quasi property rights of a human body

Quasi property rights of a human body refers to the numerous “rights” that have been recognized over time regarding the handling of a human body after death. 

Under common law, the no property rule established that there can be no property rights at all in a human body because humans cannot be owned. This rule has remained influential for centuries, but overtime, courts have created what have been termed quasi property rights in a human body. Situations like family members disputing who gets to make burial decisions and removal of objects from gravesites led to courts acknowledging that, while not wholly property rights, human bodies have some form of protections given their respected place in society. Modern problems have also arisen, such as the preservation of reproductive specimens, that have pushed for creating more quasi property rights in a human body. 

The exact scope of the quasi-property rights of a human body have differed over time and among states. In modern times, through legislation and case law, states affirm the quasi property rights in a human body to: 

  • Protect the wishes of the deceased as to their remains
  • Give a right of disposition to the family, 
  • Determine when organs can be donated, and 
  • Protect the corpse from being mishandled before and after final disposition. 

However, courts still try to abide by the no property rule and thus narrowly construe quasi property rights to the extent necessary for proper handling of human remains.

For more information on quasi-property rights in the United States, see the Colorado Supreme Court opinion in Culpepper v. Pearl St. Bldg., Inc., this Houston Law Review article, this Hastings Law Review article, and this Louisiana Law Review article. 

[Last updated in September of 2023 by the Wex Definitions Team]