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The recent furore regarding the retention of human organs and tissue has resulted in a public outcry about medical practice in this area. Public inquiries have exposed a tradition of practice within the medical profession that was not concordant with contemporary ethical and legal standards. The legal framework governing this area, particularly the Human Tissue Act 1961, is now acknowledged to be inadequate and out of date. Following wide consultation, the Government has proposed new legislation to include a stricter regulatory framework, a statutory body for overseeing and licensing the retention and use of human organs and tissue, and the creation of new statutory offences with sanctions for their breach. Fundamental to this legislation will be the requirement for adequate and appropriate consent. Specific issues such as the status of tissue blocks and slides, surplus surgical tissue, and the potential implications for research and transplantation are considered. An awareness of these developments is of relevance to all practising doctors.