Do you own your own body?
It is no wonder that solicitors and other legal practitioners need to cover themselves with PI insurance; the issues they sometimes have to deal with can be exceedingly complex, as the following lawsuit shows.
It’s long been the position in law that property can’t be held within the
human body, whether dead or alive. If someone were to own their own body,
they’d be able to legally sell their organs or sell themselves into slavery
or prostitution, both of which are illegal. Owning one’s own body would also
mean someone could choose to destroy themselves through suicide, which is
Negligent storage of bodily fluid
The was how the case unfolded. Before beginning treatment for chemotherapy for cancer, the claimants (a group of men) had left samples of their semen at a clinic after they were told that the chemotherapy they had to undergo could render them infertile for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, the NHS Trust responsible for taking care of the samples neglected to monitor and replenish a coolant that was needed to prevent the sperm from being damaged and, as a result, the semen samples degraded to the point of becoming irreversibly damaged.
The legal dilemma for the court centred on the fact that the semen wasn’t a
part of their bodies any more and therefore bringing a case for personal
injury wasn’t possible. As explained above, it was anticipated that the law
wouldn’t recognise seminal fluids as personal property and, in addition,
that no contracts existed between the men and the Trust resulting in
compensation through a contractual approach being highly unlikely to
Some legal experts have said that a new type of personal injury would have
been better – i.e. reproductive injury. In this particular case, the court
did rule that the samples of semen were indeed personal property due to the
levels of control the claimants had over their bodily fluids. They clearly
had possessed the power to decide what should happen to their sperm in the
future (taking into account certain restrictions imposed by the Human
Fertilisation and Embryo Act). The court deemed that the men’s relationship
with their semen samples had nearly all the criteria necessary for
ownership. The result was that the men could claim for psychiatric damage
following on from the negligence that had damaged their personal property.