Brock symposium looks at social justice issues in medical, labour systems

Their eyes lock as they view each other in silence.

On the one screen is a middle-aged Canadian clad in a brown jacket. Across from him on another screen, a white-robed Bangladeshi labourer stares back.

The man in the jacket bought a kidney from the man in the white robe. The white-robed labourer was promised $2,000 for his kidney; he ended up getting $400 and a weakened body.

The Rodman Hall exhibit called Spare Parts illustrates organ trafficking in Bangladesh, one of many discussions in an upcoming international symposium – titled “Consuming Intimacies: Bodies, Labour, Care and Social Justice” – set to take place at Brock University October 15 and 16.

Hosted by Brock University’s Social Justice Research Institute, experts will discuss inequalities in the organ trade, personal support work, surrogacy, the sourcing of reproductive tissues and other “intimate” arrangements.

Medical anthropologist Monir Moniruzzaman will be giving one of three public lectures during the two-day event, with his presentation taking place at the Rodman Hall exhibit.

In an interview with The Brock News, the assistant professor in Michigan State University’s Department of Anthropology and Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences describes how a “pyramid scheme” of brokers convince family, friends and neighbours to sell their kidneys or portions of their livers as a way of getting out of debt.

Many of the brokers have sold their own organs, and as a result of being weakened, were unable to continue with their labourer jobs. They turn to the organ trade.

Most of the buyers are middle and upper class Bangladeshis who live in Bangladesh or in North America, Europe and the Middle East, says Moniruzzaman. Because of long wait times in these countries, people wanting to purchase organs “contact the brokers over the internet, by phone, or through family members.”

But many people who sell their organs are not only shortchanged, but suffer many complications – ranging from weakness to diseases to even death – due to surgical risks and lack of medical follow-up.

“It’s a serious exploitation of human beings that we’ve never seen in human history,” says Moniruzzaman. “We’re not exploiting human wages; we’re exploiting human body parts.”

Globally, the World Health Organization estimates that some 10 per cent of all organ transplant perform every year involves commercial transaction that translates about 10,000 cases of transplant trafficking.

“There are other ways that the issue can be resolved,” says Moniruzzaman. “For example, we need to donate our body parts, which is recycling our bodies, rather than accepting or harvesting these organs from poor populations who need these organs the most simply because of their own physical survival.”

Not only organs, but body fluids such as blood and human tissues have been transformed into consumer products, paving the way for “body shopping,” says medical ethicist Donna Dickenson, who is Emeritus Professor of Medical Ethics and Humanities, University of London.

And, sociologist Rhacel Salazar Parrenas, who is Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at the University of Southern California, will discuss the politics and economics of personal support work that includes caring for children, the elderly, and disabled persons in their homes, referred to as “intimate labour.”

The symposium – Consuming Intimacies: Bodies, Labour, Care and Social Justice – takes place at Brock University October 15 and 16. It is funded by Brock’s Social Justice Research Institute and involves the participation of nine Brock faculty members and postdoctoral fellows.

The organizing committee is Robyn Lee (Banting Postdoctoral Fellow, Brock), Andrea Doucet (Canada Research Chair in Gender, Work and Care), Lindsey McKay (Postdoctoral Fellow in Gender, Work and Care, Brock) and Alana Cattapan (CIHR Postdoctoral Fellow, Dalhousie).

“Many people care deeply about connecting with and caring for others,” says Robyn Lee, who is one of the symposium’s organizers.

“Yet, increasingly, intimate labours and exchanges are commodified and treated as consumer products. Moreover, there are wide disparities between the geographical location, gender, race, and class of those who provide or receive intimate labours and also those who can afford to purchase organs, tissues, and fluids.”

For more information, contact: Robyn Lee or Andrea Doucet;

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