Do You Own Your Own Body?

Seems like an obvious answer - of course YES! But not based on the Supreme Court of California. 

In 1951, doctors at Johns Hopkins University removed a tumor from Henrietta Lacks without her knowledge and researchers used her cells to develop the polio vaccine and drugs for treating herpes and leukemia. She died in 1951 but her cells continued to live. Her cells (aka HeLa Cells) were instrumental in producing billions of dollars in medical advances and two Nobel Prizes in research. Thousands of U.S. patents involve HeLa cells which are continuing to make money to this day. 

Many years later her son announced he was going to sue the companies that “stole” Henrietta cells.

There is a great HBO film about this named - “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” 

But back to our Question, who owns our body? To answer this question we can look at the case of “Moore v. Regents of the University of California.”

In 1976, John Moore suffered from hairy-cell leukemia. He went to see Dr. David Golde who removed Moore’s spleen. Golde realized that Moore’s body was overproducing lymphokines that are vital to the immune system. For the next seven years, Golde asked Moore to return to the hospital to give blood. Moore got suspicious and learned that Golde had turned him into a Gold mine by patenting his cells. So Morre sued Regents of the University of California.

According to the ruling, Moore’s spleen, once removed from his body, was owned by “nobody”, not even Moore. However the court said that Golde transformed Moore’s cells into his own invention by investing his “human ingenuity” and “inventive effort” resulting in something new. 

So are you confused?  What will happen when companies start augmenting our bodies with technology? Should we start calling pharma companies - Mom and Dad? 

And who owns our body when we die? And just to add to this mess… Microsoft patented a conversational chatbot that can imitate a real person based on their social media profile. It can even be used to imitate a dead person...  The patent reads: “The specific person may correspond to a past or present entity.” Does that mean we may not even own our own thoughts?