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Genomes and Genealogies: Decoding Debates about deCode

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Pálsson, Gísli
Conference: Constituting the Commons: Crafting Sustainable Commons in the New Millennium, the Eighth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Bloomington, Indiana, USA
Conf. Date: May 31-June 4
Date: 2000
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/1705
Sector: New Commons
Information & Knowledge
Region: Europe
Subject(s): IASC
common pool resources
new commons
genetic resources--research
information technology
Abstract: "Recent developments in biotechnology have opened up an entirely new biological and social world in which a multitude of different kinds of bodily components, such as blood, genes, gametes, enzymes, tissues, and organs, can be isolated and used for medical and scientific purposes. As a result, newly identified bodily components are quickly absorbed into the market place where they are exchanged in the form of commodities. The commodities are both biological and informational, taking the form of genealogies, medical records, and genetic characteristics of individuals and entire populations. At the same time, many of these developments are met with heavy criticism and organized opposition. Developments in Iceland are a case in point. This paper reflects upon debates about plans for developing a central medical database on Icelanders following controversial laws passed by the Icelandic Parliament in December 1998. I attempt to situate these debates in the Icelandic and the international context, focusing on common property theory, public discourse of eugenics and gene action, and the contribution of anthropology to the understanding of the central issues involved. Among the many questions raised by ongoing biotechnological developments in Iceland are the following: What makes the Icelandic human genome a valuable commodity? How and why is it contested? In what sense are genetic information and genealogies common property? How are the tensions between private and communitarian perspectives played out in human genome projects?"

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