Tiger Cave, Chimeras, Merchant of Venice, Blood, Biometrics, Technology, Genetics
It’s been a whirlwind two and a half days here in Newport. I am leaving again in just a while for the drive back to Boston and my flight to SFO. I did most of my shopping for stuff that I always wait to buy in the States, like Levi’s, vitamins, bed linens, etc. already, and yesterday we did the tourist bit here in Newport. It’s really a delightful place, and it’s just like being in Santa Cruz, only more stately and monied. The huge mansions with their extensive gardens that dot the coast line are like relics out of the past and certainly are objects of curiosity for the thousands of tourists who seem to have descended on Newport this weekend. I’m almost looking forward to flying to the West Coast if for no other reason than to escape the almost omnipresent New York accent here
I’ve been looking out all the time for a cute Seal, but my son told me that they are not stationed here in Newport at all, but are mostly in San Diego. Sorry about that. I was even ready to snap a quick picture of one if I saw one climbing out of the bay, wet suit and all.
I’ll try and write more from the Bay Area, but we are gong to spend most of Monday thru Weds. in the mountains at my son’s cabin where there is no internet, electricity or other of the luxuries that we all take for granted.
Hope all is well. I loved the just slightly wicked rendition of “Diarrhea”
Before this Tsunami of creativity ebbs, I feel I must share with you my musing and look to you for support.
During my daily chats with Dhruvum who feels like a million miles away in boarding school in Bangalore, i found Dhruvum excited about embarking on a study of Shakespeare’s works with The Merchant of Venice. He wanted to discuss all the details, all the characters, all the nuances with me but as he quizzed me he sounded very disappointed at my “blank” response. I had no memory, I was wiped clean of ever having read it, even unsure to the point of if I had read it. I knew the general plot, I was raised in a family where my father and my uncle were always quoting Shakespeare. In fact, my fathers last words as he lay ravaged by the final stages of cancer was “to be or not to be, that is the question”. And here i find in my son, that same familiar bloodline awakening once again to the words of Shakespeare and I remain mute. This is a journey I am hoping to embark upon with you as my guide, mentor, tutor. Is it still possible as many oceans still separate us?
So finding myself all alone once again, I braved my way back to the Gymkhana Club library (New Delhi, India) and pulled all the books on The Merchant of Venice (after a struggle with spelling). I then skimmed through the book re-viewing it through the legal lens. I felt I had to be able to creatively contribute to a discussion with my son, and would do so from a novel perspective, my perspective.
So here are my musings ( from a legal perspective) after a cursory read, I eagerly anticipate your response.
Merchant of Venice
Limits of what can be contracted
Penalties and their permissible boundaries
Rules and the limitations on enforceability for Contracts relating to:
saliva and hair
Sperm and egg
One of todays greatest challenges is that of contracting between donors of egg and sperm, and contracts relating to surrogacy.
Issues: Can organs, body parts be contracted for sale or loan, can the penalty be material (ie) relinquishment of that body part, sperm, egg, blood/placenta? Where does the real ownership lie, who determines if it’s the egg, the sperm or the womb that has nurtured the baby that the the primary claim, is there a hierarchy of claim, and can and to what extent is monetary compensation permissible for the same? What is the claim of the State?
Innate agreement to contract between citizen and State: what are it’s parameters, does this exist? When, where and how far can the State compel a citizen to give up a sample of his , breath, blood, saliva, fingerprints, DNA?
Classic examples:DUI- breathalyzer, blood sample, DNA sample.
What about other biometric data like face and iris scans, tattoo data. See below EFF article on how institutions created to secure us left unchecked and unaccountable are often the greatest violators:
BIOMETRIC DATA SURVEILLANCE – NIST! Tattoo Recognition Score Card: How Institutions Handled Unethical Biometric Surveillance Dataset | Electronic Frontier Foundation
Issues: Who owns this sample/data after it has been collected? If this has been contracted, what is the value ascribed and who are the permitted beneficiaries? While collecting blood/ pound of flesh, is the state also permitted to “take” the DNA/ blood? Does this DNA then go into the States databank creating profiles, highlighted not only for categorizing persons for the particular offense that it has been collected for, but for collating the bloodlines/ DNA of the citizens of a nation, a value not yet calculated and a distinction not yet defined. Does the blood/DNA of Schwarzenegger, Armstrong, and Muhammad Ali, belong to their nation of birth, citizenship or one which carries that predominant bloodline, does culture play a role, what is the hierarchy of claim? In order to establish this hierarchy of claim, there is a need for global consensus on an individual basis and not based on our current State-wise systems of consensus (UN) which would only produce a conflict.
The nations of today are a flash in the pan of historic genetic timelines, where, when and how (under what pretext) can the nations of today with their shifting boundaries, ideologies, systems of governance stake their claim to our blood/DNA as territory becomes less relevant and it all dissolves into a fight for the pound of flesh.
In the age of genetic experimentation where we have gone from creating “dolly” the first genetically engineered sheep to modern day chimeras fusing mouse and man. Can one be compelled contractually to accept the penalty of taking “a pound of flesh”? Can Shylock actually be contractually forced to take his pound of flesh? In a modern day example two people contract to make a perfect child, either using their sperm, eggs or womb or a combination of theirs and others, and the child turns out to be genetically malformed, can the contracting party be compelled to take the child, raise, tend and care for all of the child’s medical educational and care needs when both (or more) of the contracting parties have contributed to it’s birth/being? Is the other party completely absolved from all liabilities regarding the child as it has been contracted away? What is the role/liability of the State that permits these excursions in tech without setting up adequate safeguards? What about human-animal chimeras being created for bio-medical research in labs across the globe, what is the moral status of the sheep embryo crossed with human stem cells resulting in a beating human heart? And more alarmingly what about that transgenic Human-mouse that develops human neurons in its brain? How does humanity treat a living organism with human heart and the human brain conceptually capable of conscience, and what is the demarcating line? Can Henrietta (see Hela below) claim all her genetic expressions, and if not can we twist, tamper and play with this cell line with no moral limit imposed (as is being done currently) to the extent of creating Hela clones? What would be the moral status of Hela human clones? Would some life forms be less equal than others (ie) have a different “moral status” based on conception? Can we really contract with the flesh, and to what degree and category? Can one be legally compelled to take the contracted pound of flesh, the distorted chimera, an experiment gone wrong, a Minotaur? What would be the moral status of such a beast? See link below:
Human-Animal Chimeras: Biological Research & Ethical Issues
Notorious Chimeras from Mythology: The Minotaur
When the issue is with animals, chattel, there is little debate and the laws are clear cut. However, as mentioned above, in this age of genetic manipulation, where the distinction between human and animals are blurred in labs across the globe as clones, chimeras and human organs grown and crafted from animal parts become commonplace, what are the contractual rules governing that pound of flesh? What if an experiment went awry, and the chimeras created with human genes with animal dna strains resulted in a new life form? Who has the premier claim? What if it were more devastating than the small pox, Does the individual, the lab, the State have a corresponding liability to that claim? What if the individual with the underlying human dna wishes out of the contract and does not want that pound of flesh/chimera and nor does he wish for another to possess it, who has the highest claim and does that include the right to destroy it?
See below the sculpture of Henrietta Lacks by Tavares Strachen at the SFMOMA Soft Power exhibit. Tavares Strachan’s “Henrietta Lacks” (2013) is a sculpture consisting of a life-size Pyrex figure suspended in mineral oil, in an acrylic box signifying INVISIBILITY.
SFMOMA Soft Power exhibit 2020:
Henrietta’s tale is one of an unwitting donor whose pound of flesh was literally taken without Informed Consent. The cancer cells of her tumor form the first immortalized cell lines designed to reproduce indefinitely and have tremendously benefitted humanity and biomedical research. Despite arguments to the contrary regarding the laws at that time, the fact is that she was a woman and a minority with little financial means, availing herself of free healthcare offered by the hospital which added to her invisibility, this in my opinion doesn’t justify taking without knowledge or consent.
See below The (must see) Henrietta Lacks movie:
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (2017) | Official Trailer | HBO
Dear Roger, with the exponential growth in technology across the spectrum whether it is biotech or cybertech or even a combination of the two, the conventional laws that have taken centuries to evolve are under pressure to react to changes occurring on a daily basis. It is near impossible for the judges to administer justice in areas that have not been exposed to the general public, debated upon, and gained credibility through consensus as it would result in individual subjective decisions on the part of the judges without the appropriate sanctity of public support. We have to recognize how handicapped our legal system is when it is compelled to deal with the issues of this new technologically driven time, with the laws of the Old World. Our corpus of laws of torts, contracts etc, cannot be automatically imposed on the new technologically driven world as there is often little correlation between our old laws and the realities of this new world, but most of all there has been no debate and consensus on how we as humanity agree to address these issues so pertinent to our own survival.
So, in order to build this consensus, a consensus NOT of legal minds and tech doctorates (or doc-trix as my son calls them and I now understand it to be a doctorate without a corresponding course in Ethics!) but a consensus of the majority of the people whom these laws impact, I have devised a plan of bringing out these current relevant technological issues of today, and possibly tomorrow, in a format that is recognizable, comprehensible and relevant to the average, man, woman and child. A street play if you must, a grand theatre to showcase these issues and to stimulate an audience response. A idea of disseminating relevant legal issues to the widest audience couched in literature, art and theatre and help generate popular opinion for our judges to have a basis to act upon, to deal with the challenges thrown up by technology. This edition of Alice in Wonderland is written by an attorney!
See below Purnima at the Tiger Cave Grand Theatre in Mahabalipuram, India:
Tiger Caves Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu:
Video clip-Tiger Caves:
The carved tiger heads adorning the Tiger Cave are not really tigers but chimeras of lions, tigers and from what i could view other fabulous horned beasts, a fitting stage for the Pallava king and our grand theatre!
I anxiously await your response as another note waits in the wings.
Love to all,