Friday, May 20, 2016
Greetings from Belfast! The ALPS 2016 conference is going fantastically. From yesterday's tour of Belfast and reception at the Titanic Museum to this morning's panel I sat in on that discussed social justice and inclusion in housing across the globe, everything has been wonderful. Great job to Robin Hickey (Queen's University) for his efforts in hosting this conference.
Right now I'm sitting in on a panel titled "Ownership of the Body." It's 10:30am Belfast time and what is a better way to keep the morning going than talking about the human body--dead or alive, as these papers cover both--and whether we can apply property rights to the human body?
The first paper is by Heather Conway (Queen's University). Conway is discussing her paper Earth to Earth, Ashes to Ashes . . . ? Property Rights in Cremains. Conway's paper covers property rights in dead bodies. As Conway notes, in the 1614 case of Haynes, there is no property right in a dead body, but there are possessory rights in the dead body. The purpose of the possessory right was primarily been for burial purposes. Because the right relates largely to burial, the right of possession is a relatively short-lived right (pun intended). Conway's question is the extent to which this possessory right-only applies to cremains. As Conway notes, ashes are very different from a dead body and the options for what one does with ashes is much more vast than the options for what one does with a deceased body. Given the differences in ashes and bodies, Conway asks whether a more traditional property theory can be applied to cremains. Can we say that ashes are property? Even if a dead body is not property, can the ashes--which are created from a dead body--be classified as property? Conway takes this question to the next level. Ashes can be converted into other things like jewelry, vases, etc. (Go to LifeGem.com to learn more about turning the carbon remains of your loved ones into anything you want.) Once ashes are converted to, for example, a ring, the ring is certainly property. Does this make the ashes themselves property? And if so, what does that say about the dead body that lead to the creation of the ashes? These, and more, are the questions Conway is pondering.
Next up is Jessica Roberts (Houston) presenting her paper, Genetic Ownership. Roberts' query regards how the law regulates ownership interests in genetic data, and, more specifically, whether the individuals who provide genetic data should have an ownership interest in that data. There's obviously a number of cases on property rights in genetic information (think Moore), and in all of these cases, the person providing the genetic data tried to assert a property right. Courts and bioethic scholars tend to reject the application of property rights in genetic information, but as Roberts points out, private genetic testing companies are starting to contractually grant certain property rights in genetic data. Moreover, President Obama commented in February that he "would like to think that if somebody does a test on [him] or [his] genes, that that's [his]." Thus, Roberts says that it is time to rethink whether property rights can be applied to genetic data. Roberts' project begins this reconceptualization of property rights and genetic data, utilizes different property theories to genetic data, and ultimately applies a human flourishing theory of property to genetic data as a means by which we can create ownership rights in genetic data.
Last up is co-blogger Steve Clowney (University of Arkansas) presenting his article, Does Commodification Corrupt? Clowney's presentation commmences by discussing how today we allow for the purchase of things that 100 years ago would have seemed strange. Think about story many folks gawked at in 2005 when the online casino Goldenpalace.com paid Karolyne Smith (allegedly) $15,000 to have the casino's URL permanently tattooed on her forehead. Today, Clowney says, we buy and sell things we would not have bought and sold 100 years ago. In doing that, Clowney argues we inherently commodify new things, like our foreheads. Clowney's question, then, is whether commodifying things corrupts. He uses three case studies to examine this question: high end art appraisers, prostitutes, and sellers of Christian artifacts. For the art appraisers, Clowney interiewed 20 high end appraisers and asked whether their occupation corrupted their appreciation of art. Answer: no; art appraisers love art even more than they did before they got into the art business. For sex workers, Clowney's results are not as conclusive (yes, if you are wondering, he did in fact interview a lot of prostitues) but generally he found that the sex workers he interviewed did not dislike physical activity they engaged in outside of their work life, and seemed to even enjoy it more. And, as you might expect, the same result regarding corruption held up for sellers of religious artifacts. Thus, Clowney concludes that while there may be many reasons to keep certain things out of the market, the fear that commodification may corrupt may be overrated.