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Paying for Tissue

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Science  14 Sep 2012:
Vol. 337, Issue 6100, pp. 1293
DOI: 10.1126/science.337.6100.1293-b

The family of Henrietta Lacks never received any financial compensation for the HeLa cell line, which was derived from the tissue that researchers obtained during her treatment for cervical cancer. Her story has raised the question of whether patients should be compensated for such tissue. In their Policy Forum (6 July, p. 37), R. D. Truog et al. argue against payment. They explain that the tissue only becomes valuable once research has been done by investigators. Once the prospect of money has been introduced, insufficient payments might provide a disincentive for donation. Payments would open the door to researcher biases affecting distribution, and patients would inevitably be compensated unequally, given that some cell lines lead to far more revenue than others. In their Letter (this issue, p. 1292), Kominers and Becker disagree with Truog et al. They argue that financially compensating patients would likely lead to a net increase in donations. They then suggest that unequal distribution of revenue does not make the system unethical; investigators currently reap unequal rewards for their work with the tissues in question. Truog et al.'s Letter Response (this issue, p. 1293) highlights the logistical challenges of implementing a fair payment system. What do you think?

When medical procedures result in tissue that would otherwise be discarded, should researchers be required to pay patients for its use?

  • Polling results reflect the votes of those who choose to participate; they do not represent a random sample of the population.

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