Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Who owns my body?

A few ideas about making a film...

Style- this will be a visual essay making extensive use of old black and white cinema B-movies, camcorder images, and home cine movies. The tone will be humour.

The danger of the past was that men became slaves. The danger of the future is that men will become robots.
Erich Fromm The Sane Society 1955

THE BODYSNATCHERS- who owns your body.
Welsh athelete- runner breathing- close ups- it’s a multi million pound industry.
Close up of muscles- Every year we spend our hard-earned cash pampering it, oiling it, scenting it, decorating and altering it.
If it belongs to others, we love to look at it. If it’s our own, we love to hate it.
The Human body.

But who actually owns your body?
Bang the gun goes off and the runner takes off

Opening Titles

Dave Bowie- ashes to ashes

Until recently, the concept prevailed that the only lawful possessor of the body when it finally dies is the earth. With its echoes of Christian doctrine and the words of the burial service, "earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust", this principle was brought into legal argument in 1998. Tried for theft of a human torso, severed heads and limbs from the Royal College of Surgeons, Anthony-Noel Kelly argued that since no person actually owned our dead bodies, he couldn’t be found guilty.

A few years later, Dick van Velzen, a pathologist who secretly stockpiled hundreds of dead children's organs at Alder Hey hospital in Liverpool, escaped prosecution prompting the government's Chief Medial Officer, Professor Liam Donaldson to state that the current law on the ownership and thus removal of organs is "unclear, ambiguous and ageing".

While Buddhists believe that our living body belongs to our parents, Christians reading their Bible will discover that “You do not belong to yourselves but to God; he bought you for a price. So use your bodies for God’s glory”(1 Corinthians 6:19-20). The Women following the Muslim faith are expected to hide their bodies, while a German Heidelberg professor of anatomy, puts the dead body in all its glory on public display.

Gunther von Hagen has outraged many while touring his örperwelten (Body Worlds) exhibition containing 175 body parts and 25 corpses around the world. Dissected and preserved using a process called plastination, his graphic work put the debate about body ownership into the public spotlight. At least 56 of the bodies are Siberian peasants and mental patients supplied by the University of Novosibirsk, which is licensed to collect and trade unclaimed bodies.

(2007 is the anniversary of the abolition of Slavery)But only two hundred years ago living bodies could be legally owned and sold by others. Pigmentation could decide which bodies could lawfully be traded. Between the 15th to 19th century, over 10million African men and women were loaded onto British ships to be re-sold to plantation owners in the West Indies and the southern colonies of America. While the slave trade ensured the wealth of Britain, the wealthy ensured that few people were actually aware of the harsh realities involved in the slave trade.

Slavery may have ended officially but the ownership of living bodies is still a highly contested battle. Today many corporations still seek to privatise the body starting at the atomic and molecule level. In December 2004 dozens of activists protested during a medical engineer conference in Buckinghamshire. Displaying a banner that read “Nanotechnology – it’s not big and its not clever”, educated people now fear that companies are once again attempting to gain ownership of the human body (albeit on a molecular level).

Following the protest, Ottilia Saxl, CEO of the Institute of Nanotechnology is quoted as saying-"Nanotechnology is about the design of many new products using our understanding of about how things work at the very small scale. We all benefit already from it as it has led to the invention of DVD players, life-saving air bags in our cars and is now leading to successful treatments for hitherto fatal brain tumours. Those of us involved in Nanotechnology are keen to explore any public concerns”

Our genes are stretches of DNA that we got from our mother and father. They have been with us since our beginning. Genes built our bodies. They exist in each and every one of our cells. It seems reasonable that our genes shouldn't be anybody else's property. Yet, many researchers, companies and institutions, now own patent rights for them. Leading biotech companies own between them patents for over six hundred genes, and have filed applications for another twelve thousand. Universities, hospitals and other drug companies are also filing patents for genes as fast as they can. The race is on, and at the present pace, within the next few years all human genes will be identified and patented. It has been argued that if all the human genes were patented we may need a Corporations permission to reproduce, for we would be using patented genes in the process.

Making new bodies
Despite debates about the morality of human cloning, scientists are enthusiastic about the possibilities of creating new bodies which are identical twins except delayed one or more generations. Twins of the same age do not frighten us, so why should a twin with a generation gap?

Leon Kass, head of the President's Council on Bioethics believes
“Cloning is anti-life, and it entails "playing God" i.e., remaking nature to serve human purposes. Human cloning would be taking a major step into making man himself simply another one of the man-made things."

Perhaps just as the ownership of bodies during the slave trade brought great benefits to a minority, there is a concern that the benefits of owning patents on body cells by the few may be outweighed by the impact on the many.

Dr Ruth Richardson, medical historian and author of Death, Dissection and the Destitute notes a “fearful symmetry of the commercial and social conditions prevailing in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and the medical research industry today”. Watchtowers were built within cemeteries so that people could keep an eye out for bodysnatchers during the last centuries. The wealthy were buried within mort-safes, fortress graves complete with walls and gates to deter grave robbers. The new profession of ‘Resurrection Men’ competed for business as anatomists demanded fresh corpses in Edinburgh, then the epicentre of surgical training. The extents to which people will go for money was displayed by William Burke and William Hare who ran a guest house to lure living bodies in only to sell them as corpses in the morning.

The alienation of body parts and their transformation into commodities raises questions about ownership, property rights, and about possible violation of the moral order. As Dr Richardson points out, the human corpse now has a commercial value unprecedented since the 18th century. She advises that we learn the lessons of medical history, and ensure that the human body is never bought or sold, but rather used in fully understood, consenting donation.

Body Tracking
Tagged the moment it arrives in this world and tracked by over a million CCTV cameras until it leaves. The technological advances in the security industries has inspired Governments to aim for a complete record of all body movements within UK shores.
Stephen Graham, a lecturer in urban planning at Newcastle University argues that visual surveillance of bodies has now become such an integral part of society that architects routinely incorporate cameras into the core design of new towns and buildings. Many modern city centres now have the clean, straight lines accommodating the line of vision of closed circuit cameras.

In the modern UK, our body is tracked and monitored more than ever before. Since the September 11 attacks, the British Government has lobbied hard for the introduction of biometric Identity cards for every UK body which many believe is more about state control than about actually stopping terrorism.

However under the Data Protection Act (DPA) all digital images of a body have to be handed over once requested by the rightful owner of that body. To illustrate how widespread the current surveillance is, we will document how an artist has spent 2 years collecting CCTV images of her self around London using the DPA.

Of course while your body can be put under constant surveillance, your mind can’t. Others can watch what you are doing but not what you are actually thinking. If the body does become enslaved, many have shown that the mind can still remain free. Separate from our body, our mind is blown around swiftly by the winds of change. Unfettered by the chains of physicality, it can move through walls and across continents faster then radio waves. From the Jews in Austwitz to Steven Hawkings, the mind can escape the confines of the body to soar.

But in our modern capitalist world, there is also much competition for control over our minds. Sophisticated mass advertising applies pressure to conform. Free thinking is actively discouraged. From Stalin’s Russia to G.W Bush’s America, intellectuals, dissidents and radicals have been routinely imprisoned, ridiculed, or dismissed when individual or corporate interests take the reigns of power.

There are so many ways in which our minds are subtly and not so subtly encouraged, cajoled, and forced into conformity. If we are not threatened with the social stigma of failure, we are threatened with punishment or death. According to Amnesty International over 1000 people were executed by Governments during 2003, the majority being carried out in China, Iran, Vietnam, or the United States. Even in peaceful times, attempts at controlling deviants is done by ostracising from social constructs such as the family, the Church, the company or the State.

Despite all efforts at outside influences, people still break away from those influences to think differently- to resist, protest ,and create new worlds. Everywhere, people are seeking out alternative ways of living. Communities are emerging with shared ideologies differing greatly from the mainstream values. In a remote part of West Wales, a group of ecologists ditched most of modern technology to create a new way of living at Brithdir Mawr. Based upon environmental principals, the residents dropped out of mainstream society for ten years until ‘rediscovered’ and dubbed ‘The Lost Tribe’ by The Times. They claim that their self-imposed exile gave them the space needed to design and build a radical new form of inexpensive housing. However following the rediscovery of the community, rigid planning laws have been imposed demanding the radical design to be demolished.

Society breakdown is occurring all around us- depression is increasing and the Capitalist model is leading us away from the communal to the individual. The neo-conservative pundits claim that there is no society anymore. But while the politics of the individual has been normalised, Martin Luther King believed that when we eat our breakfast each morning, we are relying on half the world.

Taking back control
Possibly the most recognised form of control is the boss/worker role model. But in Argentina when the economy collapsed and bosses abandoned their factories, it was the workers who re-took control and worked for the collective rather than the individual. Quotes saying their lives are better as activism

The millions of aid given by the public to the Tsunami sufferers or the growing cancel world debt movement are examples that we still feel linked to the rest of the world.

While who owns our body probably doesn’t really matter anymore, perhaps its what we do with our bodies and minds and the short time we spend alive to create the sort of world we want to leave for our children…yoga breath, wise people words, breath, tree, wisdom, breath death.
Athletes running out of breath.

So why shouldn’t parents should have the right t o "play God" and make Frankensteins or alter with the genetic makeup of their own children? whether to prevent them from getting genetic diseases or to improve their physical appearance, just as they have the right to vaccinate their children or to fit them with braces. Some raise the specter of the mass cloning of one individual, especially cloning of sadists, as in ‘The Boys from Brazil’ Ira Levin's nightmarish projection of young Hitlers spawned from the dictator's genes. The error here is philosophical: equating a person with their body. A person's essential self is his/her mind- the inner you involved in thinking, valuing, and choosing. It is one's mind, not one's genes, that governs who one is.

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