Moore v. Regents of the University of California (51 Cal. 3d 120; 271 Cal. Rptr. 146; 793 P.2d 479) was a landmark Supreme Court of California decision filed on July 9, 1990, which dealt with the issue of property rights to one's own cells taken in samples by doctors or researchers. In 1976, John Moore was treated for hairy cell leukemia by physician David Golde, a cancer researcher at the UCLA Medical Center. Moore's cancer cells were later developed into a cell line that was commercialized by Golde and UCLA. The California Supreme Court ruled that a hospital patient's discarded blood and tissue samples are not his personal property and that individuals do not have rights to a share in the profits earned from commercial products or research derived from their cells.
John Moore first visited UCLA Medical Center on October 5, 1976, after he was diagnosed with hairy cell leukemia. Physician and cancer researcher David Golde took samples of Moore's blood, bone marrow, and other bodily fluids, to confirm the diagnosis and recommended a splenectomy due to the potentially fatal amount of swelling in Moore's spleen. Moore signed a written consent form authorizing the procedure that said the hospital could "dispose of any severed tissue or member by cremation" and his spleen was removed by surgeons (not named as defendants) at UCLA Medical Center.
Moore's blood profile returned to normal after only a few days and further examination of his spleen led Golde to discover that Moore's blood cells were unique in that they produced a protein that stimulated the growth of white blood cells, the type of blood cells that help protect the body from infections.
Moore moved to Seattle, Washington after surgery and returned to the UCLA Medical Center for follow-up visits with Golde several times between 1976 and 1983. After a few years of traveling back to Los Angeles to see Golde and to have samples taken of bone marrow, blood, and semen, Moore asked about transferring his care to a doctor closer to home. In response, Golde offered to cover the expense of Moore's airfare and accommodations in Los Angeles and Moore agreed to continue.
In 1983, Moore became suspicious about a new consent form he was asked to sign that said: "I (do, do not) voluntarily grant to the University of California all rights I, or my heirs, may have in any cell line or any other potential product which might be developed from the blood and/or bone marrow obtained from me". Moore initially signed the consent, but refused at later visits and eventually gave it to an attorney who then discovered a patent on Moore's cell line, dubbed "Mo", that had been issued to the regents of UCLA in 1984, naming Golde and his research assistant as the inventors. Under an agreement with Genetics Institute, Golde became a paid consultant and acquired the rights to 75,000 shares of common stock in the patent. Genetics Institute also agreed to pay Golde and the regents at least US$330,000 over three years, in exchange for exclusive access to the materials and research performed on the cell line and products derived from it.
After learning of the patent, Moore filed a lawsuit for a share in the potential profits from products or research that had been derived from his cell line without his knowledge or consent. Moore's lawsuit alleged that Golde had been aware of the potential for financial benefit when he obtained medical consent and had concealed this from Moore. This claim was rejected by the Los Angeles Superior Court, but in 1988, the state Court of Appeal ruled that blood and tissue samples are one's own personal property and that patients may have a right to share in profits derived from them.
According to the Los Angeles Times, "Moore later negotiated what he called a 'token' settlement with UCLA that covered his legal fees based on the fact that he wasn't informed and hadn't agreed to the research."
Moore brought suit against defendants Dr. David W. Golde (Golde), a physician who attended Moore at UCLA Medical Center; the Regents of the University of California (Regents), who own and operate the university; Shirley G. Quan, a researcher employed by the Regents; Genetics Institute, Inc. (Genetics Institute); and Sandoz Pharmaceuticals Corporation and related entities (collectively Sandoz).
The court found that Moore had no property rights to his discarded cells or any profits made from them. However, the court concluded that the research physician did have an obligation to reveal his financial interest in the materials harvested from Moore, and that Moore would be allowed to bring a claim for any injury that he sustained as a result of the physician's failure to disclose those circumstances.
The opinion written by Justice Edward Panelli was joined by three of the seven judges of the Supreme Court of California.
The opinion first looked at Moore's claim of property interests under existing law. The court first rejected the argument that a person has an absolute right to the unique products of their body because his products were not unique. "[The cells are] no more unique to Moore than the number of vertebrae in the spine or the chemical formula of hemoglobin." The court then rejected the argument that his spleen should be protected as property in order to protect Moore's privacy and dignity. The court held these interests were already protected by informed consent. The court noted laws that required the destruction of human organs as some indication that the legislature had intended to prevent patients from possessing their extracted organs. Finally, the property at issue may not have been Moore's cells but the cell line created from Moore's cells.
The court then looked at the policy behind having Moore's cells considered property. Because conversion of property is a strict liability tort, the court feared that extending property rights to include organs would have a chilling effect on medical research. Laboratories doing research receive a large volume of medical samples and could not be expected to know or discover whether somewhere down the line their samples were illegally converted. Furthermore, Moore's interest in his bodily integrity and privacy are protected by the requirement of informed consent (which must also inform about economic interests).
Justice Arabian wrote a concurring opinion stating that the deep philosophical, moral and religious issues that are presented by this case could not be decided by the court.
Justice Broussard concurred in part and dissented in part.
Justice Mosk dissented stating that Moore could have been denied some property rights and given others. Mosk would hold that at the very least Moore had the "right to do with his own tissue what the defendants did with it." That is, as soon as the tissue was removed Moore at least had the right to choose to sell it to a laboratory or have it destroyed. Thus there would be no necessity to hold labs strictly liable for conversion when property rights can be broken up to allow Moore to extract a significant portion of the economic value created by his tissue. Furthermore, in order to prove damages from informed consent Moore must prove both that he would not have consented to the procedure had he been properly informed and that a reasonable person would not have consented to the procedure if they had been properly informed. Thus Moore's chances of proving damages through informed consent are slim. Also, Moore could not consent to the procedure but reserve the right to sell his organs. Finally, Moore can only sue his doctor and nobody else for failing to adequately inform him. Thus Moore is unlikely to win, could not extract the economic value of his tissue even if he refused consent and could not sue the parties that might be culpable for exploiting him.
The Michael Crichton book Next, while specifically mentioning the Moore case, extrapolates possible legal ramifications of the Moore case with a patient called Frank Burnet.