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The Politics of Women's Health

Emerging Issues: Biopolitics, Women's Health and Social Justice

We are well into what some have termed the biotech century, and a range of new reproductive and genetic technologies and practices are under development and being brought to market. Many offer significant benefits, including advanced tools for biomedical research, improved medical treatments, and new options for forming families. But many also pose unique safety challenges and raise questions about their social consequences and ethical meanings.

Assisted reproductive technologies are an obvious area of interest for those concerned with women’s health (see “The Ethics of Fertility Treatments,” p. 498). Other issues raised by human biotechnologies and related technologies include the patenting of human genes; the appropriate use of genetic testing; the questionable marketing of direct-to-consumer tests to determine your (or your children’s) genetic makeup; the civil liberties and racial justice implications of forensic DNA databases; the use of synthetic biology techniques to create novel forms of life; and the prospect of extreme practices such as creating cloned or genetically redesigned human beings.

Advocates for women’s health are among the growing number of civil society leaders, scholars, and policy experts who are concerned about the societal implications of these technologies and who want to ensure that their introduction will be grounded in values of social justice, human rights, ecological integrity, and the common good.

An informal network of organizations and individuals concerned about new reproductive and genetic technologies gathered in summer 2010 for the first of three planned annual meetings, now collectively known as the Tarrytown Meetings. The Center for Genetics and Society is the lead organization, and Our Bodies Ourselves is proud to be centrally involved in planning and implementation. These meetings focus on the policies, practices, and other societal changes needed to ensure responsible use and accountable governance of these technologies, both nationally and globally, and to promote a fuller awareness of their benefits and risks among the public, opinion leaders, policy makers, and others. For more information, see geneticsandsociety.org.

Excerpted from the 2011 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves. © 2011, Boston Women's Health Book Collective.


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