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Banking (on) the Brain: From Consent to Authorisation and the Transformative Potential of Solidarity

Harmon, SHE   McMahon, A

Medical Law Review   22 (4) 572-605

DOI: 10.1093/medlaw/fwu011

September 2014   (First published online April 2014)

Modern technologies and biomedicine ambitions have given rise to new models of medical research, including population biobanking. One example of biobanking is brain banking, which refers to the collection and storage of brain and spinal cord samples for research into neurological diseases. Obviously, brain banking involves taking brains and tissue from deceased people, a fact which complicates the role of recruiters and makes consent a poor tool for stakeholders. After contextualising brain banking and considering the public health issues at stake, this article explores the legal definitions and demands of, and actual processes around, consent in England/Wales/Northern Ireland and authorisation in Scotland, articulating and evaluating their conceptual and practical differences. It then argues for an expanded but improved operation of ‘authorisation’ in the brain banking (and broader biobanking) setting, adopting ‘solidarity’ as our foundation and the improvement of the ‘public good’ our objective.