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  • 1.
    Wiszmeg, Andréa
    et al.
    Malmö University, Faculty of Health and Society (HS), Department of Social Work (SA). Lund University; University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
    Lundin, Susanne
    Lund University; Wallenberg Research Centre At Stellenbosch University, South Africa.
    Mäkitalo, Åsa
    University of Gothenburg.
    Widner, Håkan
    Lund University.
    Hansson, Kristofer
    Malmö University, Faculty of Health and Society (HS), Department of Social Work (SA).
    Transforming trash to treasure: Cultural ambiguity in foetal cell research2021In: Philosophy Ethics and Humanities in Medicine, E-ISSN 1747-5341, Vol. 16, article id 6Article in journal (Refereed)
    Abstract [en]

    Background

    Rich in different kind of potent cells, embryos are used in modern regenerative medicine and research. Neurobiologists today are pushing the boundaries for what can be done with embryos existing in the transitory margins of medicine. Therefore, there is a growing need to develop conceptual frameworks for interpreting the transformative cultural, biological and technical processes involving these aborted, donated and marginal embryos. This article is a contribution to this development of frameworks.

    Methods

    This article examines different emotional, cognitive and discursive strategies used by neurobiologists in a foetal cell transplantation trial in Parkinson’s disease research, using cells harvested from aborted embryos. Two interviews were analysed in the light of former observations in the processing laboratories, using the anthropologist Mary Douglas’s concept of pollution behaviour and the linguist, philosopher, psychoanalyst and feminist Julia Kristeva’s concept of the abjective to explain and make sense of the findings.

    Results

    The findings indicate that the labour performed by the researchers in the trial work involves transforming the foetal material practically, as well as culturally, from trash to treasure. The transformation process contains different phases, and in the interview material we observed that the foetal material or cells were considered objects, subjects or rejected as abject by the researchers handling them, depending on what phase of process or practice they referred to or had experience of. As demonstrated in the analysis, it is the human origin of the cell that makes it abjective and activates pollution discourse, when the researchers talk of their practice.

    Conclusions

    The marginal and ambiguous status of the embryo that emerges in the accounts turns the scientists handling foetal cells into liminal characters in modern medicine. Focusing on how practical as well as emotional and cultural strategies and rationalizations of the researchers emerge in interview accounts, this study adds insights on the rationale of practically procuring, transforming and utilizing the foetal material to the already existing studies focused on the donations. We also discuss why the use and refinement of a tissue, around which there is practical consensus but cultural ambiguity, deserves further investigation.

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