Accepted paper:

The right to life? Stem cell tourism as a human rights issue


Casimir MacGregor (Monash University)
Alan Petersen
Megan Munsie (The University of Melbourne )

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines stem cell tourism as a human rights issue. It critiques the notion of bio-legitimacy, by suggesting that the focus of biopolitical phenomena should not solely be on humanitarianism, but concerned with the right to life.

Paper long abstract:

Recently there has been a growing interest in stem cell 'tourism' - where a person (or carer) travels to another country for purported stem cell treatments not available in their home country. Patients have advocated for access to clinically unproven treatments (such as stem cell treatments) through the discourse of human rights. The patients 'right to try' movement in the USA has mobilised the discourse of human rights in order to assert the moral right to determine a legal right to try and gain access to clinically unproven treatments outside of clinical trial without travelling overseas. A human rights approach to health ascribes each human life equal worth, notwithstanding the fact that, in reality, the biological lives of humans are recurrently subject to judgements of worth. This paper critiques Fassin's (2009) notion of bio-legitimacy - how different modes of life are valued, mobilised and legitimated. Bio-legitimacy asserts that biopolitical phenomena always has a moral dimension. We suggest, based upon our examination of stem cell tourism, there must be a dialectic between moral and legal rights. Second, for bio-legitimacy, humanitarianism as a moral principle grants human life absolute priority. Our paper suggests that it is not solely the logic of humanitarianism that gives life priority, but rather the right to life. We argue, in order to legitimate life, we must attend to the re-formulation of 'biological citizenship' between citizen and state that mobilities like stem cell tourism creates, but also the creation and bearing of rights - the right to life.

panel Imm03
Bio-legitimacy and mobilities 2.0: a challenge to human rights?