Deadly Diseases and Consent

I would like to re-introduce you to what has been discussed in class as an ENGL-101 life preserver: consent. Consent is a huge part of what this course is about, and I have found that there are more situations where consent is important than the short list of what I initially thought.

Consent is a huge topic in Clay’s Ark, as previously discussed in our group blog post; however, the topic of consent doesn’t just stop there. The plot of Clay’s Ark revolves around the idea of an organism taking control of a host. This organism compels the host to infect others with the disease by whatever means necessary: “[Eli] was not an animal, not a rapist, not a murderer. Yet he knew that if he let himself be drawn to the woman, he would rape her. If he raped her, if he touched her at all, she might die” (Butler, 469).

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The Recurring Issue: Income Inequality

According to an article in The Washington Post, income inequality in America is the highest ever measured (Telford, 2019). The rich are getting richer, while the wages of the lower class remain the same. 

Politicians promoting a capitalist society argue that more money in the hands of the rich will be dispersed among the poor in the form of more jobs and increased wages. In reality, the wealthy hoard their riches and exploit the poor. 

The problem with income inequality is not that there are different economic classes of people. The problem with income inequality is that society has grown to accept these differences, and it is blind to the injustices committed against the poor due to our economic structure. This structure is designed to maximize wealth on the backs of those who do not have it. This may be in the form of tax loopholes, political power, or other parts of the structure that yield little benefit to the poor. 

Zombies vs. Homelessness


It may not seem like income inequality could be compared to a post-apocalyptic zombie world, but it can. Today’s poor are like Mark Spitz in Zone One, accepting of their fate and just trying to survive. Today’s homeless are like the zombies. Everyone wants them gone, but the rich are able to avoid and ignore the problem. The rich continue to live their luxurious lives, albeit with less of a population, and the middle and lower class, like Mark Spitz, continue to “sweep” the zombies that remain in the city (Whitehead, 2011). 

How is this like income inequality? Our homeless don’t have a voice, and it would be better for the elite if there was no fight for equality. Thus, the reality of the world is handled by the middle and lower classes, while the homeless squander. 

Everyone wants to pretend the zombies don’t exist in Zone One, so they can live their “normal lives, but someone has to deal with the zombie problem in order for this to happen. This is like the lawyers, bankers, servants, and salesman to the elite. The workers deal with the dirt, so the elite don’t have to. 

The more-tragic comparison is of homeless people to zombies. The homeless are no more valued in real life than zombies are in Zone One. Instead of “sweeping” them, we try to remove them from the cities by shipping them elsewhere. They are discarded like they are not human, and many people who are better off could care less. 

Is Income Inequality Humane?

Placing unequal values on lives is natural. We place more value on children’s lives because they are our future. There is more value in the educated, at least in career opportunities, than someone who did not pursue education. Those who work hard are sometimes able to rise to the top, but too often this does not occur, and that is not fair. 

The extremely wealthy often make their way to the top through their bloodline as opposed to their actions. They can be extremely uneducated, lazy, and immoral but still remain among the elite. In this way, many of the elite do not deserve to be at the top. These people may also consider themselves superior to all other classes, which is why exploitation and apathy occurs. The bottom rung of society is no more wanted than zombies. 

Eliminating Billionaires

Whether or not you agree with the politics of Bernie Sanders, it is difficult to deny that nobody needs billions of dollars, and he proposes taxing billionaires (Telford, 2019). If the billionaires of the world cannot redistribute their wealth in the form of increased wages and philanthropy, than the government should make them. At least by eliminating tax loopholes, social services would have enough money to be sustainable. 

Having Heart

I am as guilty as so many others for walking by homeless people and pretending they don’t exist. Giving them food or money can put you at risk for injury. Instead, I try to donate when I can. I am not in the elite population, but I try to do my part. 

What I don’t understand is having billions of dollars and living in a nation where there is hunger and homelessness. I don’t understand the poor state of our schooling system when there are billionaires who could contribute to bettering communities. 

Are all billionaires bad? I don’t know the answer to this, and I know many have developed philanthropic organizations to help those who are less fortunate. If they are still billionaires after their philanthropic efforts, then I would argue that they aren’t doing enough. If they run companies and are billionaires, I would argue they don’t pay their employees what they are worth. In this way, billionaires exploit those below them, and the least fortunate are no better off than zombies. Income inequality to a certain extent is natural and probably necessary. The growth in America’s income inequality has escalated to an immoral level. 

The Injustice in Dehumanization of Those Perceived as Different – Analyzing Colson Whitehead’s “Zone One” By Ashley Boccio

What is the true importance of a name? Does the ambiance of a name define who we are or where we originated?  In novels such as “Zone One”, by Colson Whitehead, we see the clear loss of humanity and origin through the personification of the “Skels”, better known as the infected-undead. In a post-apocalyptic, zombie-ridden world, Whitehead explores the depth of names and their importance for an individual’s essence, thus exploiting a highly tangible and consistent nefarious pattern in our own society. Those who are viewed as different, or less than human because of these differences, are often disregarded and forgotten in both life and death; robbed of their basic human rights, based solely on another’s perception of who they are.

Whitehead’s main character, ironically re-named “Mark Spitz” after the Olympic swimmer, is able to personify the dead, perceiving them as people rather than “things”. Unlike the disconnected demeanor of most survivors towards the Skels, Mark Spitz continuously tries to lasso the Skels back to their pre-apocalyptic lives. Focusing on observations such as hairstyles, clothing, and place of work, Spitz is able to piece together a narrative of his own making for the Skel’s last experience alive and who they might have been. Through this action, Spitz shows genuine human sympathy and connection to the Skels, honoring them in his own way. In our first interaction with the Skels in the novel, we see Spitz’s constant attempt to link the dead back to the humanity they left behind:

“The youngest one wore its hair in a style popularized by a sitcom…The bushy eyebrows, the whisper of a mustache — it was hard to avoid recognizing in this one his sixth-grade English teacher, Miss Alcott…He’d always had a soft spot got Miss Alcott…This one was probably the first infected…Just another day at the office when she gets bit by some New York whacko while loading up on spring mix at the corner deli’s Salad Lounge. Full of plague but unaware…She returns to her cubicle the next day because she hadn’t taken a sick day in years. Then the transformation…It happened every so often that he recognized something in these monsters, they looked like someone he had known or loved” (Whitehead 17-19).

It is impossible that Spitz could have ever possibly known this much detail just by observing the Skels, yet it brings him comfort to give each of them a narrative before he puts them to rest. Holding on to their given fiction stories, Spitz is able to keep the Skel’s alive in sentiment, not forgetting who they could have been. In stark comparison, Spitz’s friend Gary, is able to disregard the past lives and experiences of the Skels, viewing them merely as walking objects, dead of all memory, emotion, and thus humanity: 

“Gary didn’t have much sympathy for the dead, a.k.a. the “squares,” the “suckers,” and the “saps” … Gary made no such distinction…they were equally detestable…Gary was unmoved (referring to the narratives Spitz often tried to give the Skels)”. (Whitehead 30-31).

The names and stories of the dead are innumerable, yet they have no connections left to their past-selves other than the very flesh left on their undead bones. All wealth, social class, and human connections of the past world are left null and void after the sweep of death that ran across the world. As we travel through this chaotic novel it is impossible not to ponder what Whitehead is trying to express to his audience and what he had in mind when creating characters such as Mark Spitz and Gary, and their predicaments. 

Delving into the given setting of lower Manhattan, we can look closely at the real-life African Burial Grounds found on Broadway and what their significance might have been to Whitehead when writing his novel. Underneath the streets of lower Manhattan there is an enormous grave of unnamed African Americans, who were buried after living a life in enslavement. The bodies uncovered had no names or grave markers, given zero recognition of the lives they lived, forgotten by a world that refused to view them as equals due to perceived differences. Their bodies were carelessly thrown into the ground, without the decent sense of celebrating their human lives. This evident lack of empathy can be compared to how some of Whitehead’s characters, such as Gary, viewed the Skel’s. It can be inferred that Whitehead is making a statement about this dark part of our human history through his horrific depiction of the Skel’s and how they are portrayed and treated. Just as the undead are innumerable and nameless, so where the slaves of our past society. Whether given numbers, or false names, these individuals and the Skel’s were not given the human commonality of names, as they were viewed as unworthy of a name’s stature and connection to social status. The injustice done to these individuals in both life and death is astonishing, and Whitehead is making us acknowledge the truth and existence of this injustice through his narrative. Whitehead’s character Mark Spitz is depicted constantly attempting to piece together the narratives of the dead, showing respect for the lives that they might have lived. In NYC, we have tried this same idea by building a polished memorial to those buried beneath the city, their lives not to be forgotten in death. The memorial is marked with a map of the world, and symbols of all different religions and spiritualities. Through these visuals, the architects were able to express unity of people of all cultures in life and death. As part of the memorial there stands a teepee like structure, carved out of polished stone. Standing within this structure, a passenger is able to reflect and look onto the memorial. Just as the architects intended, the memorial invokes recognition and reflection of the dead. Whitehead shared similar goals to these architects when writing his novel “Zone One”, making us question how we perceive differences in individuals, and how we weigh an individual’s humanity and character.

Another tangible example of this continued human pattern of dehumanization can be depicted by the mass of unmarked graves of asylum patients found under the Mississippi Health Center. Similar to both the slaves of the African Burial Ground and the Skel’s of Whitehead’s novel, those who were perceived as “mentally insane” were often cast aside and robbed of their basic human rights; excluded from the world and forced to be forgotten. Mental illness was seen as a disdainful and taboo affliction in the past, and often individuals were dropped off at these hellish institutions to never be contacted or spoken of again. Despite the false social perceptions, these individuals were still people with emotions, memories and so on. Yet, we still failed to recognize the humanity in these people, because society told us they were unworthy. Whitehead’s character Mark Spitz breaks through the surface of this pattern and is able to dive deep into the lives of those forgotten, not forgetting their humanity. As Spitz treads through the waters of the zombie apocalypse, he succeeds in holding on to the human decency of recognizing the dead. 

By creating the graphic imagery of the “Skel’s” Whitehead begs this question in a very direct matter, making us question our own perceptions of our world and the people in it. In conclusion, we are all worthy of a name and origin story, and this pattern of disregarding human-lives needs to come to an end.

EveryBODY Has a Story

Unfortunately, throughout history the mistreatment of human bodies after they have died appears many times. This mistreatment of course depends on how the person discarding the body views its life even if they weren’t apart of it. This theme runs rampant in Colson Whitehead’s Zone One. The main character Mark Spitz, and the rest of the group almost seem to discard bodies as if it were an instinct. Outside of fiction, finding discarded bodies is a reality in our society today which is unpacked in Nina Golgowski’s article titled “Up to 7,000 Bodies Found Buried Beneath University of Mississippi Medical Center.”

Throughout Whitehead’s Zone one the killing of infected people and the disposal of their bodies is constant. I found myself detaching the humanity from the victims with the disease in an attempt to get through the book and avoid the emotions associated with all of the death. This is exactly what the characters in the book are experiencing as well so they can get through Zone One and finish their assigned task. Whitehead trapped me in the exact thing I resented the characters for, and I had to self-reflect on the innate human mechanisms that I share as well. “Gary gripped the fortune-teller’s hand again. Don’t you want to know when you meet Mr. Right?” Gary is pretending to be the fortune-teller and not only mocks her previous profession, but touches her body without valid reason or consent, just for the simple fact that he can because she’s dead. He puts on a show for everyone in the room but then, “He lifted his fingers from the fortune-teller’s hand and in the instant he broke contact she grabbed his hand and chomped deep into the meat between the index finger and the thumb.”  After infection the person dies but is then brought back to life in a zombie -like state. I think Whitehead was cleverly trying to show that if dead people could come back to life, like in the book, and their bodies were being mistreated, they would do something about it as this fortune-teller did when she bit Gary. Whitehead challenges the assumption that once someone is dead that their body can be used without consent or care. 

Nina Golgowski highlights the more present reality that’s being uncovered at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Unlike the comfort provided in being able to detach from Zone One as it’s a fictional novel, what Golgowski writes about is as real as it gets. The medical center used to be the site of the Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum that left behind a mass grave site of its patients. Many loved ones of the patients still wonder why they were never informed when the patients died, “Those people buried in the asylum’s cemetery likely had relatives who couldn’t come and claim them or weren’t notified of their deaths in time, she said. People consistently want to know; can you find my ancestors in the records? she said. Overall, it’s just tremendous sadness and curiosity.” The facility clearly believed that its patients weren’t worth the effort of tracking down loved ones after their passing. Just as Mark Spitz from Whitehead’s Zone One believed that the sick people were no longer human, so did the Asylum. Creating a mass grave site was easier than dealing with families and asking for consent. An especially touching case was highlighted by Golgowski, “Clark discovered that one patient was her great-great-great grandfather, Isham Earnest, who fought in the War of 1812, a conflict between the U.S. and the United Kingdom. Earnest is believed to have died at the facility some time between 1857 and 1859. It followed Earnest being ruled insane.” One can assume that Earnest probably had post-traumatic stress disorder from his time spent fighting in the war yet although he risked his life for his country, he was labeled insane and was discarded with the thousands of other patients. How could a brave man who deserved peace and care be discarded so senselessly? It’s a human responsibility to treat others as if they were your own family member because if it were you would want them to be treated with respect. A fundamental lesson many learn in kindergarten yet seem to struggle with in adulthood?  

Zone One’s War On Racism

How can you describe something you have seen when that something can be traumatizing and unimaginable to absorb in order to reflect on the experience or event? People who have been in wars as soldiers, in that case active in the warfare, or those who were innocent civilians in war territory may identify with the phenomenon of having to describe the indescribable and inconceivable. In Colson Whitehead’s novel Zone One, the war on zombies is a metaphor for the war on racism through the conflict taken up against the skels and stragglers for reconstruction pursuits by the government. The nature of the war is masked through literary devices such as third person omniscient point of view and the utilization of direct and indirect dialogue, thus introducing the potential for the war to be seen for something it is not. 

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Issues of Consent

Consent has always been a large topic of debate. Some people have never fully grasped what consent actually means in the medical field. Just recently there was a news report about a doctor in Virginia who struggled with consent.

Consent means that you are giving permission for something to happen to you or an agreement to do something. Informed consent is also important because people need to know exactly what is happening to them, why something needs to change, and how it will change. Informed consent is the most important thing a person can give because then they know exactly what is happening to them.

Javaid Perwaiz, a 69 year old doctor in Chesapeake, Virginia, was performing surgeries on woman that they did not want, without their knowledge or consent. He was performing hysterectomies and tying their fallopian tubes without these women’s consent. “In one case, Perwaiz, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Chesapeake, told a woman she needed a hysterectomy after discovering the “imminent onset” of cancer, the documents said. The patient objected and asked instead for a less invasive operation, in which only her ovaries were removed, the court papers said When the woman awoke from surgery, “she was shocked to discover Perwaiz performed a total abdominal hysterectomy.” The doctor cut the patient’s bladder in the process, causing sepsis and requiring a six-day hospital stay, investigators claimed.” Perwaiz was performing harmful surgeries on these women without having their explicit consent.

Consent is an issue here because these women are undergoing invasive procedures that can affect the rest of their lives, without even knowing. They wanted procedures that were not as invasive, that is what they agreed to. But, their doctor decided he wanted to do a different procedure, and then not even put it on their medical records. “When the woman later obtained her medical records, the surgery was described as “elective” and cancer was not mentioned, they said.” The doctor that these women trusted to take care of them lied to them and did things without their consent.

These women had to deal with an unfortunate event that has been going on in the medical field for hundreds of years. Consent in the medical field has been an ongoing issue for many minority groups. As Washington states in her book, Medical Apartheid “Physicians’ memoirs, medical journals, and planters’ records all reveal that enslaved black Americans bore the worst abuses of these crudely empirical practices which countenanced a hazardous degree of ad hoc experimentation in medications, dosages, and even spontaneous surgical experiments in the daily practice among slaves.” Since slavery people have been undergoing harmful procedures without their consent. They did not know what was happening to them.

Many of us do not think twice about going to the doctors. We trust our doctors to take care of us and have our best interests in mind. These women thought they would be safe and taken cared for within the limits they set. Consent needs to be enforced in the medical field and not taken advantage of, as this doctor did.

External Things Defining the Internal (Part 1 of 12 ¾)

“Zulus”, “Clays Ark”, “Zone One,” and “Medical Apartheid” all share a similar theme of the conflict that comes with being externally rather than internally defined. That is, being told what you are rather than willing your self to be itself. In “Zulus,” we can see this clearly from people’s attitudes towards Alice Acitophel; she’s fat and judged very negatively as a result; she’s fat in a context where being fat is far from the norm and implies wrongdoing—eating too much food in a food-starved world. She is further defined later as a cow, as an animal to be milked for the benefits that others will partake in at Alice’s expense. In “Clay’s Ark”, Eli and the other infected individuals meet with the negative knee-jerk reactions of Rane and her father Blake, who look with disgust and self-interested worry at the infected. Even more powerfully, Eli has to wrestle internal with defining himself as an external force enters Eli’s body and begins affecting his inward definition of himself. In Eli’s case, it is not merely himself against an external thing—like another person’s judgment—rather, it is Eli against an external thing (the organism) that has entered him and has begun changing him from within. In “Zone One”, as with “Clay’s Ark”, the infected, as far as can be seen in the story, are exclusively defined from without by the uninfected survivors of the plague. So it is with the history in “Medical Apartheid”, where blacks are frequently defined from without, typically by whites and typically by whites that possess a great degree of power, e.g. doctors, and value is placed upon these external judgments of the victim’s worth. In other words, external forces define an other’s worth.

The pain that comes along with this—with the self being defined from without—can be clearly seen in the aforementioned works, as well as in other literature such as Du Bois’ “The Souls of Black Folk” and Langston Hughes’ “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain.” One is, according to Du Bois, and borne out by some studies, placed behind a great veil in which they are separated from another world through no action of their own. Rather, an external force has deemed, consciously or implicitly, that separate spheres must, and therefore do, exist. From behind this veil one becomes ever aware of one’s twoness; that one is both who they will to be internal, and who they are determined to be by external things. One is conscious of himself as he defines himself, but is also conscious of how other define him, and he must always navigate these two worlds. There comes to be a lack of concord in one’s heart: I am that I am, but the world sees and treats me differently from how I am internally. With Alice Acitophel, we can see that she possesses a naturally kind heart (albeit she is very naïve), yet she is treated poorly by others on account of her physical appearance, which they have deemed to be a serious crime. Shen she becomes thin, however, she becomes more like the perfect Lucinda Knotes and is generally treated better by the people she subsequently meets. Eli in “Clay’s Ark” has to cope with the natural internal problem of defining oneself, a natural external defining him (i.e. other people’s perceptions of him), and an external that enters him and changes him from within. The individuals in Medical Apartheid, likewise, are defined from without in contradiction with their presumed internal definitions of themselves. (No one wills to be victim of non-consensual medical exploitation that leads to so much suffering.) The common theme of being defined externally found in these works is clearly displayed as a source of significant trauma and suffering in the victims’ lives.

Harmful Tropes: A Look Into The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead, a long running TV show, plays on many tropes of zombie culture. Slow, tattered, partly eaten zombies roam the world posing a threat to those not yet infected. It’s a common theme of this particular genre. Most wouldn’t think of it as anything, I know I didn’t when I’d sit and watch episode after episode with my family.  

Within The Walking Dead is another trope-the taking of “trophies”. One character, a member of the good guy group, named Daryl creates a necklace of severed zombie ears, cutting them off after killing them. These ears are “trophies”, a show of his kills, his toughness, an element to the badass persona he presents. Daryl is not the only character to do this. The Governor, an antagonist, keeps the severed heads of the living dead in jars filled with water. Because only destroying the brain will put the living dead back to dead, these heads are still very much alive.  Those heads, like Daryl’s necklace of ears, were the Governor’s trophies, a show of his skill and sociopathic nature. Now, I saw a difference in them. Daryl was just taking ears, the ears of random dead people. It was icky, but not concerning. The Governor, was much more concerning, as he was making the undead suffer, instead of putting them out of their misery. A class discussion made me realize, that no, at a fundamental level, both are very wrong. No matter if it is Daryl or the Governor, both are ignoring the bodily autonomy of those who they use for their trophies. Those who they take from are people, they were living, breathing people, just like Daryl, just like me. With that I began to understand that the trope of mutilating dead bodies in order to take trophies has been a reality, not a trope, for many years. 

In my Native American Literature class with Dr. Woidat, I learned about the Sand Creek Massacre. This was an event in history even my AP teachers had neglected to teach me about. Simon J. Ortiz notes in his book from Sand Creek (buy it here), that the Native tribes living on the shores of Sand Creek believed they would be protected by the American Flag they had been given, saying “The People had been assured they would be protected by the flag.”(pg. 8), however they were not. Lead by John Chivington, the village was attacked by 700 armed men. 700 armed men who killed 105 women and children, and 28 men (pg.8). The men after massacring the village then took their own trophies. They took the body parts of the women, the children, and the men, mutilating and humiliating the bodies of these peaceful people. The men took these body parts, from ears to fingers to genitals, and pinned them to their hats, a show of their kills. A show of how inhuman these men saw Native Americans. (For further reading: Witness Accounts from The Sand Creek Massacre and The Sand Creek Massacre-The Smithsonian. I will warn you both articles talk of the cutting of bodies, however the Witness Accounts are very graphic, so please be aware of that if you choose to read it.)  This is not the only time in history this has occurred. 

Harriet Washington in her book Medical Apartheid addresses the issue of the nonconsensual mutilation of one’s corpse. In 1846, Dr. Pray started medical school, feeling bad for a “poor, despised, and disregarded” African American girl, who he then began to dissect. A year later, the same man would take enjoyment in scaring women with a piece of a dead African American person, a piece of someone he had saved from the dissection table (pg. 112-113). Dr. Pray used this poor person’s body, this unnamed person, as a trophy. A person who seemed so capable of understanding, a good guy, taking a trophy and having such disrespect for another’s body. Yet this not far off from the actions of Daryl. This didn’t stop here. Grave robbing was a common practice, and medical schools prided themselves in being able to get these bodies, as if taking these bodies gave them some form of trophy, a sick sign that they were better than colleges with less stolen bodies (pg.132). These bodies were subjected to postmortem racism, by being taken from their final resting place and being illegally smuggled into a college basement. From there they would be dissected, their bodies subjected to being taken apart in front of a group of students. A trophy for their learning, a mutation of the body to those taken.  

The Walking Dead is not the only work of fiction to touch on the taking of trophies. Colson Whitehead’s novel Zone One is another zombie story, however it gives us a new look at the taking of trophies. Mark Spitz has a disliking for the living who mutilate the bodies of those suffering from the plague. On page 142 Whitehead gives a glimpse into Mark Spitz’s thinking, saying: “He had a particular dislike for No Mas, who bragged around Wonton about his scrapbook of straggler humiliation.” then again when the Lieutenant says: “No, you’re right. Mustn’t humanize them.” (pg.195). Both of these quotes show that because of the lack of humanization people have found it acceptable to take trophies from people. Sure, these are zombies, but they are still people, people whose bodily rights should still be respected. Mark Spitz has humanized the skels and stragglers, the living dead who he sees as deserving of this respect. Contrasted with the systematic dehumanization of the skels, Whitehead is able to show the disrespect that comes with mutilating dead bodies.  Mark Spitz serves as a reminder that even after death, one should see the person, not just the body. There should be no taking of trophies, no using the body for experiments, instead the body should be treated with respect and laid to rest properly. Unfortunately The Walking Dead only shows this when a main character loses their life. Not a bad guy and most certainly not a random zombie.

The taking of trophies comes from a lack of acknowledging that even the dead are people, be it through systematic dehumanization or through an individual’s own sadistic behavior. To understand how this trope is so harmful one should remember that these tropes have a history, a brutal violent history, behind them. They are not a badass zombie survivor trope, they are severed ears of Indian chiefs at Sand Creek, they are stolen bodies from African American graveyards. Tropes can hurt, and I hope that I can be more aware of this and the history behind it. I’ve said this a lot but I keep feeling the need to remind myself, if we don’t learn from history we will be doomed to repeat it, and that goes for the history behind our favorite shows.

Epidemics in Reality and Fictionally

By definition, an epidemic as a noun is “an outbreak of disease that spreads quickly and affects many individuals at the same time : an outbreak of epidemic disease” (Merriam-Webster). As an adjective, the word renders a different meaning, focusing on the aspect widespread growth. In this case, when referring to an epidemic, I am using it in its noun form; an event of disease outbreak that has occurred or is to take place. Building off of my last post, I aim to connect a real-life epidemic that has occurred to the hypothetical questions I had posed. In 2014, an Ebola epidemic broke out rapidly in Africa, labelled as the West African Epidemic (CDC, 2019). Within this epidemic, there were instances where infected individuals who were not kept in isolation had traveled elsewhere, risking further spread of the epidemic. In this way, this specific epidemic corresponds to my questioning of the parts to a whole in an epidemic, as seen in Clay’s Ark by Octavia Butler.

When the West African Epidemic occurred in 2014, an infected person from Guinea traveled to Mali, spreading the illness (CDC, 2019). Luckily, the virus was mostly contained, with only 8 reported cases and 6 deaths (CDC, 2019). The only way this potential further spreading of the epidemic was maintained was through the isolation and close monitoring of infected persons in Mali. Had the individuals been released and had traveled as did the original infector, the epidemic would have taken over more countries. In this instance, the removal of those persons’ freedoms in order to contain the illness may be seen as beneficiary to the whole. For the persons themselves, remaining in isolation waiting upon their possible death, may have been torturous. Similarly to those in Clay’s Ark, those who were originally infected and demanded isolation upon themselves with contained spreading of the disease, could be possibly seen as partially analogous to the CDC. In the text, Meda, who is one of those who started the enclave explains to Blake, a newly infected individual, “If you escaped now and managed to reach other people, you’d eventually give them the disease. You’d spread it to everyone you could reach…” (Butler, 489). In this sense, those who originally formed the enclave want to overall contain the disease to a certain area to prevent an epidemic.

Then, on the other hand, those newly infected by the enclave who demanded freedom, such as Blake, could be seen as those who traveled while infected. Although , I must point out, those who traveled may have not had malicious intent as they most likely were unaware that they even carried the infection. However, they still practiced freedom while infected with the illness, and that is where my connection between the two lays. The characters newly infected in Clay’s Ark were also compelled to experience freedom as they were in denial that they were truly infected before their symptoms started. Blake’s daughter, Rane, tells an enclave member, “…Isn’t it time to break the chain? You and I could get away together. We could get help,” and he answered, “…We’re infectious for as much as two weeks before we start to show symptoms…” (Butler, 535). In this sense, a parallel can be drawn between those who traveled without knowing they were infected with Ebola and characters of Clay’s Ark who wished to escape as they did not think they were infected either.

As this post bounces off a previous post of mine, I further the investigation between today’s epidemics and that of which was presented in our course reading of Clay’s Ark. The sacrifice of freedom done so by those infected with Ebola during the time of outbreak is what enabled the illness to be contained and for the epidemic to cease its spread. In this real-life case, it can be seen that the isolation of few was deemed necessary to benefit the greater good, by stopping the risk of infection. Stemming off of my previous post, I deepen the questions I posed by asking readers to now consider this present-day scenario with that to the fictional proposition of an epidemic in Clay’s Ark.

Personally, my perception of the comparison between sacrifice of individuals’ freedoms for the protection of the greater good has became clearer with the analysis of an epidemic in reality that affected our world. Upon my reading of our class’ text Clay’s Ark, I went back and forth between where to place my sympathy. It oscillated between sympathizing for those trying to escape and obtain their previous freedom and my understanding of those who started the enclave wanting to contain the organism. A portion of me felt for the escapees as they struggled with their forced isolation. However, at the same time, in the back of my mind I felt for those trying to save the greater whole, regardless of the freedoms being sacrificed by the individuals. By analyzing this epidemic case of Ebola in 2014, I find that I myself sympathizes more with those trying to isolate individuals to protect the rest of the population. I wonder if this does the same for those who read this in the sense of a change in perspective or solidification of a view already conceived.

What is Uninformed Consent?

Continuing the conversation of consent, I have realized consent has more layers than the simple, informed discussion that leads to a yes or no reply or signature. I am aware that as a society, we struggle with the idea of what consent truly means and how to use it in every circumstance. With that being, when someone asks the question, “What do you want in a relationship?” most reply with the simple “I do not know” then, a follow-up question occurs with “Well if you know what you want.. What don’t you want?” Most likely, after that question, the majority of people have a laundry list of characteristics and negatives of what they do not want in a partner. That laundry list leads to one finding what they do want, its a start, so why can’t we do that for consent? 

One example of uninformed consent is Madrigal v Quilligan, a class-action lawsuit against L.A. County doctors, the state, and the federal government, which included ten working-class Mexican-origin women who had been coerced into sterilization after undergoing cesarean deliveries. In the article No Más Bebés,” revives 1975 forced-sterilization lawsuit in L.A” Consuelo Hermosillo, one of the ten expresses her story of being forced into sterilization. 

“At 23, Hermosillo was having her third child with her husband. But before she could be seen by the doctor, she was asked to sign papers consenting to sterilization.

“You better sign those papers or your baby is going to die,” a woman told her in Spanish, recalled Hermosillo, a native of Veracruz, Mexico. “As soon as you sign, they’ll take you in.”

Hermosillo didn’t want to sign. She was too young and wanted to speak with her husband first. Leaving the hospital, however, she carried the last child she would ever be able to conceive.

“I don’t remember signing the consent form,” said Hermosillo, now 66. “They decided for me.” 

Without a doubt, this is nonconsensual due to the language barrier, powerful words, and the sensitive situation of the women being pregnant. How is someone who speaks another language going to understand what is going to happen? Using pressure and the job at hand to decide on the spot is unlawful. It is noted that the demand for sterilization was to keep the immigration population under control during the 1970s. All together, we can see the intent of these doctors was malicious, and these women lost control of there bodies, and lifestyle all due to lack of communication. 

In the novel, Clay’s Ark by Octava Buttler is another example of how the idea of consent is thrown out the window. Blake and his twin daughters Kiera and Rane, are kidnapped by a group of people who withhold a disease that can be transmitted by touch. This disease has life-threating consequences. Eli and Meda, the ring leaders of the group, explain to Blake and his daughters will be given an organism that co-hosts with them. “We got together and decided that for your sake and ours, people in your position should be protected from too much truth too soon. I was the minority of one, voting for honesty… The others thought people like you wouldn’t believe the truth, that it would scare you more than necessary and you’d try harder to escape.” (Buttler, 471). Eli gives the notion that is was a group decision to kidnap people, infected them, and then later tell them the truth behind the organism. Not only is the way they are infected people is nonconsensual, but how one is infected another way consent is not a factor.

“Have I been infected?”

She turned her head to look at him, smiled sadly. “Oh yes.”

 “The Food?” 

“No. The food was just food. Me.”


“No inoculation…”

“You would have done that even if I hadn’t had the knife?” He asked 

“Yes” (Buttler, 485-86)

Buttler clearly shows that Blake and his daughter Rane have no say in wanting to receive the disease. Kidnapping is the unlawful action of taking someone with force and keeping that person in detention under their will. Now when analyzing Clay’s Ark, there is a distinct notion that consent is not even a factor due to kidnapping and giving them a disease they did not ask for. 

With the court case Madrigal v Quilligan and the novel Clay’s Ark, there is a pattern of unconfirmed consent when it comes to the people involved. That one person or group has already made the preconceived notion of making the decision to infected or alter someone else’s life. The characteristics of unconfirmed consent are also shown in the book Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington. Ebb Cade, an African American truck driver, was in an accident that left the majority of his bones broken, but he was able to survive this accident, but with his survival came a price. Doctor Robert S. Stone expresses this story with his colleague Doctor Karl Z. Morgan, “he was rushed to the military hospital .. and he had multiple fractures. Almost all his bones were broken, and we were surprised he was alive when he got to the hospital; we did not expect him to be alive the next morning. So this was an opportunity we’ve been waiting for. We gave him large doses by injection of plutonium-239” (Washington, 216). Plutonium-239 is an isotope of plutonium. Plutonium-239 is the primary fissile isotope used for the production of nuclear weapons. These doctors injected a black male with a dangerous chemical at a large dose without his consent. “On April 10, without his consent and five days before setting his broken bones, military physical Jospeh Howland injected Cade with 4.7 micrograms of plutonium– forty-one times the normal lifetime exposure.” (Washington, 217) In this case, it is a clear understanding that these Doctors took advantage of this man’s life to experiment with the process of decay or reaction when plutonium en into the body. These doctors, for a matter of six months, held Cadd and tested him until Cadd one day finally escaped. Another example of how, when looking for the characteristics of what uninformed consent is, making sure the person in the vulnerable state is oblivious and unaware of the situation. 

Overall, when looking at the case of Ebb Cadd and Madrigal v Quilligan and the novel Clay’s Ark, there are three examples of uninformed consent. Each situation lack of communication about the procedure, injection, or the infection. Not only there is a lack of communication, but there is also a common thread of the people being manipulated are the minority. With Ebb Cadd and Madrigal v Quilligan both people of color, Cadd being African American and the women apart of other cases coming from Mexican descent. With Clay’s Ark, Blake being a white male in the slums, he is taken out of his standard atmosphere and made the minority, with his daughters being half white and black, they are automatically put into the minority category due there skin color.

Additionally, there is a pattern of gain out of the people who are in control of the situations. As well these people had no repercussions for there actions during these cases. When looking at the examples and the apparent notion of what uninformed consent is.  

What is informed consent?