Tissue Economies: Blood, Organs, and Cell Lines in Late Capitalism

Catherine Waldby and Robert Mitchell

As new medical technologies are developed, more and more human tissues – such as skin, bones, heart valves, embryos, and stem cell lines – are stored and distributed for therapeutic and research purposes. The accelerating circulation of human tissue fragments raises profound social and ethical concerns related to who donates or sells bodily tissue, who receives it, and who profits – or does not – from the transaction. The authors survey the rapidly expanding economies of exchange in human tissue, explaining the complex questions raised and suggesting likely developments. Comparing contemporary tissue economies in the U.K. and U.S., they explore and complicate the distinction that has dominated practice and policy for several decades: the distinction between tissue as a gift to be exchanged in a transaction separate from the commercial market and tissue as a commodity to be traded for profit.