Forum Bioethik
Versteigerung von Stammzellen in Japan

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Friday, 26 October, 2001 

Human cell lines auctioned in Japan by court 

The Tokyo District Court has seized human cell strains that were used
as  collateral on loans and auctioned yesterday. This was probably the
first auction in Japan of human cell samples. 

The human cell lines obtained from dozens of people were seized in July
from the  headquarters of the Japan Human Cell Society in Shinagawa
Ward, Tokyo, by court officials. The court officials  impounded two
containers with ampuls holding the human cell strains, belonging to
Hideo Okumura, the head of the research  association, and experts have
priced them at about 160 million yen. 

While the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry
set  guidelines this spring requiring researchers to obtain individual
consent before using cells for gene analysis, there are no  legal
provisions banning transactions of cell strains for research purposes. 

Courts may not impound items deemed necessary for daily living, or goods
that go against public order and morals. Legal experts said that since
human cells are treated as a commodity in other  countries, they
probably do not fall under these categories or have legal barriers to
their being acknowledged as movable  property. 

The sale raises ethical issues of privacy, which have not been
adequately  addressed.

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