Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thoughts on Wald's Lecture

If someone cuts off your finger and runs away with it, is it a physical assault or a theft? Is an arm a thing? What difference does it make if bodies parts are extracted from cadavres, embryos, or living people? Should we continue to patent and own non-human lifeforms? The person in a position to answer these questions helps dictate the ever-changing narrative Wald stressed so adamantly today.

I was thinking about the above questions in relation to Wald's discussion of 'bioslavery.' Once human body parts are categorized as things and cease to be people, they become suject to the terms of supply and demand. A profitable exchange of human bodies - however fragmented such bodies may be - looks dangerously like slavery. The monetary and intellectual profit reaped from the HeLa cells of Henrietta Lacks or the cancerous spleen cells of John Moore seem to defy moral hesitation in the name of progress, or the common good. Their examples were rationalized as silent, unknowing sacrifices for science in a time when patient rights and protocols of consent were not given significant consideration.

Wald shuns the categorization of the Lacks case as 'bioslavery' and stressed that the real experience of an enslaved person does not resemble the experience of a person from whom cells have been harvested - or any other body part for that matter. I was left wondering at what point do bio-commodities and bio-labor (especially that of surrogate mothers) start to approach bioslavery, if ever?

On another note, Wald's lecture today made me rethink the importance of collective narratives, especially in the case of crimes against humanity, and the legislation that is generated to protect them. In several countries including France, anti-revisionist legislation has been enacted, making it illegal to deny the Holocaust and other crimes against humanity (French Gayssot Act of 1990). In the US, similar legislation would be difficult, if not impossible. To what extent could Wald's call to arms for the productive manipulation of narratives encompass a legal framework?

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