Consent, Coercion and Beneficence

Throughout the past few classes we have been discussing several issues with the partnership between Gan and T’Gatoi in Octavia Butler’s Bloodchild. We have contemplated the complexity of their partnership and the issue of consent. Our class discussion reminds me of what I am currently learning in my Behavioral Research Methods class. Currently in this class I am learning about the International Review Board, which is a group of people who determine whether a proposed scientific experiment is ethical and thus allow to be performed. There are several guidelines for this which include: respecting the rights of subjects, informed consent, no coercion, beneficence and justice. Specifically, the parts that I connected to our course are informed consent, coercion and beneficence.

They key in informed consent is the word informed. It is not enough in an experiment to have the participants signature agreeing to be a test subject. Rather, the experimenter needs to provide information about the entire experiment, which includes: what the participant will be doing, the purpose for the experiment, and not deceiving the subject about the experiment. In class we discussed consent with the agreement between Gan and T’Gatoi, the implantation. Some may say that Gan gave consent from the beginning. When Gan first nods to the situation he says “my sister instantly took a liking to [T’Gatoi] and wanted to be chosen, but my mother was just coming to terms with me and T’Gatoi liked the idea of choosing an infant… I’m told I was first caged with T’Gatoi only three minutes after my birth.” (8) He seemed to just accept the situation because it was how he was raised; it was the only way he knew. However, connecting to the informed consent criteria, this consent was not informed because Gan didn’t really understand the situation. Gan realizes this upon seeing Lomas give birth, after which he says; “I had been told all my life that this was a good and necessary thing Tilc and Terran did together- a kind of birth. I had believed it until now. I knew birth was painful and bloody, no matter what. But this was something else, something worse. And I wasn’t ready to see it. Maybe I would never be.” (17) Gan’s opinion of his consent of the situation changed greatly after he is given more information about it.

I also see a connection with coercion. The IRB won’t allow an experiment if there is a large amount of coercion, which involves threatening or forcing someone to do something. Although technically one could argue that Gan is given the choice of having his sister be implanted instead of himself; in another sense Gan doesn’t really have a choice because he knows this is wrong. “I could make Xuan Hoa my shield. Would it be easier to know that red worms were growing in her flesh instead of mine?” (26) Gan and the other children in the preservation are not fully given a choice about this decision. This is an exchange that has been going on in the preserve for generations, it is a social “norm” now in a way, and the children do not fully understand that it doesn’t have to be this way. Gan, and the other Terran are coerced because there are consequences if they disobey. The Tilc are more powerful than the Terran so the Terran can not rebel in this situation without being suppressed. 

Beneficence also connects because it involves risks and rewards. In my Behavioral Research class, we discussed beneficence as the necessity that the benefits of the experiments must outweigh the costs. In other words, any harm or discomfort caused to animal or human participants must be justified by the amount of good the experiment is trying to do for the population.  There is a partnership between the experimenter and the experimentee and each has obligations to the other.  This connects to class because out whole class premise revolves around risks and rewards. In Bloodchild there is a partnership between the Terrans and the Tilc, specifically between T’Gatoi and Gan. As Gan puts it when he insists T’Gatoi allows him to keep the gun, “there is risk, Gatoi, in dealing with a partner.” This partnership has risks and rewards for both parties and ultimately by agreeing to the partnership each party believes that their rewards outweigh their risks in the situation.

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