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Banking on the Body


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About the Author

Kara W. Swanson is Associate Professor of Law at Northeastern University School of Law.


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. -- Steven Wilf, author of Law's Imagined Republic: Popular Politics and Criminal Justice in Revolutionary America
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. -- Janet Golden, author of Message in a Bottle: The Making of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
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. -- Charles E. Rosenberg, author of Our Present Complaint: American Medicine, Then and Now
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. * Publishers Weekly *
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. -- Susanne Caro * Library Journal *

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