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1 2 4 Human embryonic and fetal specimens were once so abundant that the Carnegie collectors could gather hundreds in any given year. As evidence of the unlimited supply and educational value of such “material,” fetal specimens filled the shelves of anatomy, zoology, physiology, and embryology departments around the country from the second decade of the twentieth century to at least 1950. Today, by contrast, human embryonic tissue is a scarce and tightly regulated commodity. These fluctuating fortunes of supply and demand might seem counterintuitive; fertility rates are lower now, although the clinics that provide abortion and fertility services presumably generate a fair supply of embryonic and fetal remains. The recent scarcity, of course, is the result of federal limitations that govern fetal tissue research in the United States. The changing legislative and regulatory landscape is a fascinating story, especially with reference to the disposition of anatomical and fetal material (Coutts 1993; Green 2001; Terry 1986), but it takes for granted the “natural” character of embryonic and fetal specimens. It is interesting to consider the social climate that generated thousands of human embryo, fetal, and infant specimens, making them available to anatomical collectors. The existence of the Carnegie Human Embryo Collection is evidence of a social project that took advantage of conditions specific to Progressive Era Baltimore, including rapid industrialization, immigration, high fertility rates, restrictions on contraception and abortion, and patriarFive Traffic in “Embryo Babies” UC-Morgan-ToPress.indd 124 UC-Morgan-ToPress.indd 124 6/8/2009 1:49:12 PM 6/8/2009 1:49:12 PM 1 2 5 T r a f f i c i n “ E m b r y o B a b i e s ” chal policies that governed marriage, paternity, and childrearing. Unveiling the hidden and thus invisible sources of embryo production helps to explain how the Carnegie anatomists were able to accumulate embryo and fetal specimens , package them as biological entities, and feed them back to the public as “naturally occurring” organisms. This chapter begins with a story about how the very earliest, two-cell human embryos were finally added to the Carnegie collection as the result of an intentional “egg hunt” that took scientists into the wombs of pregnant women. One of the egg hunters later described the specimens as “naturally occurring human ova,” although I argue that his characterization effaces the techno-scientific apparatus and gender-stratified workthatmadethespecimensavailableandinfactcalledthemintoexistence. A fuller appreciation of this context requires that we look outside the laboratory , at the living conditions that put pregnant women at risk of illness, and that facilitated miscarriage, fetal death, and infant abandonment. Today it is easy to forget the health risks faced by women who were denied the vote, and for whom contraception and abortion were illegal and antibiotics completely unavailable. Yet this historical environment was perfectly suited to the needs of “egg hunters” and collectors of human embryos. Embryo specimens are very much the product of social action; they do not spring up naturally, like mushrooms after a rain. Egg hunting From 1938 through 1954, three medical researchers in Boston set out on a systematic quest to find the very earliest fertilized human ova.1 They included gynecologist John Charles Rock (1890–1984), his assistant Miriam Menkin2 (1901–92), and gynecological pathologist Arthur Tremain Hertig (1904–90). Their project was a far-flung collaboration that also involved the Carnegie Institution of Washington Department of Embryology, which was especially interested in tracking down the very earliest embryos—those “between the time of fertilization of the egg and the implantation of the embryo in the uterus about 14 days later” (Hanson 2004:69)—that had so far eluded their determined efforts. Rock was a devout Catholic with five children who openly disagreed with the Catholic Church’s opposition to birth control. As a professor at Harvard Medical School and director of an infertility clinic in Boston, Rock lectured frequently about the need to help women, whether that meant achieving pregnancy or preventing it (Gladwell 2000; Hertig 1989:434; Scully 1988: 368). Rock had been an actor in the Harvard Hasty Pudding theatrical club UC-Morgan-ToPress.indd 125 UC-Morgan-ToPress.indd 125 6/8/2009 1:49:12 PM 6/8/2009 1:49:12 PM c h a p t e r 5 1 2 6 in college, which was no doubt a fitting role for his flamboyant personality. In the 1940s, he conducted the first in-vitro fertilization experiments in the United States, and in...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780520944725
Related ISBN
9780520260443
MARC Record
OCLC
667013087
Pages
328
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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