Finding Feminism in DNA Analysis

Filed records of personal identification.

Finding the potential connection between the issue of genetic testing and monitoring to feminism seemed like a long shot when the notion was first presented to me.  Reflecting on Nelkin and Andrews article, “Surveillance Creep in the Genetic Age”, I of course made the most evident connection with media.  How I find the two issues relating, however, lie not in a media context but in a medical one.

Nelkin and Andrews reveal how DNA analysis, specifically for military and law enforcement purposes, poses serious questions to the ownership and privacy of one’s body.  Providing DNA as a source of identification to self-proclaimed “entitled” institutions initiates a level of vulnerability in the individual, similar to women’s vulnerability in the medical world in terms of reproductive rights.

In both cases, personal interests are at some point lost to fulfill the interest of the more influential power based on allegedly inherent authority.  Nelkin and Andrew cite three instances where men resisted the military mandate to provide DNA on three very different personal grounds including moral objections, racist claims and to simply “control the integrity of their living bodies” as quoted by Vlacovsky and Mayfield.  The question this raises is that on what grounds is it justified and okay by the medical and law enforcement authorities to deny personal requests for their own purposes?  Similar to women’s resistance to certain medical practices regarding reproduction, allowing these institutions to an even minimal amount of control over our bodies, can be considered an infringement of privacy and the potential of exploitation.

By resisting the military mandate to provide DNA samples, these men, much like the women of the health movement in the 70’s, challenged authority and took full possession and jurisdiction over their bodies.  While these resistances did not go without confrontation and chastisement by authority, their rights were at least partially observed and considered in the setting of a civil suit.  In the three cases brought up by Nelkin and Andrews, race plays a significant role in this consideration as it was within the women’s health movement, and this additional factor further challenges the question: Who has the right to their own body and on what premises is that given?


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