This book is an interesting and thought-provoking examination of the ownership and growing "consumerisation" of parts of the body from cradle to grave, including stem cells, gametes and organs. Issues such as cosmetic surgery, face transplants and tissue provided to biobanks are covered in separate chapters, but unfortunately the contentious matter of "saviour siblings" merits only four lines of text.
The challenging nature of the book is encapsulated in a number of chapter headings, from "Genomes up for grabs: or, could Dr Frankenstein have patented his monster?" to "Buying the 'real me': shopping for a face". Although the chapters frame the main topics, with material this diverse more direction about the themes and concepts therein would have been helpful.
Dickenson has woven into the text some interesting stories at the heart of the ownership debate that give the book wide appeal. The second chapter, "What makes you think you own your own body?", explores the commercialisation of the "Mo" cell line developed by scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, from the spleen of leukaemia patient John Moore.
In chapter seven, Dickenson movingly recites the story of Isabelle Dinoire, the French woman who was the recipient of the world's first face transplant. In making a comparison with cosmetic surgery, she asks: "What's so special about the face?"
No prior knowledge of the background to these stories is assumed, and the reader can approach the discussion from first principles. However, the lack of in-depth analysis of the legal issues can be frustrating for those who are using this book as an introduction to academic study. At some points Dickenson is too anecdotal - for example, in discussing the removal of anonymity of egg and sperm donors, where she states that "many British couples now travel to Spain to get around that requirement". It would be useful to see some reference evidencing this. However, there are comprehensive endnotes and a bibliography.
Drawing on interesting historical and feminist perspectives, this book will appeal to a wide readership that includes medical and law students and those with an interest in ethics.
Body Shopping: The Economy Fuelled by Flesh and Blood
By Donna Dickenson
Published 1 April 2008