Table 1. Important cases regarding specimen ownership.
CaseYearReason for caseDecision/settlement
Beleno v. Tex. Dept. of State Health Servs., No. SA-09-CA-188-FB, United States District Court for the Western District of Texas2009Parents sued state for use of leftover blood samples that were collected for newborn blood screening and were used in research for which parents had not given consent.Case settled out of court. State destroyed all existing leftover specimens.
Adams v. King County, 192 P. 3d 891 (Wa. 2008)2008Organ donor's organs were sent to medical research institute for research. Family sued, contending that donor's consent was limited to transplantation.Court held that family had a claim based on their interest in proper treatment of body; not a property interest.
Washington University v. Catalona, 490 F 3d 667 (8th Cir. 2007)2007Washington University refused to relinquish custody of tissue obtained for research purposes when one of the investigators (and some of the donors) requested that the samples be transferred to another institution.Court held that donors made a gift of their samples and did not retain a right to direct that they be transferred elsewhere.
Havasupai Tribe v. Arizona State University, Case No. CV2005-013190, Superior Court of Arizona, Maricopa County2004Native American tribe filed lawsuit claiming samples given to local universities for diabetes research were used for studies on inbreeding, schizophrenia, metabolic diseases, alcoholism, and population migration.Case settled out of court. The University of Arizona's Board of Regents to pay $700,000 to the tribe members, provide other forms of assistance to the impoverished Havasupai, and return the blood samples.
Greenberg v. Miami Children's Hospital Research Institute, 264 F. Suppl. 2d, 1064 (SD Fl. 2003)2003Plaintiffs donated samples for research, which led to development of new diagnostic test. Plaintiffs sued after learning that research institution was licensing the test.Patients have no property right in tissue voluntarily donated for medical research.
Mansaw v. Midwest Organ Bank, 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXUS 10307 (W.D. Mo. 1998)1998Father sued for rights to control the removal of tissue and organs from his deceased son's body.Court acknowledged father's property interest, but held that it was minimal.
York v. Jones, 717 F. Suppl. 421 (E.D. Va. 1989)1989Couple signed agreement regarding procedures for freezing their fertilized eggs, and permitting use for research if they no longer desired to initiate a pregnancy. Later the couple sought to have the prezygote transferred to another medical school for implantation.Court ruled that the relationship was that of bailee/bailor and the couple did have property rights and could repossess the prezygote.
Moore v. Regents of University of California, 793 P.2d 479 (Cal. 1990)1990Patient's cells were used for research without his knowledge or consent. Patient sued after learning that research institution had developed cell line and realized economic benefit.Court held that patient did not have property right in excised tissue, but could pursue a breach of fiduciary duty claim.