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Personal stem cell banking and the problem with property

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Social scientists increasingly view biotechnological innovation as inseparable from the social and economic transformations of value attributed to human tissue. Informed by research on the exchange relationships embedded in biotechnology's 'tissue economies,' this essay discusses the transformation of female reproductive biology into a regenerative resource within one sector of the US biotechnology economy, the commercial stem cell banking industry. The commercial banking of stem cells has emerged as one of the most lucrative services in an emerging market for biotechnology products and services. In the two sectors of 'consumer biotech' examined here, umbilical cord-blood and endometrial tissue (menstrual blood) banking, the relationship between account holders and commercial banking services is governed primarily through contractual arrangements. Such contracts form distinctive new spatial understandings of the biological body and make possible specific embodied practices of self-cultivation. They also challenge previous feminist analyses of contract that presume the unity of the subject in relation to her body. The highly speculative banking of bodily tissues, in which the consumer of banking services is also the producer of the banked tissue's embodied value, constitutes a new legal geography of the body and, in doing so, affirms the corporeal nature of law.

Keywords: biotechnology; body; contract; law; property; tissue economy

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK

Publication date: June 1, 2011

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