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Body Bazaar: The Market for Human Tissue in the Biotechnology Age Hardcover – February 13, 2001

4 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0609605400 ISBN-10: 0609605402 Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews 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

From Scientific American

It seems that scientists have been struggling forever to make a mechanical heart that really works. Or a trouble-free hearing aid. Or a prosthetic hand that's half as good as the real thing. From wooden legs to silicone breasts, the history of human corporeal reengineering has largely been one of clumsiness and frustration, despite relentless innovation.

But what if we could take a tip from nature and grow the things we cannot build? Imagine little slabs of cardiac muscle cultivated in a dish, ready to be sewn over your aging heart. Homegrown blood vessels that naturally bypass clogged arteries. Medicines that work perfectly because they are made by your own cells. Imagine hair that sprouts in skeins from once withered follicles. Or being able to grow, as advertised, those perfect pecs and abs. The dream of harnessing biology's regenerative powers for curative, life-extending and even cosmetic purposes has begun to become a reality, write Lori Andrews and Dorothy Nelkin in Body Bazaar: The Market for Human Tissue in the Biotechnology Age. But, the authors warn, this new and promising era has a dark side. People's tissues, cells and genes are increasingly being perceived as natural resources to be harvested and transformed into value-added commodities. And the economy that has evolved around this burgeoning industry threatens to wreak ethical havoc.

"The body is more than a utilitarian object: it is also a social, ritual, and metaphorical entity, and the only thing many people can really call their own," the authors write in this fascinating if somewhat polemical overview of the new millennium's hottest biological frontier. "When commercial interests and the quest for profits are a driving force, questions of human safety and respect for the human sources of tissue--the person in the body--take second place."

Let's set aside for a moment the oft-overlooked truth about biotech medicine: that despite all the hoopla surrounding recent advances, including the sequencing of the human genome, it's probably not going to be all that easy to wrest control of Mother Nature's biomolecular operating system to cure inherited diseases and grow replacement parts. Still, vaccines and pharmaceuticals are increasingly being produced with the help of human cells and genes. And DNA is making itself more and more at home in law-enforcement, employment and insurance decisions. As Andrews and Nelkin convincingly point out, even these first steps have already led to some worrisome legal and ethical precedents.

Consider the case of John Moore, who in the 1980s was being treated by a Los Angeles specialist for hairy-cell leukemia. Unbeknownst to Moore, his doctor had discovered in the businessman's spleen cells a natural compound that appeared to have great therapeutic potential. When Moore learned that his doctor had taken out a patent on his cells and had sold the commercial rights to a biotechnology company for millions of dollars, he sued for property theft. But in a landmark 1990 decision, the California Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 that Moore did not have a property interest in his body parts. Thus, the stage was set for what the biotechnology industry now sees as a crucial right of access to human tissues and what critics like Andrews and Nelkin see as an invitation to wholesale biocolonialism and human exploitation.

Andrews, a legal scholar and bioethicist at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and Nelkin, a New York University professor of law, offer a rogues' gallery of other examples in which people's rights appear to have been trampled or the sanctity of life diminished by gene-hunting bioprospectors and profiteers.

Meet Daniel and Debbie Greenberg, who transformed the deaths of their son and daughter from Canavan disease into a biomedical blessing. They initiated a research program that led to the discovery of that disease's causative gene--only to learn that the university that co-sponsored the research had quickly patented the gene and made it unavailable or unaffordable to researchers who wanted to use it to help parents and patients.

Meet the helpful but perhaps naive citizens of the South Atlantic island of Tristan da Cunha, who, after giving "informed consent" that may have been tainted by language barriers and cultural differences, donated their blood to scientists developing gene-based medicines that the poor volunteers were unlikely ever to afford.

Then there is the sad story of Susan Sutton, whose parents tried to make sense of her suicide by granting permission for her heart, liver, cornea, bones and skin to be used for transplantation. Only later did they discover that although they could not even afford a headstone for their daughter's grave, others had made tens of thousands of dollars brokering the distribution of her body parts.

What are we to make, Andrews and Nelkin ask, of a legal system that stores people's DNA profiles in huge databases without adequate assurance that the information will not be abused? A national transplantation system that precludes buying and selling organs yet allows middlemen to skim profits from their priceless trade? A medical system that (in many states) rules out payments for surrogate mothers but allows women to sell their gene-screened eggs to fertility clinics for thousands of dollars?

Body Bazaar offers compelling evidence that federal regulators and the courts are lagging in their patchwork efforts to deal with biotechnology's entrepreneurial push. Yet although the authors thoroughly document the scope of the problem, they lose some credibility through their unwillingness to acknowledge that many of these quandaries have two sides and by failing to offer more creative solutions.

They seem unwilling to concede, for example, that patents on at least some living things are most assuredly here to stay. The biotechnology industry has little incentive to create the cures that people want if it has no hope of profiting from its efforts. And the authors are right to raise an eyebrow about a company that, instead of cleaning up the workplace, turns away applicants whose genes put them at risk of toxic chemicals. But they ignore the more difficult underlying question of whether it's preferable to set environmental protection standards so high as to protect even those whose rare genetic makeups leave them unusually sensitive to certain substances.

One wishes that the last chapter, which seeks to answer the question of how to sequester our warm bodies from the cold-hearted bazaar, were longer than seven pages. Nevertheless, at a time when even science-savvy readers may be only vaguely aware of the biological gold rush now under way around the world, Body Bazaar does a great service by collecting in very readable form a comprehensive overview of the trend. It offers a prescient look at how our culture is likely to struggle and change as our craving for better and longer lives and more effective law enforcement comes up against long-standing economic, scientific, cultural and even spiritual traditions regarding the body.

Today, 10,000 years after human beings learned to farm the land for food, we are learning how to farm our own bodies for biological products. For the first time ever, our very bodies may be worth more in the marketplace than the products produced by those bodies in a lifetime of agricultural or factory work.

As Body Bazaar makes so frighteningly clear, it may be a long time before we-the farmers and the farmed--adjust to that peculiar economic reality.

RICK WEISS, a science and medicine reporter at the Washington Post, has written extensively about genetics and biotechnology.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1st edition (February 13, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0609605402
  • ISBN-13: 978-0609605400
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,357,338 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Lori Andrews is a law professor, a public interest lawyer and mystery novelist. She's taught at Princeton, written for a television legal drama, and advised governments around the world about emerging technologies. Now she's focusing on how social networks are changing our lives, for good and for ill.

Lori started her consumer activism when she was seven and her Ken doll went bald. Her letter to Mattel got action. She's been fighting for people's rights ever since.

A professor of law at Chicago-Kent College of Law, Lori frequently appears on television, including on Oprah, 60 Minutes, Good Morning America, and Nightline. The American Bar Association Journal calls her "a lawyer with a literary bent who has the scientific chops to rival any CSI investigator."

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on February 25, 2001
Format: Hardcover
If you took a human being and dismantled the body into its elements of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and the rest, you would get a collection of pure chemicals that used to estimated as worth 89 cents. That's what you get if you take all the information and structure away. Information and structure within our bodies are worth something, and are worth more and more every day as we are able to understand them better. And here's a disturbing thought: someone else may own those particular details on your own particular body. And sell them.
According to Lori Andrews and Dorothy Nelkin, in their troubling book _Body Bazaar: The Market for Human Tissue in the Biotechnology Age_ (Crown Publications), that's happening often. It happened to John Moore, who about fifteen years ago was being treated by a specialist for hairy-cell leukemia. As you can imagine, such treatment required a lot of tests on Mr. Moore's body, but it seemed to Moore that there were too many going on, and that the doctor was secretive, and insistent that the blood, and then bone marrow and skin and semen, had to be obtained at his own lab. Moore investigated, and found that he had become patent number 4,438,032. The doctor had found that there were certain unique chemicals in Moore's blood, and the pharmaceutical company Sandoz had reportedly paid $15 million for the right to develop a cell line taken from Moore. The doctor seems to have said that he had found a "gold mine" in Moore, and Moore indeed felt he had been "harvested." So, of course, Moore sued for property theft. In 1990, the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of the doctor, saying in effect that Moore didn't own his body parts, but the ones who discovered and patented them did.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Nichols, III on May 7, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Andrews and Nelkin have done a good job of describing the burgeoning field of biotechnology in layman's terms. Although redundant at times, the authors get right down to the nitty-gritty on issues of tissue marketing, genetic manipulation, assisted reproduction, embryonic research, cloning and other current topics. The book also explores the ethical issues of these rapidly expanding fields, which is particularly relevant in view of the money to be made on lucrative discoveries by researchers and companies who place the bottom line above human rights. This book is recommended for anyone who wants to know about DNA but is afraid to ask.
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By david pruitt on May 29, 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Very interesting. Shows how starting around 1980 our country took a turn for the worse. Greed trumps all. Scientists using their research gained while on the governments' payroll to get genetic patents and gain wealth at our expense.
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It is amazing to see how low so-called human beings can and will go. This book changes the way you look at Doctors, nurses and Hospitals
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