Banks of blood and sperm
The Atlantic - 07/31/2014
The word “bank” typically refers to financial institutions, large and small, from the storefront where you go to cash your checks to the big investment firms of Wall Street. Yet there is a class of banks that deals not with money but with bodily fluids—blood, sperm, and breast milk. These “banks” aren’t part of our financial system, but banks they are, nevertheless.
To Kara W. Swanson, author of the new book Banking on the Body, that word is more than “mere metaphor”; it carries with it ideas and consequences for how we perceive the body and its byproducts. “This term, borrowed from financial banking and redolent with implications of markets and cash flows, created the context in which Americans learned to think about body products and in which we developed our contemporary laws governing property in the human body,” she writes.
I spoke with Swanson, a professor of law at Northeastern University, to learn more about these banks and the market for our body products. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.