New Criticals

The production of capitalist nature can be detected behind the rapid growth of the legal and illegal markets for blood, organs and human tissues today. In their book Tissue Economies (2007) Catherine Waldby and Robert Mitchell examine the new advanced techniques for the engineering of donated human tissues. They note that most donated tissues are no longer simply transferred intact from one person to another, rather, they are diverted through a laboratory process that biotechnically transforms the material. This means that these tissues can now be put to multiple uses and adopt multiple trajectories: they are “fractionated, cloned, immortalized, and multiplied in various ways” (Waldby and Mitchell  2007, 22). Tissues sourced from one person may be distributed in altered forms along complex pathways to multiple recipients at different times and at different locations throughout the world. In the case of embryo donation for stem cell research, for example, “the embryo is merely the starting point for an expandable network of cell lines whose destination is unknown” (ibid., 71). Blood, organs and tissues circulate through a complex global network of biotechnical processes and institutional complexes – tissue banks, pharmaceutical companies, research institutions and clinics. 

Hence, biotechnological capitalism no longer simply plunders and expropriates the external and given nature for raw materials. It increasingly creates its own bio-technical or social nature for new, potentially more lucrative and intensive forms of commodification. This capitalist, produced nature is privatized from the very beginning and its ownership effectively protected by courts. While persons have no legal property rights in their own body parts, it is possible for a second party to establish property rights in tissues after they have left the donor’s body. Embyronic stem cell lines, for example, are patentable entities in the UK (Waldby and Mitchell 2007, 71).