Biotechnology and Culture: Bodies, Anxieties, Ethics

By Paul E. Brodwin | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
Life and Death at Strangeways
The Tissue-Culture Point of View

SUSAN M. SQUIER

I do not love thee, Doctor Fell
The reason why, I cannot tell
But this I know, and know full well
I do not love thee, Doctor Fell.

—Tom Brown

The gray walls, black gowns, masks and hoods; the shining, twisted
glass and pulsating colored fluids; the gleaming stainless steel,
hidden steam jets, enclosed microscopes and huge witches’ cal-
drons of the “great” laboratories of “tissue culture” have led far
too many persons to consider cell culture too abstruse, recondite,
and sacrosanct a field to be invaded by mere hoi polloi! … But
every biology student should at some time have the dramatic ex-
perience of seeing the rhythmic beat of heart muscle, the sweep
of the cilia of pulmonary epithelium, the twitching of skeletal
muscle, the peristalsis of chorioallantoic or intestinal vesicles, the
migration of fibroblasts, and the spread of nerve fibres. And every
student can not only see these things but have the thrill of prepar-
ing them himself.

—Philip R. White, Cultivation

“Transplant of Pig Hearts to Be Banned: Blow for Patients Awaiting Surgery” was the headline of the London Times I picked up at the news agent in Green Park. It was 16 January 1997, and I had come straight in from Heathrow, heading up to the hospice in Saint John’s Wood where my friend was dying of end-stage lung cancer. The story took up all the top left of page 1: the British government was banning “pioneering surgery to transplant pig hearts to people after a government inquiry concluded that the procedure was too risky,” reported the Times’s health correspondent (Laurance).1 The context for this decision was a “global organ donor crisis—at least 6,000 people are waiting for transplants in Britain and five times that number are on waiting lists in America.” Set into the story was a cartoon of an argyll-sweatered man swinging from a light fixture; a twinsetclad woman in the foreground, holding a newspaper with the headline

-27-

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