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    Blood / Money

    Strong, Thomas (1997) Blood / Money. Critical Matrix, 11 (1). p. 60. ISSN 1066-288X

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    Marilyn Strathern has argued that "nature" in Euro-American culture has appeared as constraint; it has figured the givens of existence on which human artifice is seen to construct "society" or "culture."(5) Among those givens is the notion that human beings are naturally individuals. And blood, too, images individuality: "The very thought of blood, individual blood, touches the deepest feelings in man about life and death" ([RIchard Titmuss] 16.) Transfusion medicine, then, draws on a series of images with which Western culture is replete -- nature, society, the individual. But if it extends there images, transfusion medicine also refigures them. As Paul Rabinow has written," it is not quite true...that it is the 'newness' of contemporary technology that leaves us culturally unprepared. It is also the effacement of the 'oldness' of so many of the background assumptions and practices that lurk unexamined at the edges...."(6) Thus, if persons in the West are individuals, transfusion imagery also makes them "dividuals," of sorts; transfusion practices divide persons.(7) Our understanding of the splitting and splicing of persons in transfusion medicine draws on notions of interchangeable humanity and on notions of unique individuality. That Titmuss posed "altruistic gifts of life" against self-interested, "dangerous" market transactions is not surprising. What is interesting is a commonality with market formulations which Titmuss would ostensibly disavow. For the altruistic donor and the greedy "ooze for booze" seller have something in common: they both behave in an individualistic manner, though that may not be obvious on the part of the "donor." As Titmuss defines it, the concepts of "Altruism" and "donation" only make sense when the individual is conceptualized as discrete and separate from society. He writes: "There are no personal, predictable penalties for not giving, no socially enforced sanctions of remorse, shame or guilt" (74). No necessary moral relationship is entailed in the decision to donate, which then appears as a "choice" on the part of the donor. A pamphlet published by the American Association of Blood Banks reds: "In the usual circumstance, a donor will have no need to be in contact with the blood that a direct relationship is not established."(16) The gift of blood flows not from moral or social obligations (relationships) but from goodwill and sentiments. Strathern notes that "Euro-American gift-giving really only works as a sign of personal commitment if it is also a sign of benign feeling" (Reproducing the Future 131). Blood, much as it once stood for human life, today can be seen to stand for profit. Several industrial democracies have seen political controversy surround blood institutions which, for commercial reasons, failed to protect unwitting recipients from HIV infection. "L'affaire du sang" in France, and similar scandals in Germany, Japan and the United States, have made visible the proprietary interests which lurk behind many gifts of life.(37) In extending a previous idea (blood is life) into a new domain (blood is an economic resource) the images examined here exemplify one strand of contemporary ideas about human life. "Artificial," "chosen," "preferred" -- human life is no longer a background assumption in human affairs, no longer the natural base on which society is constructed. As a zone of representation and intervention, blood and "life" are also zones of consumer choice.(38) In the late 1980s, articles began to appear in publications like Vogue, Seventeen, and Glamour, encouraging readers to preserve their own blood for future transfusions to avoid the danger represented by the anonymity of a community blood supply. "Autologous transfusion" was presented as having a certain cachet. Town and Country magazine wrote: "It's called autologous donation, and it's the safest form of transfusion. According to one source, the Pope does it, former President Reagan does it, Michael Jackson does it, and autologous donation may soon be the latest mark of medical sophistication."(39)

    Item Type: Article
    Keywords: Blood; Transfusion; individuality; donor; altruism; Autologous transfusion;
    Academic Unit: Faculty of Social Sciences > Anthropology
    Item ID: 4262
    Depositing User: Dr. Thomas Strong
    Date Deposited: 19 Mar 2013 16:50
    Journal or Publication Title: Critical Matrix
    Publisher: Princeton University
    Refereed: Yes
      Use Licence: This item is available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike Licence (CC BY-NC-SA). Details of this licence are available here

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