Corporeality and the Corporation: The Duty to Participate in Biomedical Research as Biopolitics

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Center for Bioethics, University of Minnesota


Over the past three decades, an enormous transformation has occurred in the political economy of biomedical research. Since the promulgation of the Belmont framework and the Federal guidelines, human subjects research has become a commodified enterprise governed by the principles of neoliberal economics, in the words of Jill Fisher, "a full-fledged industry with a global presence." This economic transformation has been accompanied by a dizzying increase in the numbers of human bodies now subjected to biomedical research. In spite of these economic and numerical realities, some claim that persons have a duty or moral obligation to enroll as human subjects. This paper argues that in making such claims—and in advocating for political policies that would operationalize such obligations—bioethics functions as a mode of biopolitics, engaged in the task of producing, organizing, and managing human bodies — of policing and controlling populations — in order to empower, in this case, the enormously profitable and now transnational biotech industry.


Presented at the Center for Bioethics, University of Minnesota, October 2011