New Internationalist

Body Shopping: The Economy Fuelled by Flesh and Blood

August 2008

by Donna Dickensen

Donna Dickensen’s fascinating overview of the complex world of medical ethics begins with the seemingly simple question: ‘Do we own our own bodies?’ From the answer given by the legal world – a pretty unequivocal ‘No’ – flows much philosophical and commercial wrangling, with individual rights pitted against state and corporate might. Drawing on examples such as the US Supreme Court’s decision that John Moore, whose spleen was removed and used in research, had no claim on any of the profits that research generated, Dickensen demonstrates that, time and again, legal logic-chopping is used to prioritize commercial interests over ethical or, indeed, humanitarian concerns.

Dickensen covers much territory in this short book – from the global scandal that is ‘egg harvesting’ in which desperate women from poor communities are turned into ovulating factories, to the huge profits generated by umbilical cord blood banks. She presents a chilling world in which the human body is no more than a collection of raw material for lucrative bio-engineered products: a technological equivalent of the 18th-century Enclosure Acts that appropriates our ‘genetic commons’. She acknowledges that there are influential voices who welcome such developments, such as the French author Herve Juvin, who recasts the 1960s feminist slogan ‘Our bodies, ourselves’ as ‘My body, my capital’, viewing flesh and bone, organs and genes as material assets, just like any other. Body Shopping is a welcome and timely rallying cry for those who find such enthusiastic commodification of the human body to be both reductive and repugnant.


This column was published in the August 2008 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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This article was originally published in issue 414

New Internationalist Magazine issue 414
Issue 414

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