20 February 2007

More About Bones

I was worried that I might have sounded insensitive in the other day's post about certain indigenous people's bone fetish (and when did that ever stop you before, I hear you asking?), so I wanted to make clear that I'm not in favour of mad scientists or the secret police being able to descend upon your Aunt Tillie's remains, wherever they may be sequestered, and whatever race / religion / ethnicity / belief system you subscribe to.

Personally, if someone wants to do research on any part of my body (any part, that is, that can't be used in medical procedures to help save someone else's life), they're more than welcome. But I couldn't in good conscience approve of forcing people, each of whom has to grieve in his or her own way, to allow the corpses of their loved ones to be treated in a way that violated their religious or even esthetic values.

That's not what we're talking about when it comes to 200 (or, in the case of Kennewick Man, 9000 year old skeletal remains. Nobody even knows who these guys were, let alone who their relatives were; what is at issue is not the phony-baloney "traditional religion" being claimed by self-invented activists. The case of Kennewick Man is particularly sinister: here you have a clear case of Native Americans trying to use religion not just to argue against science (as, for example, in the case of creationists trying to deny evolution), but to prevent science from functioning at all.

In case you're not familiar with the Kennewick Man case, the skeleton in question appears to have features suggesting it was not what is conventionally thought of as "Native American." It could be that of an Asian, Pacific Islander, or even European, which, since supposedly no one was in North America 9000 years ago except for "Native Americans," kind of makes a mockery of the whole racially based mumbo jumbo that allowed Ward Churchill et al. to make their fortunes. Result: the local Indians are desperately claiming that scientists have no right to conduct tests to determine the skeleton's orgin, claiming that if the government doesn't allow them to simply bury the skeleton with suitable "Native American" ceremonies, it is showing "disrespect" for their beliefs.

Well, duh. The government is showing disrespect for members of the Flat Earth Society every time it launches a satellite into orbit; are we supposed to cancel the space program to cater to the antediluvian superstions of a few crackpots? If you need further illustration of just how ridiculous this whole thing is, imagine a skeleton is found in a field somewhere in England, and carbon dating tells us that it is approximately 1600 years old. Okay, so it could have been a Roman soldier, it could have been a native Briton or Celt, it could have been a Saxon of Viking raider, even a Pict who ranged a little far afield. So what, are we supposed to have Italy, England, France, Norway, Scotland, Wales and Ireland all fighting over who gets to bury him (again) because he was "one of us"? And considering how many religions have been and are practiced in the aforementioned countries, which one gets the nod? What about the possibility that the dead guy was an atheist, or didn't particularly want to be a part of any of your tribes?

Granted that the racial and ethnic history of Australia and North America isn't nearly as diverse as that of Europe (or at least we don't think it is, and if the various cultural fascists get their way, scientists will never get a chance to find out. Regardless, to assume that because someone's remains are found in an area claimed by some particular tribe, he therefore has to be part of that tribe is no more than a particularly primitive and pernicious form of racialism.

But barbarous practices with respect to the dead are by no means limited to indigenous or backward peoples: just think - and every time I do, I get infuriated - about the fact that tens of thousands of people die for lack of an organ transplant while at the same time millions of perfectly healthy organs are buried, burned or otherwise disposed of. If you're a good citizen, you've of course signed your organ donor card and keep it with your driving licence, and you've also told your family and friends about your wishes. But if you forgot to fill out a card, or if your family doesn't know your wishes, your body will be disposed of, and someone who could have used those organs will very possibly die.

This is completely insane and backwards. All dead bodies should be considered legitimate sources for organ donation unless the deceased person has specifically stated in writing that he or she doesn't want his organs used. The only reason this isn't done is the same atavistic reverence for dead bodies that we find in primitive peoples around the world. Yes, I know that some people have religious views that rule out organ donation, and they should have a right to opt out. But the handful of people for whom this is an important issue can certainly take the time to fill out a simple "non-organ donor" card. If they don't, it can't have been all that important to them, could it?

Sure, they'll finally get around to changing the law, but how many thousands, maybe even millions, will have to die before politicians get up the nerve to risk incurring the wrath of a few religious nuts? Oh well, I guess we're talking about the entire history of democracy here, and yes, these things take time.

1 comment:

dashap said...

Hey Larry, can you foward me a current email or snailmail address? I'd like to send you something.