Current DPhil in Medical Law: Q and A with Philippa Kemp

Philippa KempCurrent DPhil in Medical Law: Philippa Kemp

Why did you choose Oxford for this degree? And who was your supervisor?

I chose to study at Oxford because it gave me the opportunity to work alongside exemplary medical law researchers such as Dr Imogen Goold, who I thought would be a good fit as a supervisor for my project. I also wanted to experience the stimulating academic environment at Oxford and access the extensive resources and support that is available to help students develop their research.

What is the title of your research and what is your research about?

The title of my research is ‘The Collection and Use of Foetal Tissue in England: Regulation, Practice, and Perception’ and it explores how the collection and use of foetal tissue in England should be regulated and what principles should underpin these regulations. My thesis argues that the current regulations are not fit for purpose because they cannot be consistently enforced, they lack oversight of research practice, and they do not protect against potential harms that could be caused to women who have experienced abortion and pregnancy loss when they are approached about donating foetal tissue. It also explores what the status of deceased foetal tissue should be, in both law and jurisprudence and how foetal tissue is different, if at all, from other human tissues.

When will your research be submitted?  

September 2023.

How did you think of your research topic? 

I became aware of some of the issues within foetal tissue regulation whilst researching my Masters dissertation, which examined the legal and ethical challenges that will arise following the development of ectogenesis technology with the current UK regulations governing research on live and deceased foetuses. I noticed that the current regulations were confusing and contradictory, and that there was very little legal or wider literature which covered this area or attempted to explain it. This then inspired me to fill this lacuna through my own research.

What did you find during your research?

When examining the current regulations governing the use of foetal tissue, I noticed that they do not govern the processes of collecting foetal tissue. Therefore, there is no oversight or rules to govern when or how researchers approach women about donating foetal tissue following abortion or pregnancy loss. I also found that there is no legal analysis or case law precedence to establish whether all the provisions applying to human tissue should be interpreted as applying to foetal tissue. If they should not, then the governance of foetal tissue use and storage is out of step with the more rigorous legislative frameworks applying to embryos and human tissue.

What is the importance of this project?

Foetal tissue is a valuable material in medical research and is regularly used to develop new clinical treatments. However, foetal tissue can only be derived following abortion or pregnancy loss, and the perceived “taboo” nature of these experiences and the politicisation of the abortion debate has discouraged regulators from engaging with this area. As such, the regulations governing foetal tissue use are outdated and appear to conflict with rules applying to other human tissues. The regulations governing this area have received little attention in the legal or wider literature, and because of this it is difficult to understand how the regulations are or should be interpreted. Whilst there is substantial literature discussing the moral status of the live foetus, there is comparatively little which addresses the moral status of deceased foetal tissue. My thesis aims to address these issues and fill the gaps within the literature.

How has your past research continued to feature in your current research interests or projects?

My previous research has focused on how reproductive technologies are regulated in England, including how single parents were discriminated against under surrogacy law and whether ectogenesis research will be permissible under the current law governing the use of live foetuses. My interest in how reproduction is regulated naturally led me to consider the status of the foetus in law, but also to keep in mind how the rights of the pregnant woman should, if at all, be recognised in foetal tissue regulation.