Thursday, September 17, 2015

Rosemarie Garland-Thomson: "Why I am a Bioconservative"


A Talk by Rosemarie Garland-Thomson 
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On Sept. 17th, 2015, Rosemarie Garland Thomson spoke on "Why I am a Bioconservative" to a packed lecture hall at the George Washington University. The event was coordinated by the GWU English Department as part of its Crip/Queer Studies programing. David Mitchell introduced the speaker, praising her as a foundational figure in Disability Studies, authoring such influential texts as Freakery, Staring: How We Look, and Extraordinary Bodies. In an hour and a half, Thomson spoke on the important but often unspoken alliance between religious conservatism and non-religious disability activists around "Pro-Life" issues, specifically the abortion of fetuses to be born with physical or mental impairments, euthanasia, and the assisted suicide of the disabled.

By opposing not only the use but the cultural indoctrination of eugenics, disability activists find themselves joining forces with religious conservatives. Thomson contends that while religious and non-religious "bioconservatives" may disagree in first principles, these groups join together in their conclusions. For instance, "dignity" is a key issue within bioconservatives of either ilk. In this context, dignity designates a life worth living and deserving of "moral personhood" (rights and duties) as well as a "quality of life" (well being in medical care, politics, and employment). Religious and non-religious groups may disagree in the source and authority that bestows dignity: humanity or God. Nonetheless, persons of different belief systems can help preserve the dignity of those marked as undesirable: those who are "too expensive" in relation to their social worth.

Thomson stressed the important cultural work of bioconservatism that promote a culture of life. In particular, ritual practices such as the washing of bodies are acts of care common among religious and non-religious communities. Washing in hospitals, elderly care facilities, families by caregivers, as well as the sacramental blessing of children, the sick, and the dead are all examples of rituals that recognize the dignity of the bodies they encounter. Such rituals recognize the dignity of embodied experiences, Thomson argued. Through repetition, rituals directly create the conditions for a quality of life while affirming moral personhood. If washing were more openly a communal practice where the reception of care is a sign of dignity rather than shame, fewer people would be instilled with the belief that they would rather be dead than unable to clean themselves. 
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