Scientific advances and economic forces have converged to create something unthinkable for much of human history: a robust market in human body products. Every year, countless Americans supply blood, sperm, and breast milk to “banks” that store these products for later use by strangers in routine medical procedures. These exchanges entail complicated questions. Which body products are donated and which sold? Who gives and who receives? And, in the end, who profits? In this eye-opening study, Kara Swanson traces the history of body banks from the nineteenth-century experiments that discovered therapeutic uses for body products to twenty-first-century websites that facilitate a thriving global exchange.
More than a metaphor, the “bank” has shaped ongoing controversies over body products as either marketable commodities or gifts donated to help others. A physician, Dr. Bernard Fantus, proposed a “bank” in 1937 to make blood available to all patients. Yet the bank metaphor labeled blood as something to be commercially bought and sold, not communally shared. As blood banks became a fixture of medicine after World War II, American doctors made them a front line in their war against socialized medicine. The profit-making connotations of the “bank” reinforced a market-based understanding of supply and distribution, with unexpected consequences for all body products, from human eggs to kidneys.
Ultimately, the bank metaphor straitjacketed legal codes and reinforced inequalities in medical care. By exploring its past, Banking on the Body charts the path to a more efficient and less exploitative distribution of the human body’s life-giving potential.
Is blood a gift or a commodity? Is artificial insemination a form of adultery? These are some of the questions Swanson explores in the history of therapeutic treatments involving human products. This fascinating and well-analyzed work investigates the debates surrounding such substances as commodity or community resources, and looks at gender issues and legal reactions… This is a great book for anyone curious about the history, development, and commodification of human bodily fluids for therapeutic use.
Since the 1940s, Swanson argues, body banks for breast milk and blood have been ‘omnipresent,’ while attitudes toward them reflect ‘a medical profession unable to resolve its own conflicting commitments to health care access and to individual responsibility to pay for medical services.’ Swanson leads a fascinating journey to the origins of this muddle: from young Bostonian doctor Fritz Talbot’s search for a wet nurse to help save one of his fragile newborn patients to Dr. Bernard Fantus’s pioneering 1930s blood bank at Cook County Hospital in Chicago to the 1950s use of the blood bank model for the management of sperm that organized a practice extant since the late 1800s.
Swanson presents a compelling examination of the process by which sperm, blood, and human milk came to be both ‘gifts’ and commercial products. Deeply researched and clearly argued, this medical history should be read by anyone concerned with the legal and social consequences of body banking.
An important study of the way American society has managed and conceptualized the ‘banking’ and distribution of human body products. Swanson explores the parallel but illuminatingly asymmetrical histories of blood, milk, and reproductive cells to undermine the facile if familiar distinction between gift and commodity that has so polarized policy and ethical discussion in this area. A must read for anyone concerned with the ways in which we make policy and shape practice in contemporary medicine.
Blood, milk, and sperm are often seen as embodying the essence of personhood. But in our time they have become the parts of the body most easily stored and exchanged. Banking on the Body uncovers the remarkable story of how body products have been envisioned as civic resources controlled by medical professionals as well as personal property which might be bought and sold by individuals. Original and deeply researched, this book has real significance for how we balance ever-increasing demands for body parts while still preserving our own human values.
- 352 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
Sorry, there was an error adding the item to your shopping bag.
Sorry, your session has expired. Please refresh your browser's tab.