healthcare professionals


The Human Tissue Act

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 07 September 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:512
  1. Peter N Furness, vice president (
  1. Royal College of Pathologists, London SW1 5AF

    Reassurance for relatives, at a price

    On 1 September 2006 the full provisions of the Human Tissue Act 2004 came into force. This represents the conclusion of the UK government's response to concerns about inappropriate retention of organs after postmortem examination, especially paediatric specimens. It introduces criminal sanctions to enforce valid consent and the proper handling of the deceased and their tissues, supported by a licensing system, overseen by the newly created Human Tissue Authority.

    But the act does more than this. As part of a European Union directive, sections implemented in April 2006 enforced a licensing system for transplantable tissues. Public display of human tissues, such as the “Body Worlds” exhibition of Gunther von Hagens, will require written proof of consent before death and a Human Tissue Authority licence. An offence that can loosely be called “DNA theft” is also created, and restrictions are placed on the use and storage of tissues from the living. The act's definition of human tissue is broad; consequently, it …

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