Simplified map of the world, highlighting the continents.

Biopolitics 7(2)

Journal of Bioethical Inquiry, Volume 7, Number 2 (June 2010)
Guest Editor: Catherine Mills


Continental Philosophy and Bioethics

Catherine Mills

Recent Developments

Recent Developments in Law

John Coggon and Cameron Stewart

Special Issue

Playing God, Playing Adam: The Politics and Ethics of Enhancement

Joanna Zylinska
The question of enhancement occupies a prominent place not only in current bioethical debates but also in wider public discussions about our human future. In all of these, the problem of enhancement is usually articulated via two sets of questions: moral questions over its permissibility, extent and direction; and technical questions over the feasibility of different forms of regenerative and synthetic alterations to human bodies and minds. This article argues that none of the dominant positions on enhancement within the field of bioethics is entirely satisfactory due to the limited, monadic, pre-technological and non-cultural conception of the human that is adopted in these models. Critically engaging with both opponents of enhancement (Habermas) and its advocates (Harris, Agar, Bostrom, Dworkin), Zylinska also takes some steps towards outlining a nonnormative ethics of enhancement. The latter sees its human and non-human subjects as always already enhanced, and hence dependent, relational and coevolving with technology.

The Body as Gift, Resource, or Commodity? Heidegger and the Ethics of Organ Transplantation

Fredrik Svenaeus
Three metaphors appear to guide contemporary thinking about organ transplantation. Although the gift is the sanctioned metaphor for donating organs, the underlying perspective from the side of the state, authorities and the medical establishment often seems to be that the body shall rather be understood as a resource. The acute scarcity of organs, which generates a desperate demand in relation to a group of potential suppliers who are desperate to an equal extent, leads easily to the gift’s becoming, in reality, not only a resource, but also a commodity. In this paper, the claim is made that a successful explication of the gift metaphor in the case of organ transplantation and a complementary defence of the ethical primacy of the giving of organs need to be grounded in a philosophical anthropology which considers the implications of embodiment in a different and more substantial way than is generally the case in contemporary bioethics. I show that Heidegger’s phenomenology offers such an alternative, with the help of which we can understand why body parts could and, indeed, under certain circumstances, should be given to others in need, but yet are neither resources nor properties to be sold. The phenomenological exploration in question is tied to fundamental questions about what kind of relationship we have to our own bodies, as well as about what kind of relationship we have to each other as human beings sharing the same being-in-the-world as embodied creatures.

Vulnerability and the Ethics of Facial Tissue Transplantation

Diane Perpich
Two competing intuitions have dominated the debate over facial tissue transplantation. On one side are those who argue that relieving the suffering of those with severe facial disfigurement justifies the medical risks and possible loss of life associated with this experimental procedure. On the other are those who say that there is little evidence to show that such transplants would have longterm psychological benefits that couldn’t be achieved by other means and that without clear benefits, the risk is simply too great. Ethicists on both sides have called for more analysis of the link between the face and personal identity in order to get a better grasp on potential gains and losses. This paper responds to that call by looking at contemporary philosophical analyses of the relation between organ transplants and personal identity and between the human face, human dignity, and human vulnerability. It is argued that the face matters not because it is the unique marker of our identity, but because of its role in the intersubjective constitution of moral identity and human dignity.

Foucault’s “Metabody”

Mary Beth Mader
The paper treats several ontological questions about certain nineteenth-century and contemporary medical and scientific conceptualizations of hereditary relation. In particular, it considers the account of mid-nineteenth century psychiatric thought given by Foucault in Psychiatric Power: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1973–1974 and Abnormal: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1974–1975. There, Foucault argues that a fantastical conceptual prop, the “metabody,” as he terms it, was implicitly supposed by that period’s psychiatric medicine as a putative ground for psychiatric pathology. After presenting the heart of Foucault’s thought on the “metabody,” the paper investigates the possibility that a contemporary version of a “metabody” may operate today as a conceptual analog of the nineteenth-century psychiatric theory and practice that Foucault began to expose in the texts examined here. It speculates that we might identify a contemporary genetic version of a “metabody” in a particular current conception of the gene as replicator, an item marked by an ambiguous temporal ontology.

The Policing of Race Mixing: The Place of Biopower Within the History of Racisms

Robert Bernasconi
In this paper I investigate a largely untold chapter in the history of race thinking in Northern Europe and North America: the transition from the form of racism that was used to justify a race-based system of slavery to the medicalising racism which called for segregation, apartheid, eugenics, and, eventually, sterilization and the holocaust. In constructing this history I will employ the notion of biopower introduced by Michel Foucault. Foucault’s account of biopower has received a great deal of attention recently, but because what he actually has to say about race tends to be vague and radically incomplete, many race theorists have been critical of his contribution. However, even if the account of the holocaust in terms of biopower is incomplete, there is still a great deal to be learned from Foucault’s identification of this biologizing, or medicalising racism.

Reproductive Politics, Biopolitics, and Auto-immunity: From Foucault to Esposito

Penelope Deutscher
The contingent cultural, epistemological and ontological status of biology is highlighted by changes in attitudes towards reproductive politics in the history of feminist movements. Consider, for example, the American, British, and numerous European instances of feminist sympathy for eugenics at the turn of the century. This amounted to a specific formation of the role, in late nineteenth and early twentieth century feminisms, of concepts of biological risk and defence, which were transformed into the justificatory language of rights claims. In this context, one can ask how reproductive politics are to be fitted into the paradoxical relationship between biopolitics and thanatopolitics discussed by Michel Foucault and more recently by Roberto Esposito. In this context, “reproductive life,” can be thought of arising at the intersection of thanapolitics and biopolitics as these relate to women’s bodies. Revisiting Foucault and Esposito in the light of reproductive politics also allows a reconsideration of the paradoxical feminist aims involved in defending individual rights by reference to overall biopolitical interest and futurity.

The Bioethics of Diagnosis: A Biocultural Critique of Certainty

Lennard J. Davis
This article argues that traditional models of diagnosis are incomplete in their reliance on a models of certainty that are no longer tenable in a postmodern world. Further, it argues that the current form of diagnosis, as applied to psychiatric and affective disorders, reduces patient agency and reinscribes the effects of biopower.

Recombinant Identities: Biometrics and Narrative Bioethics

Btihaj Ajana
In recent years, there has been a growing interest in finding stronger means of securitising identity against the various risks presented by the mobile globalised world. Biometric technology has featured quite prominently on the policy and security agenda of many countries. It is being promoted as the solution du jour for protecting and managing the uniqueness of identity in order to combat identity theft and fraud, crime and terrorism, illegal work and employment, and to efficiently govern various domains and services including asylum, immigration and social welfare. In this paper, I shall interrogate the ways in which biometrics is about the uniqueness of identity and what kind of identity biometrics is concerned with. I argue that in posing such questions at the outset, we can start delimiting the distinctive bioethical stakes of biometrics beyond the all-too-familiar concerns of privacy, data protection and the like. I take cue mostly from Cavarero’s Arendt-inspired distinction between the “what” and the “who” elements of a person, and from Ricoeur’s distinction between the “idem” and “ipse” versions of identity. By engaging with these philosophical distinctions and concepts, and with particular reference to the example of asylum policy, I seek to examine and emphasise an important ethical issue pertaining to the practice of biometric identification. This issue relates mainly to the paradigmatic shift from the biographical story (which for so long has been the means by which an asylum application is assessed) to bio-digital samples (that are now the basis for managing and controlling the identities of asylum applicants). The purging of identity from its narrative dimension lies at the core of biometric technology’s overzealous aspiration to accuracy, precision and objectivity, and raises one of the most pressing bioethical questions vis-à-vis the realm of identification.


Human Genetic Biobanks in Asia: Politics of Trust and Scientific Advancement

Darryl Macer

The English Surgeon

Rebecca L. Volpe

Practical Ethics for General Practice

Paul S. Mueller

Case Studies

Republication: Transformations

Sarah Winch


Letitia Helen Burridge


Grant Gillett

In That Case: Two Concepts of Dignity and Integrity

Malcolm Parker