In an engrossing, but nevertheless easy-to-read, essay, published in the English Language Pakistani newspaper Daily Times, ( and already appearing recently in Project Syndicate & and the Journal of Turkish Weekly), Emeritus Professor of Medical Ethics and Humanities at the University of London and 2006 winner of the International Spinoza Lens Award, Donna Dickenson, reminds the general reader that though we may think otherwise, we do not own as much of our own body as we think. She argues that, as the American law professor, James Boyle, has already suggested, “things previously outside the market — once thought to be impossible to commodify — are becoming routinely privatised”
…..In biomedicine, a series of legal cases have generated powerful momentum toward the transfer of rights over the body and its component parts from the individual “owner” to corporations and research institutions. So the body has entered the market, becoming capital, just as land did, though not everyone benefits, any more than the dispossessed commoners grew wealthy during the agricultural enclosures
Most people are shocked when they learn that one-fifth of the human genome has been patented, mostly by private firms. But why be so surprised? After all, female bodies have been subject to various forms of property-holding over many centuries and in many societies.Women’s bodies are used to sell everything from cars to pop music, of course..
But female tissue has been objectified and commodified in much more profound ways, in legal systems from Athens onwards. While men were also made into objects of ownership and trade, as slaves, in general women were much more likely to be treated as commodities in non-slave-owning systems. Once a woman had given her initial consent to the marriage “contract”, she had no right to retract her consent to sexual relations — ever.
The fact that a feminist perspective is very much to the fore in Dr Dickenson’s argument, or that she is suggesting that we men ahve taken along time to realise “commodification” of the body has long been accepted because it did not until now affect us, should give us an excuse to the arguments that there is what she describes is going on and that we (all) should be seriously considering whether or not we should be putting a stop to it before it’s too late.
New Books by Donna Dickenson
Body Shopping: The Economy Fuelled by Flesh & Blood It’s been said that we are witnessing nothing less than a new Gold Rush, where the territory is the human body. Human eggs are used in huge numbers for the stem cell technologies—over 2,000 in one recent case. Roughly one-fifth of all human genes have been patented by biotechnology companies. Women’s tissue is worth more than men’s, but both sexes are vulnerable. The fact is, we don’t own our bodies in law.
Some people may shrug, ‘We live in a consumer society, so what do you expect?’. Others might reply, ‘Yes, we live in a consumer society, which will bring us great medical and scientific progress– if we just leave well enough alone.’ Both responses are far too simple. Donna has just published a popular science book which will show why. Written for a general audience, Body Shopping: The Economy Fuelled by Flesh and Blood aims to bring these important questions out of commercial secrecy and into public debate.
Dickenson’s essay, under the title My Body, My Capital has now found its way into the Daily News (Egypt)
See My Body, My Capital in The Malta Independent 30.08.2008