At what point do we belong to something more than ourselves?
Piecing together the world of Vitamin F hinges on this question. When do our personal rights not matter, especially when compared to the needs of society?
Henrietta Lacks, nor her family, were asked for permission to harvest the resilient cancer cells within her cervix. Now we have HeLa, one of the elements Jonas Salk used to cure polio. HeLa has also allowed a number of cancers to be studied, especially when dealing sex steroid hormones like estrogen and estradiol. Despite all the good HeLa cells do, more than I could list here, the Lacks family hasn’t been paid a cent for their contribution to medical research.
In 1990, Moore v. Regents of the University of California was heard by the California Supreme Court. The case centered around a cell line grown from John Moore’s lymphocytes, a venture that eventually became a lucrative enterprise for the UCLA. UCLA got the lymphocytes from Moore’s spleen during his leukemia treatments. Since the spleen, at that point, became a waste product and no longer part of Moore, the court ordered that Moore had no right to any of the profits made from the cell line, despite his body being the genetic source.
Michael Crichton, in the book Next, refers to the Moore case and creates a fictional parallel, allowing him to show just how far genetic ownership can go. Crichton’s entire plot centers around corporate espionage to acquire a patient’s cells, going from theft of samples by rival companies, plots to kidnap the patient’s grandson, and legal mandates to force the patient to provide more genetic material to those who own the copyright. As much as Crichton’s ideas are fiction, they are based in fact.
People can own land, companies can own land, governments can own land. So, if a person can own their genes and if a company can own someone’s genes, why can’t a government own genes?
If the state can declare eminent domain on someone’s land, what’s to stop them from declaring it on someone’s genes?
Imagine a pandemic has stretched across the globe, leaving every country struggling to keep things in order. Imagine that such a country has the technology to maintain their population in the face of said pandemic. Now, what would that country be willing to do to ensure it still has a population?
Naturally, the only course would be to regulate the gene pool to remain viable.
We live in a world where we can test a fetus for thousands of different diseases and genetic abnormalities. How long will it take for us to reach the world of Gattaca where an interview consists of a blood test instead of questions? At what point do our tissues stop being internal property and become an external copyright?
What would you do if that line disappeared and all your tissues suddenly belonged to someone else? How would you cope?
In Vitamin F, most people cope by living mundane lives, but they’ve had years to accept that’s simply the way of things. How would we cope if half of us suddenly had to be taken to some facility to have our tissues harvested? How would the rest of us deal with society with a large section of the population suddenly absent, thanks to a number of forced tissue donations?
Just how long can we question a state’s ownership of our bodies before we become complacent enough where instead of asking questions, we simply obey?
Vitamin F will be released on July 12 for Nook and Kindle.