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03/02/2012 - 4:45am

If everything from technology to politics will be different in the future, then so will human reproduction.


03/02/2012 - 3:02am

Comparing the Wawrzyniak and Rasouli cases in recent posts reminded me of a similar comparison one might draw -- between the Superior Court and Supreme Court opinions in the famous Quinlan case.  In his November 1975, Judge Muir concluded that "the determination whether or not Karen Ann Quinlan be removed from the respirator is to be left to the treating physician.  It is a medical decision . . .   The nature, extent, and duration of care . . . is the responsibility of a physician"  

03/02/2012 - 2:27am

Intelligent life is a fragile accident in an indifferent universe, and the first duty of intelligent life is to figure out how to transform itself and its environment in order to survive. Unfortunately intelligent creatures sometimes evolve suicidally conservative memetic straitjackets - condoms are a sin, the climate isn’t changing, doing this ghost dance will stop bullets, unregulated markets are always right.  In this short story Ms. Donoho imagines a far future descendant of ours forced to witness the unnecessary deaths of the descendants of today’s Luddites and bioconservatives.

The outlaw Phoebe Jones gazes earthward through Helia’s viewport. Shrunken icecaps bracket Earth, the place where she is no longer welcome. Interdiction. That’s what Fundamentalists call her dismissal....

03/01/2012 - 1:43pm

Hating the rich comes pretty naturally to a lot of people. And so it’s not surprising that a widely-reported study apparently demonstrating that the rich are less ethical resulted in a combination of glee and eye-rolling proclamations that “we already knew that.”

But if we take as given the conclusion that the rich do behave less ethically (by certain measures) this raises the question of what causes such behaviour on the part of the rich. To their credit, the study’s authors at least gesture at subtlety: “This finding is likely to be a multiply determined effect involving both structural and psychological factors.” But the authors do spend an awful lot of time discussing what they clearly take to be the key causal factor, namely greed. “Greed,” the authors write, “is a robust determinant of unethical behaviour.”...

03/01/2012 - 9:54am

“Pink is the new wire hanger.”  In the flurry of tweets that followed in the wake of the debacle between Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Planned Parenthood, this one was my favorite. It combined two powerful symbols in women’s health--the pink ribbon of the breast cancer movement and the wire hangers used by women to perform their own dangerous and illegal abortions--to deliver a scathing critique of what mainstream women’s health advocacy has become. The combination of these two symbols underscored the diverging narratives we use to understand women’s health.

By now, the saga is old news: Komen, the most prominent organization in breast cancer advocacy, decided to defund Planned Parenthood’s breast screening program because the organization also uses some of its funds to provide abortion services. Komen never said outright that this was the reasoning behind the decision, but scores of commentators on social media outlets erupted in outrage, and eventually, Komen recanted its decision.

The most prominent criticism of Komen was that it let politics get in the way of women’s health. New York Times columnist Gail Collins wrote, “This week we had a huge political fight about breast cancer. Clearly, we have now hit the point where there’s nothing that can’t be divided into red-state-blue-state.” It seems to me that Collins genuinely wishes that there were a politically safe topic, something that everyone could agree is out of the realm of politics.  “Everybody hates cancer and everybody likes breasts--infants, adults, women, men,” she continues. “Really, it’s America’s most popular body part.”

I understand the thrust of this criticism: partisan politics got in the way of comprehensive women’s health; politics corrupted the nicest cause in America. It seems, though, that Collins and others are upset that politics in any form got involved with breast cancer advocacy, as if it were some idealized form of advocacy that could be free of politics. While I don’t agree with the particular politics that influenced Komen’s decision, I’m even more concerned with the idea that there’s a way of truly advancing women’s health while avoiding politics all together.

My sense of how integral political contestation is to women’s health comes largely from my experiences studying and engaging in AIDS advocacy. Unlike with women’s health, where there’s a nice story we can tell about women as mothers and caretakers, there’s really no pretty version of AIDS. To understand and respond to AIDS, we have no choice but to face up to realities like sex, drug use, and poverty, which in turn involves reckoning with the ways in which sex, drug use, and poverty are politically contested. What so many leaders in AIDS advocacy point out, and I fully agree with, is that AIDS is not a primarily biomedical phenomenon with social and political overlays. Rather, the social, political and biomedical dimensions are deeply intertwined and they are all central to understanding and responding to the epidemic.

Women’s health is the same. It’s not just about health in the biomedical sense. It’s also about the power dynamics between women and men, between women and the state. It’s about how bodies are regulated and how individual bodies relate to the body politic. And it’s about how those intricacies play out in everyday life, at the doctor’s office, at the pharmacist’s, in the bedroom.

Komen’s advocacy efforts have shaped breast cancer, a disease once heavily stigmatized, into a safe and appealing cause. Its efforts have constructed a particular narrative of the fight against breast cancer as wholesome struggle to protect mothers, daughters and wives from a disease that can not only take their lives, but take their breasts as well.

While the efforts to destigmatize the disease and fund research are laudable, the particular narrative Komen has told, especially through the use of the pink ribbon, often unfortunately reinforces stereotypes of women has helpless, frivolous and dependent. While Komen’s pink ribbons and broader mission have been questioned by many in recent years, including by me in a previous post, its decision to defund Planned Parenthood exposed its suspect values for all to see. Komen seemed to think women’s health could be divided into the wholesome, socially acceptable kind and the sexualized, politically fraught kind and that it could focus on the former without throwing women under the bus. It tried so hard to depoliticize women’s health that it eventually went so far as to cave to conservative politics.

While it’s distressing that Komen made such a decision for political gain, to me it’s as troublesome that Komen thought it could advance women’s health without confronting the political nature of women’s health.  Just as so many AIDS activists recognize that any response to AIDS must reckon with the politics of the epidemic, many women’s health advocates have advanced women’s health by engaging directly with its political dimensions. For example, the women’s health movement of the 1970s was arguably more about challenging power dynamics and advancing women’s equality than it was about health per se. But though there is a strong legacy of recognizing the ways in which health and politics are intimately intertwined, the recent Komen fiasco demonstrated that some women’s health advocates want to proceed as though there’s a way to advance women’s health without dealing with politics. There’s not.

A seemingly apolitical effort to advance women’s health can be very alluring. However, efforts to completely shut out the fraught politics that are part and parcel of advancing comprehensive women’s health can come with its own dangers, as the recent Komen mess demonstrated. Comprehensive women’s health can’t be fully achieved through fairy tale narratives and pink ribbons. The gritty politics of sex, oppression, and wire hangers are part of the story too.

Colleen Farrell is a research assistant at The Hastings Center. She will start medical school later this year.

03/01/2012 - 4:44am
A look at the technology of In-Vitro meat… growing meat from the stem cells of an animal—basically tissue engineering—without killing said animal. This would solve so many problems.
03/01/2012 - 4:19am

George Dvorsky on Singularity 1 on 1: Specialization is for Insects

One of the main points is a quote that Dvorsky brought to my attention:...

03/01/2012 - 4:10am

Robotic and synthetic technology will largely overcome any progress biological technologies can offer, but we are further along in the biological sciences, so we’ll likely see those advances first. Some people, seeking to “stay human” will stop with biological enhancement. Here are cool new stories in three categories: currently available cures and treatments for diseases, speculative cures and treatments for diseases, and general upgrades to the human condition.


03/01/2012 - 4:00am

Future Flesh is squatting on your plate. Are you nervous? Stab it with a fork. Sniff it. Bite! Chew, swallow. Congratulations! Relax and ruminate now because you’re digesting a muscular invention that will massively impact the planet.

In-Vitro Meat—aka tank steak, sci fi sausage, petri pork, beaker bacon, Frankenburger, vatgrown veal, laboratory lamb, synthetic shmeat, trans-ham, factory filet, test-tube tuna, cultured chicken, or any other moniker that can seduce the shopper’s stomach—will appear in 10 years as a cheaper, healthier, greener protein that’s easily manufactured in a metropolis. Its entree will be enormous; not just food-huge like curry rippling through London in the 1970s or colonized tomatoes teaming up with pasta in early 1800s Italy. No. Bigger. In-Vitro Meat will be socially transformative, like automobiles, cinema, vaccines....

02/29/2012 - 11:53pm

-->The film, THE HELP is a historical fiction, close enough to the truth to raise moral concern.  It is mostly about the development of a book revealing the impact of racism on black and white families. The film is adapted from the Kathryn Stockett novel set in Jackson, Mississippi during the early 1960s. It's the rising phase of the civil rights movement. The story is viewed primarily through the eyes of women.  Central to THE HELP is unequal risk of harm to black women when compared with white women.

THE HELP has an outstanding ensemble cast of both black and white women. In the film, Abline (Viola Davis) is a black woman who works as a domestic for a white family. She has done this kind of work since she herself was an adolescent.  The child in the family, a girl who is maybe three years old, is being emotionally and physically abused by her own mother. The mother of is viciously insecure. Abline cares for this child's health and dignity leaving her absent from the needs of her own family and community.  Abline's autonomy is thus compromised. In Abline's absence, her own son's life is brutally taken as a direct result of racism. Yet, Abline continues to maximize her humanity with regard to the child she cares for in the white family.  Davis eloquently, expresses the double bind black women, and others working as domestics, find themselves in.  Abline is forced to act against her self-interest, assuming a high risk while doing so....