Body Bazaar: The Market for Human Tissue in the Biotechnology Age

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9780609605400: Body Bazaar: The Market for Human Tissue in the Biotechnology Age

In the age of biotechnology, the body is speaking to us in new ways. Our DNA, blood, and bones — our very being! — have acquired currency in an exceedingly bizarre fashion that we could not have imagined even a decade ago. Valued as both a source of information and the raw material for commercial products, the tissues in a single human being can now attract millions of dollars, and with them new commercial uses for human blood and body tissue. Because of this, the risks --we face both individually and as a society --are massive and should be understood by everyone.

Body parts are useful to researchers and entrepreneurs, insurers and employers, law-enforcement authorities and immigration officials. And they are more easily available than most people suspect. Nearly all of us have blood and tissue on file. Whenever you have a blood test, a biopsy, or surgery, that tissue is potentially available without your consent. Genetic testing is mandatory in many contexts, and our DNA may become our primary identification --the social security number of the future.

Human tissue is crucial to health care, but it has also become a medium for artists who have found ways to sculpt in blood and to plastinate skin. Interior decorators buy human skulls in body boutiques. DNA can even be used to run computers, since its replications provide more memory than the binary code. As the body market expands, people have been dismayed to discover that their eggs have been given to other women without their consent and that scientists and biotech companies are making huge profits by secretly patenting their cell lines and genes.

Andrews and Nelkin illuminate the business of bodies, telling individual stories to show the profound psychological, social, and financial impacts of the commercialization of human tissue. They explore the problems of privacy and social control that arise with the extraction of information from the body, and the provocative questions of profit and property that follow the creation of marketable products from human bodies.

Their findings are shocking, groundbreaking revealing the existence of a $17 billion body business in a true story that reads like science fiction.

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Review:

Can a human being be reduced to the sum of his or her body's parts? In a curious turnaround, science and industry are making the case that our selves are separate from and even the owners of our flesh and bone, rather than the meat machines 20th-century biologists posited. That this reversal is to their advantage and profit is the theme of Body Bazaar: The Market for Human Tissue in the Biotechnology Age.

Authors Lori B. Andrews and Dorothy Nelkin, each intimately involved in the struggle to define the laws and issues of the biotech age, make a strong and clear case against the newfound rights of business interests to harvest our bodies and derive exclusive profit from the resulting products and processes. Though some of their arguments are unconvincing--while it is certainly true that many cultures hold blood and other tissues sacred or at least taboo, such beliefs would seem to pale before, say, a cure for cancer--on the whole, the reader is left with a sense of urgency that harm is being done to an unsuspecting population of health care consumers unknowingly mined for new biological properties and to humanity itself, rightly expecting the same selflessness from the medical community that eradicated smallpox and smashed polio with little to no profit for the principals. Using stories of individuals injured or abused by the increasingly rapacious biotech industry and their own careful analysis of the changing intellectual property laws governing the mess, the authors warn of a dehumanized world unimaginable even a few decades ago. Whether we'll avoid the pitfalls of our new tech or simply cope with the results is a question for history. --Rob Lightner

About the Author:

Lori Andrews is the director of the Institute for Science, Law and Technology at the Illinois Institute of Technology and professor of law, Chicago-Kent College of Law. She has been an adviser on biotechnology to Congress, the World Health Organization, and the National Institutes of Health, as well as foreign governments. Ms. Andrews is the author of The Clone Age.

Dorothy Nelkin is the author of many books, including The DNA Mystique, Dangerous Diagnostics, and Selling Science. Her articles appear in both academic publications and the popular media. She holds a university professorship at New York University and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine. She has served on commissions at the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Justice, and the Institute of Medicine.

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Lori Andrews; Dorothy Nelkin
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Lori Andrews, Dorothy Nelkin
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