Archive for the ‘Donna Dickenson’ Category

Donna Dickenson on personalised medicine

August 26, 2010

In a fascinating essay published by Project Syndicate , and reprinted by and in German by Welt Online, the American-born philosopher Donna Dickenson considers some of the possibilities that medicine based on belief that each individual has special characteristics that can be used to keep him or her healthy open up, but fears that resources will invested in developing drugs and interventions for this new and potentially profitable market, and in more effective health interventions that will benefit the many.

Francis Collins, Director of the United States’ National Institutes of Health, guides us through the upheaval in his new book The Language of Life – DNA and the Revolution in Personalized Medicine. As he puts it, “We are on the leading edge of a true revolution in medicine, one that promises to transform the traditional ‘one size fits all’ approach into a much more powerful strategy that considers each individual as unique and as having special characteristics that should guide an approach to staying healthy. But you have to be ready to embrace this new world.”

This seismic shift toward genetic personalized medicine promises to give each of us insight into our deepest personal identity – our genetic selves – and let us sip the elixir of life in the form of individually tailored testing and drugs. But can we really believe these promises?

Genetic personalized medicine isn’t the only important new development. Commercial ventures like private blood banks play up the uniqueness of your baby’s umbilical-cord blood. Enhancement technologies like deep-brain stimulation – “Botox for the brain” – promote the idea that you have a duty to be the best “me” possible. In fact, modern biotechnology is increasingly about “me” medicine, the “brand” being individual patients’ supposed distinctiveness………..

Read the complete article here.

Illustration by Zhou Tao (


The biotechnology ethics debate.

April 1, 2010

In a fascinating essay, published in BioNews 551 compares what happens in France and UK when the subject of biotechnology is on the agenda for discussion

 ‘Certain countries in Europe, France in particular, are trying to resist the ultra-liberal individualist ideology of the reproductive market. It’s too bad that some other countries have maintained a conspiracy of silence on that subject.’ (1) Guess who’s the villain of this recent statement by the French philosopher Sylvane Agacinski? Here’s another hint from a different source, Philippe Gosselin of the ruling UMP party: ‘We can’t be reduced to things, and the human body is not an object of commerce.’ (2) France, he says, needs to stand up for other values than the utilitarianism that dominates biotechnology debate in – yes, that’s right – the United Kingdom……[Read More].

 This is not Dickenson at her most eloquent, but it is her putting a case that I’ve not heard anybody in the UK put, and that makes what she has to say worth attending to.

Genetic patenting – Donna Dickenson

March 10, 2010

In an article first published  by Project Syndicate ( ) and reprinted in the 27th of Feb edition of Gulf Times, Donna Dickenson,  looks at a case in which American critics of genetic patenting are arguing in court that under  First Amendment, which protects freedoms such as speech and religion, “patents restrict patients’ freedom of access to information that might enable us to take action to protect our health”.

That is a clever argument, but is it really the source of people’s profound disquiet about genetic patenting? In talking about similar issues raised in my recent book Body Shopping, I have heard many shocked reactions to the growing commodification of human tissue, but none more generally shared than this one: how can you take out a patent on life?


But what about a gene that has not left my body? Don’t I somehow still “own” it? Don’t I have rights of control over my own body? How can a commercial firm not only deny me the right to know my own genetic profile unless I pay their fee for the diagnostic test, which might be fair enough, but also to prevent any other firm from offering me a similar test unless those firms pay it a license fee?

Proprietary rights for commercial firms over the most basic element of an individual’s genetic identity should not be enforceable. We do not have to believe in genetic determinism to find that argument compelling.

It is a pity that all of this is tucked away in obscure journals.

Donna Dickenson at Oxford Christmas Book Fair

November 9, 2008

Writers In Oxford, a society of about 200 authors who reside the city, is holding a Christmas Book Fair at the The Corner Club, Oxford, on Saturday, November 22 between 10.30am and 5pm.

Cherry Moteshar, the society’s membership secretary, says the aim of the fair, the first of its kind organised by the group, is to bring the public into closer contact with authors.

Ms Moteshar says : “There are people living next to writers who are reasonably famous, but they don’t even know it”.

“This event will give people the chance to get to know writers and their works, and talk to them about the ideas behind the books.”

The Writers In Oxford chairman, Frank Egerton, first novel The Lock was published in 2003, will be participating, as will the crime writer Peter Guttridge, author of the popular Nick Madrid series of books, the erotic fiction writer Olivia Knight, and medical ethics writer Donna Dickenson, whose latest book Body Shopping, has been published recently.

Donna Dickenson’s “Body Shopping” reviewed.

September 30, 2008

American journalist and editor of  Doublethink, – the magizine that sets itself the task of developing “young conservative and libertarian writers” – Cheryl Miller has written a lengthy review (or maybe I should say useful précis) of Donna Dickenson’s Body Shopping: The Economy Fuelled by Flesh and Blood  [link to earlier entry] (Oneworld,), for the Washington-based magazine, The Weekly Standard.

To be cured by the hangman’s noose did not always have so ominous a sound.

Throughout the Middle Ages, executioners routinely dissected the bodies of their victims, and sold the various parts as medicinal remedies. Human fat, rendered from the bodies of criminals, was used to treat a variety of ailments, including broken bones, sprains, and arthritis. For those suffering a bad cough, a potion might be administered, which would include pieces of the human skull ground to a fine powder. Epileptics sought out public beheadings so they could drink from the criminal’s blood while it was still warm and supposedly at the height of its efficacy.

If you think such grisly practices have gone the way of feudalism, Body Shopping: The Economy Fuelled by Flesh and Blood will make you think again. ………… 

…….. Body Shopping describes a science that has become positively vampiric in its insatiindividually appraised and priced: “Hand, $350-$850, Brain, $500-$600, Eviscerated torso, $1,100-$1,290.” A whole cadaver can fetch up to $20,000. The uses to which this tissue is put are no less gruesome. Bone dust from stolen cadavers might be found in your dental work. The collagen used to plump a starlet’s lips is likely derived from the cells of an infant’s foreskin. The “secret ingredient” in the various beauty treatments marketed to Russian women? Aborted fetuses from Ukraine. able appetite for human tissue and organs, sometimes outright stealing the raw material it needs. A veritable black market in human flesh has been established, with each part……(read on)

Cheryl Miller blog 

“Who owns your body?” asks Donna Dickenson

August 29, 2008

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.


29.08.2008 7:15

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