Commodification of Body Parts: By Medicine or by Media?

Clive Seale, Debbie Cavers, Mary Dixon-Woods

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Commentators frequently point to the involvement of biomedicine and bio-science in the objectification and commodification of human body parts, and the consequent potential for violation of personal, social and community meanings. Through a study of UK media coverage of controversies associated with the removal of body parts and human materials from children, we argue that an exclusive emphasis on the role of medicine and the bio-sciences in the commodification of human materials ignores the important role played by commercially motivated mass media organizations. Analysis of the language of news reports covering the period of the organ retention controversies in the UK reveals the ways in which the mass media contribute to the commodification of body parts by recruiting them for use in the manufacture of a media scandal. This is achieved through use of horror language, the fetishization of certain body parts, emphasis on the fragmentation of the body, and the use of a variety of rhetorical devices to convey enormity and massive scale. Media participation in the commodification of children's body parts has profound implications for practices and policies in relation to use of body parts, and has significantly influenced the governmental regulation of science and medicine. The role of mass media deserves fuller recognition by theorists of body commodification.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-42
JournalBody and Society
Volume12
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2006

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