The human body caught up in bioeconomics

Publié le : 16 May 2014

 In the book Le Corps-marché, published by Editions du Seuil, Céline Lafontaine(1), denounces the increasing phenomena of selling human body parts: DNA, stem cells, eggs, blood, etc. The hope for medical advances and new treatment actually masks “a new human body economy based on exploitation of the living through gene manipulation, cell processes and vital processes, etc.”, which Céline Lafontaine refers to as bioeconomics. Fossil fuels are becoming depleted, “it’s life itself […] which is boosting economic productivity”.

Industry and exploiting the living. A blatant example of this phenomenon is the development over the last thirty years of the in-vitro fertilisation industry (IVF), which has resulted in the creation of sperm and egg banks and has “marketed the body’s reproductive system per se through surrogate mothers”. This practice has also led “to research into embryo stem cells based on the logic of harvesting embryos to benefit research”. The sociologist reminds us that “industrial breeding is at the origin of IVF. The economic processes of increasing biological productivity have been transposed for application to women”.

Céline Lafontaine explains this phenomenon by putting forward “the idea of better and increasingly individualised health care related to neoliberal policies“. Today, “it is no longer public health but personal health which is extended infinitely”. In this era of bioeconomics, for instance, “the body at the service of other bodies is at stake”, all of which is underpinned by the logic of “financing human raw materials”.    

From privatising the living…                     
From exploiting the female body through the use of IVF, we have now arrived at the exploitation of all “through biobanks storing samples of DNA, blood or cell lines“. The risk explained Céline Lafontaine is “not to see the start of resulting treatments“, due to the future privatisation of this research. These will be returned to society at enormous cost to the public health system.

through to failing the public health system                   
Céline Lafontaine explained, “we do not have the right to sell our own blood or body parts but, conversely, scientists who modify cells or isolate a gene can patent this ‘invention’ and reap the rewards. The logic ranges from donation to privatisation”. And the new emerging treatments will only be accessible to the more affluent. 

Without challenging research per se, Céline Lafontaine simply “denounces  […] the industrialisation and extreme neoliberalisation of medical research based on an economy of apparently endless promises“. In terms of perfect health, “the molecular biopolitician is no longer aiming to change the world but to perfect the human body in order to increase performance. The ideal of perfection emanating from knowledge is reduced to its individualist and biological perspective“. Consequently, logic has changed: biomedical research has become a “new way of applying the body”, “virtually every patient has become a human guinea-pig” and person to person [organ] donation is now a donation for science. This new type of logic will result in greater inequality.  

(1) Céline Lafontaine: Accredited Professor of Sociology, University of Montreal

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