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Body parts get options: which one will you choose?
By Kristi Scott
The Yellow Canary
Posted: Jul 16, 2010
Designer body parts took a step closer a reality this week.
The Telegraph reports:
Banks of off-the-shelf body parts could be created for transplants: researcher
Off-the-shelf body parts could soon be available for surgeons to use to repair injuries or patch-up worn out organs, researchers claim.
Scientists are perfecting ways of creating bare ‘scaffold’ building blocks of body parts which can then be used as a frame for a patient’s own cells to grow around.
The technique involves taking a piece of dead donor or animal body part and removing all the soft tissue so just the bare structure is left. Stem cells from the patient can then be placed on the frame and will regrow into a new body part for them.
The technique has already been successful in creating a new section of windpipe for patients who have suffered injury or disease and it is hoped it can be used for a wider set of organs.
If off-the-shelf body parts become a viable option, does that also mean the option for what type of body part we want is an option? Will there be a divide between those who prefer replacement limbs in metal and plastic vs. blood and bone?
You lose an arm you are getting ready for surgery and the surgeon comes in to talk about the options: A) you can have a bionic prosthetic arm or B) you can have an arm similar to the one you have. What do you choose?
The decision is hard, which limb will you choose?
Moreover, why? I did a little anecdotal experiment in my home and asked my 11 yr old which he would prefer. His response was:
“I’d like to be a normal human not a ¾ human robotic. More of a human than a robot.”
My 4 yr old daughter’s response:
“Bionicle. Cause I want to be strong. I’ve never been strong before.”
Now, these are kids and this is anecdotal, but the point is that there is more to it than choosing plastic or bone. It’s a choice of being more than human, “Bionicle”, and being Other, the inhuman. So why do we need a choice? It’s a choice that defines what you want your “human” self to be. We don’t have the same preference on hair, teeth, breasts, etc. We have options. So it seems that when an option for a biologically replicated arm comes about, then we have the right to choose what parts we want or don’t want on our bodies.
With the prosthetic arm, you can have increased capabilities. In addition to these capabilities, a prosthetic arm is customizable. As prosthetic skin options improve so do the aesthetic options. Think Aimee Mullins.
You can have a different arm for every occasion.
“Super Human” was the title of an article in the February 2010 issue of Fast Company. It was about emergence of envy and sexiness towards those with prosthetics. I was honestly a little bit jealous of Carrie Davis’ sexy black arm in the magazine.
My arm will never look as good as hers does, even if I dipped it in latex and even then, not nearly as sexy. A great image captures what it can be to have options with your prosthetics. The article interviews Hugh Herr who has a lot to say about the potential for prosthetics that are not just limited to function, but are opened up to enhanced capabilities and appearance.
Now, the option discussed in the Telegraph.co.uk article. You can have artificial limb or you can have essentially “your” arm back. It does what you can do now. The capabilities are the same and the options are relatively limited, at least for now.
Looking at the option again, does this expand to a deeper decision? Do we want to be part robot? I am completely for the option, but like any form of body modification or enhancement, I think people have the right to have this option. What we can take away then is that we are on our way to having options and therefore need to have the right to choose what we want based on our needs and desires. It is handy for a surgeon to have access to parts for replacement, but people should have the option to choose what replacement part they want, or at the very least the option to discuss it with the surgeon beforehand.
Kristi Scott M.A. is an IEET Affiliate Scholar. Her work centers on the way popular culture presents issues of identity, body modification, cosmetic surgery, and emerging technologies. She has been a freelance writer since 2003 writing for a variety of magazines over the years, most recently as a writer and copy-editor for h+ magazine.
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