Tag: anthropology

Bioethics Blogs

Beauty’s Knowledge: Hawthorne’s Moral Fable “Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Leo Coleman

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story “Rappaccini’s Daughter” is a nineteenth-century moral fable that sets the fruits of experimental knowledge against obligations to humanity, and stages a dramatic encounter between these two apparent goods. In many ways, the moral it offers seems familiar, and could be recognized by anyone with even a passing familiarity with contemporary bioethical debates. It features a mad scientist’s garden, a gorgeous but poisonous plant of his creation, and a lovely daughter who tends to his terrible plants, and who is—like the plant—both attractive and potentially infectious. The daughter receives the attentions of a naïve medical student, and she falls in love with him, but their fate is shadowed by the actions of not one but two bad scientist father-figures who experiment upon the younger characters and try to shape their (biological) destinies without their knowledge. But Hawthorne’s story does not simply anticipate, in an antique and allegorical way, contemporary defenses of human dignity and nature’s inviolability. Nor does it merely rehearse, with its private garden and unknowingly experimented-upon subjects, a Lockean notion of our own inevitable and natural possession of our bodies and the fruits of our lives and labor.

Hawthorne’s story puts the experimental subject at the center of its moral allegory, suffering both hopes and fears provoked by her own mutability, her own biological plasticity. That is, his titular character is no innocent pawn in the hands of the great scientist: she is an artificial being—grafted and forced—and deeply morally and biologically transformed from the very beginning; but because of this she is also able to reflect on her relations with others and her environment, and to mark (in this case, tragically) a new ethical frontier.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

In the Journals – August 2017 by Livia Garofalo

Here is the article round-up for August, put together in collaboration with Ann Marie Thornburg.  There is a special issue section of Social Science and Medicine out this month on Austerity, Health, and Wellbeing (abstracts below). Also of note is a recent ‘Takes a Stand’ statement on the End of AIDS published in Global Public Health by Nora Kenworthy, Richard Parker, and Matthew Thomann. You can take advantage of the article being temporarily free access and on early view here. Enjoy!

 

Cultural Anthropology (Open Access)

Tangles of Care: Killing Goats to Save Tortoises on the Galápagos Islands

Paolo Bocci

If calls to care for other species multiply in a time of global and local environmental crisis, this article demonstrates that caring practices are not always as benevolent or irenic as imagined. To save endemic tortoises from the menace of extinction, Proyecto Isabela killed more than two hundred thousand goats on the Galápagos Islands in the largest mammal eradication campaign in the world. While anthropologists have looked at human engagements with unwanted species as habitual and even pleasurable, I discuss an exceptional intervention that was ethically inflected toward saving an endemic species, yet also controversial and distressing. Exploring eradication’s biological, ecological, and political implications and discussing opposing practices of care for goats among residents, I move past the recognition that humans live in a multispecies world and point to the contentious nature of living with nonhuman others. I go on to argue that realizing competing forms of care may help conservation measures—and, indeed, life in the Anthropocene—to move beyond the logic of success and failure toward an open-ended commitment to the more-than-human.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

On Plastic Reason by Tobias Rees by Setrag Manoukian

Plastic Reason: An Anthropology of Brain Science in Embryogenetic Terms

by Tobias Rees

University of California Press, 2016, 352 pages

 

Plastic Reason is an excellent occasion to reflect on the relationship between poetry and science.

One might feel the proverbial contrastive tension in naming together poetry and science, a tension one finds in certain intellectual habits that foreground a distinction between human and non-human sciences, or in postures that romantically juxtapose the supposed freedom and creativity of poetry with the hard realities of science (social sciences included). However, at closer scrutiny, this tension reveals itself as an exciting site of possible conversations, to the extent that one might even end up arguing that there cannot be poetry without science, nor science without poetry. After all, the Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico (1668-1744) made a forceful case for the necessity of poetry in the “history of human nature,” conceptualizing poetic knowledge as the fundamental articulation of humans’ changing relationship with the world. Vico distinguished poetic knowledge from the sciences of nature, however this distinction was for him historical and relational, not absolute, with the understanding that, whatever humans might be, they could not be thought without both poetry and science.

Rees’s book is foremost an engagement with plastic conceptions of the brain, but as the author wrote me in a recent email exchange, it is also “concerned with a form of poetry.” So I began to read Plastic Reason asking myself what was this form of poetry, and whether the book could provide useful leads to think poetry and science together.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Teaching Disability Studies in the Era of Trump by Pamela Block

In spring semester of 2017 we (Pam Block and Michele Friedner) co-taught the graduate course “Conceptual Foundations of Disability Studies.” Though the readings were the same as in previous iterations of the course, the emphasis and tone of the class shifted, not just because of the co-teaching but because we were now teaching in a context in which the rights and lives of disabled people are at increased risk. This essay will focus on one class session devoted to a discussion of how disability studies and eugenics are strikingly intertwined in some ways, and why it is salient and important to think about eugenics in the present moment, especially in relation to the current United States presidency.

Eugenics opens up a way to talk about immigration; traits and qualities of and in people; desirability; deservedness; “good” and “bad” science; and the making of facts. Eugenics comes to mind when we think of silencing and containing nasty women and ejecting bad hombres. While we are not arguing that Trump himself advocates eugenics, we argue that a study of the history of eugenics offers an entry point to considering the emergence of past and present norms and normals, especially in relation to perspectives on bodily variation. We also think that a discussion of eugenics affords different ways of conceptualizing what disability studies scholars Snyder and Mitchell (2010) call “able-nationalism,” (riffing off of Puar’s (2007) work on homonationalism). That is, a discussion of eugenics allows for consideration of how disability—and the values attached to it– is mobilized in different time periods, in the service to the nation.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Orkideh Behrouzan’s Prozak Diaries: Psychiatry and Generational Memory in Iran by Dina Omar

Prozak Diaries: Psychiatry and Generational Memory in Iran

Orkideh Behrouzan

Stanford University Press, 2016, 328 pages

 

Orkideh Behrouzan’s first ethnographic endeavor, Prozak Diaries (2016), explores a question that has provoked much interest in the Middle East in recent years: what’s with all the talk about depression nowadays? The influence of Western clinical psychiatry seems to traverse language: the Farsi word afsordegi, for example, is often substituted by ‘depreshen.’ Prozak Dairies is a multifaceted exploration of the pervasiveness of depreshen talk, or the use of psychiatric language more generally, in Iranian society. The main thrust of Prozak Diaries considers the extent to which modern clinical psychiatric language has become vernacular—gradually normalized within Iranian popular culture and public discourse and co-constitutive with trends in psychiatric treatments and scholarly debates. Behrouzan identifies depreshen, as well as other psychopathologies such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as diagnoses that have grown in popularity over the past three decades. She then follows the many elusive manifestations of psychiatric discourses and therapeutic practices amongst Iranians. Behrouzan asks questions that are not only relevant to Iranians but which also reflect global trends pertaining to increased rates of prescribing and consuming psycho-pharmaceuticals, an adoption of American clinical language, and an acceptance of an agenda standardized by American pharmaceutical companies. How, she asks, has the normalization of the psychiatric vernacular engendered new ways “of knowing, interpreting, and perceiving oneself in the world?” How might the contemporary psychiatric vernacular open up new ways of expressing mental or emotional conditions in Iran?

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Reproducing the Speculative: Reproductive Technology, Education, and Science Fiction by Kaitlyn Sherman

Walter, a Synthetic, quietly makes his rounds in the brightly lit, pristine interior of the Covenant, a Weyland Corporation Spaceship. Fingers pressed to the translucent, impermeable glass, he checks the status of each crew member as they rest in their cryochambers, suspended in chemically-induced comas until they reach their destined planet in seven years and four months’ time. The ship’s artificial intelligence system, Mother, chimes, “Seven bells and all is well.” Reassured of their security, Walter moves on to the next zone, where another 2,000 cryochambers contain sleeping colonists from Earth. This zone also features a panel of drawers, each housing dozens of embryos—over 1,100 second-generation colonists. They are packed individually into river-stone sized ovoids; clear, solid, egg-like. Amid the rows, an embryo has died, and its artificial uterine-sack is clouded and dark. Observing it briefly, Walter takes it from its socket with a set of tongs and places it into a biohazard bin. The Covenant is on a mission to colonize a habitable, distant planet. Their ship contains everything that could be useful in setting up a new colony: terraforming vehicles, construction materials, and human life itself. Even though these frozen embryos aren’t yet actively developing, they reflect a technology that allows for such a feat, while ensuring a population boom that is not dependent upon the limited space of mature female colonists’ wombs.

This scene is part of the opening sequence of the latest film in Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise. Alien: Covenant (2017) is the most recent science fiction film to illustrate advances in reproductive technologies, especially that of ectogenesis, or external gestation and birth.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Does Female Genital Mutilation Have Health Benefits? The Problem with Medicalizing Morality

By Brian D. Earp (@briandavidearp)

Please note: this piece was originally published in Quillette Magazine.

 

Four members of the Dawoodi Bohra sect of Islam living in Detroit, Michigan have recently been indicted on charges of female genital mutilation (FGM). This is the first time the US government has prosecuted an “FGM” case since a federal law was passed in 1996. The world is watching to see how the case turns out.

A lot is at stake here. Multiculturalism, religious freedom, the limits of tolerance; the scope of children’s—and minority group—rights; the credibility of scientific research; even the very concept of “harm.”

To see how these pieces fit together, I need to describe the alleged crime.

* * *

The term “FGM” is likely to bring to mind the most severe forms of female genital cutting, such as clitoridectomy or infibulation (partial sewing up of the vaginal opening). But the World Health Organization (WHO) actually recognizes four main categories of FGM, covering dozens of different procedures.

One of the more “minor” forms is called a “ritual nick.” This practice, which I have argued elsewhere should not be performed on children, involves pricking the foreskin or “hood” of the clitoris to release a drop of blood.

Healthy tissue is not typically removed by this procedure, which is often done by trained clinicians in the communities where it is common. Long-term adverse health consequences are believed to be rare.

Here is why this matters. Initial, albeit conflicting reports suggest that the Dawoodi Bohra engage in this, or a similar, more limited form of female genital cutting – not the more extreme forms that are often highlighted in the Western media.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Does Female Genital Mutilation Have Health Benefits? The Problem with Medicalizing Morality

Does Female Genital Mutilation Have Health Benefits? The Problem with Medicalizing Morality

By Brian D. Earp (@briandavidearp)

Please note: this piece was originally published in Quillette Magazine.

 

Four members of the Dawoodi Bohra sect of Islam living in Detroit, Michigan have recently been indicted on charges of female genital mutilation (FGM). This is the first time the US government has prosecuted an “FGM” case since a federal law was passed in 1996. The world is watching to see how the case turns out.

A lot is at stake here. Multiculturalism, religious freedom, the limits of tolerance; the scope of children’s—and minority group—rights; the credibility of scientific research; even the very concept of “harm.”

To see how these pieces fit together, I need to describe the alleged crime.

* * *

The term “FGM” is likely to bring to mind the most severe forms of female genital cutting, such as clitoridectomy or infibulation (partial sewing up of the vaginal opening). But the World Health Organization (WHO) actually recognizes four main categories of FGM, covering dozens of different procedures.

One of the more “minor” forms is called a “ritual nick.” This practice, which I have argued elsewhere should not be performed on children, involves pricking the foreskin or “hood” of the clitoris to release a drop of blood.

Healthy tissue is not typically removed by this procedure, which is often done by trained clinicians in the communities where it is common. Long-term adverse health consequences are believed to be rare.

Here is why this matters. Initial, albeit conflicting reports suggest that the Dawoodi Bohra engage in this, or a similar, more limited form of female genital cutting – not the more extreme forms that are often highlighted in the Western media.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

In the Journals – July 2017 by Danya Glabau

American Quarterly

Regina Kunzel

Among the central themes of the eclectic field of mad studies is a critique of psychiatric authority. Activists and academics, from a range of positions and perspectives, have questioned psychiatry’s normalizing impulses and have privileged mad-identified knowledges over expert ones. One of the most successful assaults on psychiatric authority was launched by gay activists in the 1960s and early 1970s, resulting in the removal of homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1973. But if that event marked an inspirational victory against psychiatric power, it was also, as Robert McRuer notes, “a distancing from disability.”1Revisiting this history through analytic lenses offered by disability and mad studies defamiliarizes familiar historical narratives and unsettles the critique of psychiatric authority, especially when countered by claims to health.

 

Conflicts over the value, meaning, and efficacy of vaccination as a preventive practice suggest that vaccination resistance stages disagreement within modern biological citizenship. This paper explores how immunity circulates in both vaccination controversy and biopolitical philosophies. Two positions—one characterized by somatic individualism, flexible bodies, reflexive approaches to knowledge, and the idea of the immune system as “the essential relation the body has with its vulnerability,” and another characterized by the immunitary paradigm, biosecurity, trust in expert systems, and vaccination—emerge. Understanding that oppositional relation can reframe public understanding of vaccine skepticism and public health responses to it.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Web Round Up: Time to Chill? Egg Freezing and Beyond by Moira Kyweluk

A focus on age-related fertility decline, and exploration of ways to expand the timeline and options for biological parenthood have been consistent cultural and web-wide fixations. The $3 billion United States fertility industry was in the headlines once again this month including coverage of the launch of Future Family, a service offering  a “fertility age test” to women and negotiated-rate infertility medical care, alongside newly published research on ovarian tissue preservation, an alternative to oocyte cryopreservation or “egg freezing”, both procedures aimed at potentially extending a woman’s fertility window.

In the wake of findings presented in July 2017 at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology conference in Geneva, Switzerland by Marcia Inhorn, Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs at Yale University, popular media headlines blared:  “Why are women freezing their eggs? Because of the lack of eligible men”  and “Women who freeze their eggs aren’t doing it for career reasons.” The study analyzed interviews from 150 women in their late 30s and early 40s who opted for egg freezing in Israel and the United States. Results “show that women were not intentionally postponing childbearing for educational or career reasons, as is often assumed in media coverage of this phenomenon, but rather preserving their remaining fertility because they did not have partners to create a family with. The researchers conclude that women see egg freezing as ‘a technological concession to the man deficit’, using it to ‘buy time’ while continuing their search for a suitable partner to father their children.”

The American Society of Reproductive Medicine, the regulatory board that governs the safe and ethical use of fertility technologies, reclassified egg-freezing technology from “experimental” to standard-of-care in 2012.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.