July 6, 2022

Canadian court declares patient specimen the “personal property” of a hospital

A Canadian court has ruled that a medical specimen taken from a patient in a pathology clinic is the ‘personal property’ of a hospital. The case is the first of its kind in Canada and will have significant bearing on future decisions.

A Canadian court has ruled that a medical specimen taken from a patient in a pathology clinic is the ‘personal property’ of a hospital

The specimen of liver tissue was taken from Ms. Snezana Piljak in Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital in 2009. Ms. Piljak passed away from cancer in 2011, and her family sued her doctor for failing to identify the cancer.

That doctor petitioned Sunnybrook hospital for access to Mrs. Piljak’s specimen, but under the rules of evidence for the case the court needed to rule that the liver was the “personal property” of the hospital.

Ontario Superior Court Master Ronald Dash ruled that the tissue belonged to the hospital in which it was being stored:

“Ms. Piljak’s excised tissue is … owned by Sunnybrook hospital, whose pathology department performed the diagnostic tests and in whose archives the tissue is kept,” he wrote. “As the excised tissue is subject to the rights of ownership… I conclude that it is personal property.”

The issue of specimen ownership has until now remained unaddressed in Canadian courts. The case is expected to have a significant influence on future cases. Tim Caulfield, a Canada Research Chair in health law and policy at the University of Alberta, sees the decision as highly important:

“It is Canadian case law that calls human tissue personal property,” Mr. Caulfield said. “And I think that’s significant.”

The decision may have implications for the ownership of data obtained from stem-cell lines:

“You have all these cell lines that are going to become increasingly valuable,” Mr. Caulfield said. “And there’s going to be increasing interest in who controls them”.

Canadian court declares patient specimen the “personal property” of a hospital
Xavier Symons
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biolaw
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property rights