Week 5: The Work of X in the Age of Y

Honestly, I found the two readings this week to be a bit opaque.  I could clearly see that Nichols’ article was a revisionist approach to the Benjamin article, but I found neither reading very compelling or interesting.  Perhaps I missed a key point of comparison or differentiation between them… I suppose I will find out on Monday.

One thing that did draw my attention, though, was toward the end of the Nichols article where he begins to talk about copyright and then (purposefully or not) ends the paper on genetic engineering.

The sequence of these topics took me back to the documentary film “Food Inc.” which lays a pretty strong case (considered by some to be propaganda that even the Facists would be proud of) for how genetically engineered food could be controlled by vast multinational corporations.  In their particular allegation, Monsanto Inc had developed a “Round-up ready” soybean by genetic alteration.  This gave the plant much better resistance to harsher pesticides.  Great idea, huh? — except the seed is copyrighted.  Farmers must pay Monsanto for every seed they plant with this chemical resistent property.

This doesn’t seem so bad – except when the forces of nature decide that this new, stronger seed can still cross-pollenate with regular soybeans.  Farmers soon saw their natural soybeans being taken over by the Monsanto seed, forcing them to become part of the Monsanto monopoly on Soybean crop.  Rather than producing their own seed, they now must destroy their seed crop and purchase new Monsanto seed each year.

The film is clearly asking the viewer into an awkward position; forcing them to consider their capitalist sympathies (hey, if I were Monsanto, I’d want my money too!) against this ambiguous moral question of whether it’s right to force farmers, seeders, and others into paying a corportation for a naturally occurring phenomenon.  They are taking this naturally occurring phenomenon, the growth and promulgation of a plant, and attempting to monetize and control the process of its dissemination.

For future advancements, in medicine particularly, is it right for corporations to control the “intellectual property” of an advancement or genetic modification, even if it naturally promulgates through a species?

As someone who has struggled with terrible eyesight my entire life, I would be ALL over a proven genetic therapy that could ensure proper development of our retinas, corneas, and lenses – ensuring 20/20 vision.  Surely I would want my children or grandchildren to enjoy the benefits of this type of genetic therapy.  But can a corporation essentially own every descendent of mine because some of their intellectual property will exist in every one of them?  It’s a silppery slope.

Nichols seems to have discovered the peculiarity of various court decisions that have, over time, set and reversed legal positions on these issues of intellectual property and ownership.  He points out a frightening possibility for the future:

Gametes, embryos, and foetuses become, like other forms of engineered intelligence that have gained legal status, babies-to-be, subject now to the rules and procedures of commodity exchange.  Human life, like Baby M herself, becomes in every sense a commodity to be contracted for, subject to to the proprietary control of those who rent the uterus, or the test tube, where such entities undergo gestation.  (Nichols, 43)

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