Blame Game

In the novel Clay’s Ark, Octavia Butler challenges readers by presenting them with conflicts that are of serious magnitude to the human species existence. In particular, the conflict at the center of the story is the extra-terrestrial disease, which infected Eli who returned to earth from the space mission to Proxi Two. The existence of humans is at risk if the infected go around others because an epidemic would be inevitable with the disease symptoms not presenting themselves in the early stages (Butler 497). The first part of the book makes it difficult not to blame the infected for this life or death conflict, yet as the book gets near the ending, a reader’s perspective is liable to change to the opposite view.  The diseased individuals refusal to seek treatment is rationalized by iatrophobia because the medical system fails to care for black individuals health needs in a safe and informed consensual environment. Therefore, the blames shifts from the diseased to the medical institutions.

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Stockholm Syndrome in the Literature: A Technique of Questioning Our Own Morality

As you may know from life experience, people can bond over stressful situations: from being in a hard class to being on the same sports team, shared struggles often serve as a catalyst for the formation of stronger relationships. The two situations I have mentioned are examples of eustress, or stress with positive effects, however bonds can also be formed by more damaging forms of stress coined as distress. A well-known example of the latter is the infamous Stockholm syndrome, which I will begin to explore later in this post. In Octavia Butler’s novel, Clay’s Ark, the experiences of characters seem to parallel that of Stockholm syndrome. However, as Butler often does with her work, we come to notice that this may only taking place at the surface level; upon deeper examination of the what Stockholm syndrome is and comparing it to the experience of the novel’s characters, we begin to realize that perhaps their captors, and their ideals, are not as evil as we may originally think. This makes us as readers question both the morals of those in the book and in our own society, as well as how we can approach changing this.

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Making a Cup of Tea

In a college atmosphere, one of the most critical topics is consent. Making sure men and women are giving verbal, yes, and no when it comes to any circumstances, especially sexual intercourse. One of the tactics that colleges use is a video called Tea and Consent. The majority of those people who have participated in college have encountered this video. It expresses the idea of substituting sex for a cup of tea and goes through different types of scenarios. If you make someone a cup of tea and ask if they want a cup of tea and they accept it, then they want a cup of tea. If you make someone a cup of tea and they say no, do not force that person to drink the tea. As well as if you make the tea and the person says yes but later says no, still do not force tea down their throat. Finally, one of the last scenarios is if you are making a cup of tea, and the person is unresponsive. The video informs you not to make them a cup of tea and do not ask the question, “do you want a cup of tea?”. In no way can an unresponsive person answer “yes” or “no,” due to the fact they are unresponsive. Do not force tea down someone’s throat if they cannot speak for themselves; most likely, they do not want to drink the tea. Of course, at first glance, the video gives off senses of humor, and that is understandable. It is a cartoon video that substituting sex with a cup of tea to get the point of consent across. The stick figures, the black and white style, and extreme repetition introduces the humor effect. We understand the bases that “a cup of tea” is sex, and the repetitive idea is not giving a person tea if they say no. Also, not forcing tea down another’s throat due to them being unresponsive in some ways is humorous.
Not only is the video funny but informative. Takes a sensitive topic such as sexual abuse and lightens the mood. Not only is it compassionate with the subject, but it also simplifies the subject by using simple situations and connecting it with yes or no scenarios. Hence, the video has a positive impact on students, faculty, and anyone who needs knowledge about informed consent when it comes to sexual activity. Although, on the flip side, this video does not give the full effect of informed consent and the consequences for these types of scenarios. For example, the humor is celebrated in the sense of gaining one’s attention, but humor also can lead to the audience to not take the situation seriously. Saying do not pour tea down and unconscious person throat, may result in a small chuckle, but what about the notion of not forcing yourself on another? Also, there is no information about the repercussions of either person in the situation. Not only does the person who is taking advantage of or forcing themselves on another does not know the serious legal implications that follow those actions. Even so, what about the victim? They did not ask or expect the mental and physical harm that could/has been done to them. Lastly, the Consent and Tea video stereotypically gives the idea the situation is between a heterosexual relationship that the male is automatically forcing himself on the women.
When in cases, in this day and age, we have a variety of what a relationship is between two people. As a result, the video has beneficial meaning, but it leaves out an essential context for people who are involved in the circumstance. Similarly, in the novel, Clay’s Ark by Octavia E. Butler indirectly speaks on informed consent. Butler created a disease that has inhumane repercussions. Blake and his twin daughters Kiera and Rane, are kidnapped by a group that holds an infectious illness that can be transmitted by touch. Eli and Meda, the ring leaders of the group, explain to Blake and his daughters, that they will be given an organism that co-hosts with them. It is noted that the majority of the time, only younger and stronger people survive this disease. Due to Blake being an older man and his daughter Kiera having leukemia, there is a risk for them both dying.
When infected with the organism, a person gains heighten human abilities. For example, their ability to taste, smell, read body language, see in the dark, super strength, and speed. Nonetheless, with positives come the negatives. Some of the negative symptoms are excessive perspiration, hunger, and loosing of the skin, and compulsion. With compulsion comes the uncontrollable urge to infect someone without the disease. When it comes time to become infected with the illness, only one person gives full permission to take on the condition, which is Kiera. She develops a relationship with Eli, knowing he wants to touch her but cannot due to her having leukemia. She also understands that regardless of her leukemia or this disease, she may face death. Her father and sister are scratched without the decision if they denied it or not. With this novel, you can see where the Tea and Consent video comes into play, with informed consent. The rules of Tea and Consent video are entirely violated. The “tea” is being forced down Blake and his daughter’s throats consciously, even if one accepted it wholeheartedly.
Nevertheless, the difference is that they know the repercussions of the disease, unlike the people who watch Tea and Consent video. Blake, Rane, and Kiera all know there is a possibility of death; they understand the symptoms and abilities they gain with living with this disease. However, we have to follow the complexities of the disease and the signs of compulsion. Compulsion is an irresistible urge to behave in a certain way, especially against one’s conscious wishes. Eli noted that his team did everything to crash the ship and destroy the disease before it landed on Earth. With compulsion on either side, no one can have consent. Eli’s human side does not want to continue this process, but the organisms will not let him. Including Blake, Rane, and Keira, they did not ask to be kidnapped or faced with a possibly deadly infection. The importance of Clays’ Ark and Tea and Consent video is that both of them together give a clear view of what knowledge they bring to the table about consent. Clay’s Ark has no permission; the only thing the characters receive is the repercussions. Unlike the audience of the Tea and Consent video, where the audience gets scenarios of what consent is and what consent is not. The video never shows you the outcome if you partake in those particular situations.

Furthermore, on that note, I am compelled to make myself a cup of tea.

Is Separate Actually Equal?

Anna Johnston

After only a few weeks in this course I have already widened my knowledge on this topic and am interested in learning more about such a hard hitting topic that most people probably didn’t know existed in our history. One book we read in class was Home by Toni Morrison, a book about Frank Money and his sister Cee. Frank is an army veteran who doesn’t feel he has a purpose in life anymore. That is until he gets a letter telling him that Cee needs his help. I enjoyed reading this book because it was interesting to see Frank and Cees relationship, but also how differently they were treated.

In the beginning of Home, Frank was in a mental hospital but was not sure how he got there. Frank did not give consent to be there or even know what was being done to him while he was there, all he knew was that he had to escape. Frank escaped and knew he had to go to Georgia to save his sister, she was all he had left. Frank left his sister to go to war because he wanted out of Lotus and would do whatever it took to do that. When Frank left Cee, Cee’s protector abandoned her. While they were going up Frank always protected Cee from the bad things in life, I believe this caused Cee to be naive as an adult. When Frank was in the war Cee met a man named Prince, he was the first man to show Cee much attention. Cee was only fourteen when her and Prince had a Reverend come and bless them, after that, Prince took Cee to Atlanta. Cee was excited about her new life in Atlanta with Prince, only to find out he married her for her automobile. Prince left Cee alone and took the automobile. I believe Cee was naive and just loved having someone giving her attention since Frank always scared boys off when she was a child. After this, Cees family did not accept her nor want her to come back home and Lenore threatened to have Cee arrested. Since Prince left Cee she had barely any money and knew she needed to get a good paying job fast. Cee’s friend told her about Dr. Beau, and how he needed someone to help around the house. Although Cee did not get much information about the job see didn’t care, it was a well paying job and that was all she cared about. When Cee went to Dr. Beau’s house to apply for the job I thought it was strange. Mrs. Scott asked Cee very specific questions about whether she was married, had any children, and if she was affiliated with any church. She also asked Cee if she graduated high school and if she could read. Throughout this part of the book I felt that Mrs. Scott was talking down to Cee and was being short with her while she asked her the questions. Although Cee did not get much information about the job she was applying for, as soon as she saw the books on the bookshelf she should’ve turned and ran the other way. Some of the books on the shelf were, Out of the Night, The Passing of the Great Race, and Heredity, Race and Society. One quote I found from the book that was interesting was when Cee said, “And promised herself she would find time to read about and understand “eugenics.” This was a good, safe place, she knew, and Sarah had become her family, her friend, and her confidante(Morrison, 65).” While reading this I had a lot of questions going through my head. My most important one being, did Sarah know what the doctor was doing to Cee? Also, I thought it was ironic how Cee said she would read about and understand eugenics, because if she did that, she wouldn’t have gotten into the mess she was in.

While reading Home and learning about Cee, I was thinking about the Simkins V Cone Case we talked about in class. “In the early 1960s most hospitals did not accept blacks or colored people. Only nine hospitals existed for African Americans in North Carolina, and most were overcrowded and offered inadequate healthcare.” Even if an African American did go to a hospital that accepted them, they were not treated well at all. Most hospitals did not allow black physicians to admit patients or even train as interns. In the  1960s, George Simkins and other African American doctors and patients filed a lawsuit against Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital and Wesley Long Community Hospital because the facilities allegedly refused to accept black patients. After Simkins patient was denied access to the hospital, Simkins discovered that the same facilities had been built with federal funding, which means that it could implicate possible government discrimmination. Although the plaintiffs lost, they appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals and in November 1963, the court overruled the courts previous decision. The appellate court found the hospitals violated the fifth fourteen amendments. Although black health facilities were separate from white health facilities, they were definitely not equal. After their loss, the hospitals filed a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy filed a brief for Simkins and the other plaintiffs, but the Supreme Court denied the case. According to Karen Kruse Thomas, the Simkins V Cone “decision marked the first time that federal courts applied the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to prohibit racial discrimination by private entity.” The Simkins V Cone Case ended separate but equal forever and allowed African Americans to have equal opportunities in the healthcare field and gave patients opportunities to get the best treatments that they had instead of not being treated because of their skin color.

I found Home a very eye opening book because Frank in the beginning of the book was in a mental hospital, without giving consent to be there. Today, you must give consent and the hospital must tell you all the information about the treatments they are giving you and the procedures being done. It shocked me that Frank had no idea where he was or even what had happened to him and he didn’t make it as big of a deal as it actually was. Frank just knew he had to escape to get to his sister but it was almost like before that, he didn’t care that he was in the mental hospital.

What is (Un)Informed Consent?

Adriana Straughter, Caitlin Morazzini, John Serbalik, Olivia Herring, Rachel Cohen, Semefa Agbokou

Informed consent is a challenge that the medical field faces every day. According to Harriet Washington, “Informed Consent is not a signed piece of paper but, rather, the fluid, continuous process by which a researcher informs the subject in detail of what he or she proposes to do, why it is being proposed, and what the possible consequences the experiment carries” (Washington 55). As a patient continues their treatment, so should the communication between the doctor and patient. This includes full disclosure of the risks and benefits associated with the treatment. Your doctor should always be giving you the facts. This shows a level of respect, the doctor respects you and wants to make sure you can choose what happens to your body. Octavia Butler’s Clay’s Ark addresses the conflict of consent among infected characters. The novel’s infectious disease influences the ambiguity in how the character’s view consent because the novel lacks a definition of consent. Rather, they grapple with this issue by the information received about the disease and other characters.  

Blake is a white male doctor; the majority of his life has been comfortable when it comes to being apart of society. With Blake’s lifestyle, there was no need for his consent because he had the authority to make his own decisions. Now Blake has been confronted with a disease; without his permission, he has been given the disease. When given the information, Blake struggles with the reality of how it changes a person, and the idea there is no cure. But being a doctor, his main goal is to help and figure out what the purpose of this disease is and how to control it. He tries to grasp this disease by doing testing and figuring out the origin of the disease. With no luck, Blake ends up having the full effect of the disease, which leads him to have extreme altercations. With the disease, compulsion takes over, this brings blake to be verbally and physically abusive towards his own daughters who he adored and wanted nothing but to keep them safe before this disease took over. Towards the end,  Blake scratches an unknown man and spreading the disease and creating an epidemic. “ I did it. Jesus!… I grabbed him, I couldn’t help it, couldn’t control it. He smelled so.. I couldn’t help it. God, I tore at him like an animal… Please, Go after him. Stop him.” (Butler,618). At this moment, Blakes’s struggle with the disease has come to an end. He understands the decisions he has to make, his compulsion is very real and too hard to control. 

Eli was one of the first to have the disease. He struggles with informed consent when he infects Meda’s mother. He infects her without telling her. He then informs Meda about what happened to her mother. However, the family on the ranch has the symptoms of the disease before he tells Meda about it. Eli internally struggles with the idea of infecting Kiera with the disease, but he really does not have a problem with infecting others. Eli infects Meda without thinking and without feeling bad, so she does not get a chance at informed consent. Meda had absolutely no choice and most people in the book do not have a choice because they are not even aware of this disease until it’s too late. Meda had no way of knowing that Eli is infected and so when he scratches her and gives her the disease, she does not know anything happened until it is too late. After this, when Meda has the disease and survives it, she does the same thing to other people. She has no problem infecting others without their consent, even though she knows it is not fair, considering what she went through. 

Kiera is Blake’s daughter, she is sixteen and dying of leukemia. After being kidnapped, she is the only one not immediately infected as Eli is unsure if it will kill her or not. This allows Keira to have a choice in being infected. Eli, instead of infecting her himself, Kiera takes his hand and makes the decision to accept the disease. She knows the risks, she knows she may die, but she still chooses to be infected by Eli. When it comes to anyone in Blake’s family, Kiera is the only one who comes closest to having informed consent. She, once more, knows she may die, she knows she could become sicker than she already is, and she knows if she does live, she will no longer be human. With all of this in mind, she makes the decision on her own, doing what she feels is right for herself. While her father or sister may see it as the wrong choice, this highlights the idea that each person should have control over their body and their choices. Instead of Blake, her father, making a choice he believes is the best for her, it is Kiera making the choice for herself. Consent means that you can make a choice based on the information provided to you and on your own values because it is your own body. Blake does not believe in the disease, he does not believe they can make a cure, and he believes he has to protect his daughters from horrible things, including this disease. But when Blake does this he ends up taking away Rane’s or Kiera’s ability to consent for themselves. Butler shows that consent also involves the making of a decision for yourself, through Kiera. 

Informed consent in the book is important, but not acknowledged. The characters struggle both individually and collectively with the idea of informed consent. We see each character’s individual struggle, as shown above, as well as a collective struggle to inform those who were kidnapped, of the disease. The Clay’s Ark community, as a whole, does not give informed consent to anyone who is new to the community. They do not explain the disease, how it is contracted, or what it can do to the person who is infected. They only explain after the fact, when they already have the disease and it is too late to back out. If they had given informed consent, there would have been an option to back out from getting the disease. However, because informed consent or any consent was not given, there was no option to opt-out. The idea of consent within the Clay’s Ark community is also shown to be based on who has information and what they do with it.  This is shown in how Meda only gives Blake some information, and only after he has been infected. The same thing happened when Eli infected Meda. Becoming informed of what may happen to you only comes after one is given the disease, and in turn, their ability to consent is taken away. If you are not informed of something until after it has been done to you then you are stuck with it. All these people are stuck with this horrible disease and they try to justify it by telling them afterward. There is no justification in this because there was no consent.

The Complexities of Informed Consent: Drawing Parallels between Clay’s Ark, Medical Apartheid, and Dr. Chapman’s Deception Study

Written by Aliyah Frederick, Anna Johnston, Jack McKeown, Freddie Yopp, Victoria Page, and Ashley Boccio

Harriet Washington’s Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present illustrates how the idea of informed consent has historically been a hotly debated topic within the medical field. Prior to the mid-twentieth century numerous abuses were committed by medical researchers in which subjects provided no consent to experimentation or were not fully informed on what experiments entailed. Much of this research was dangerous and had the potential to, and did, cause bodily harm and even death. To protect patients from abuses such as these, in 1947 the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) issued an informed consent policy. This policy legally mandated that patients provide informed consent before they could participate in any research. Washington quotes the 1947 AEC policy that in order for an experiment to qualify as protecting subjects’ right to informed consent, “…a reasonable hope exists that the administration of such a substance will improve the condition of the patient,…the patient gives his complete and informed consent in writing, and that the responsible next of kin give in writing a similarly complete and informed consent, revocable at any time during the course of treatment.” Informed consent was not always guaranteed after the implementation of the policy. Nevertheless, the AEC 1947 policy was the first legal document that both defined informed consent and required researchers to certify that subjects had provided informed consent before submitting to a research study. 

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Humanity’s Vital Role in Informed Consent

Written by Kaysen Bickel, Andrianna DeHart, Noah Lieberman, Julia Ophals, and Ariana Vidal

In Medical Apartheid by Harriet Washington, she states that informed consent is “…not a signed piece of paper, but rather the fluid and continuous process by which research informs the subject detail of what he or she proposes to do, why it is being proposed, and what possible consequences the experiment carries” (Washington, 55). Washington further explains that with informed consent, as the study proceeds with alterations, the researcher must allow the subject to withdraw from the experiment at any point (Washington, 55). By this definition, our understanding for what constitutes informed consent can begin to form. However, the nature and importance of informed consent may only be obtained after understanding what it is not. In Octavia Butler’s Clay’s Ark, consent is never directly defined, yet she outlines many experiences where it is lacking and presents itself in a format comparable to a deception study.

The definition of informed consent derived from Washington applies to those who possess humanity. Once humanity is removed, consent no longer exists. Within Medical Apartheid, researchers whose main goal is to obtain data lose sight of their subjects as humans and view them merely as a statistic. For instance, in 1932, a large group of African American males were utilized as an ongoing statistic in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study by the U.S. Public Health Service (Washington, 157). These males were denied informed consent by the PHS as they were deceived from the beginning to the end of the study (Washington, 157). At this time in Alabama, it was promised that those who were ill and tested positive for “bad blood” (CDC) would receive free healthcare. The term “bad blood” had no true definition, as it could entail testing positive for anemia, syphilis, or a number of other illnesses. The group that had “bad blood” were studied together, allowing those with syphilis to be in contact with those who merely had anemia. The men believed that they all shared an illness, being unaware of the risk of infection. Not only were they misled in the beginning with their false diagnoses, they were also never treated. The men with syphilis continued getting worse, and those who did not have it, contracted it. Meanwhile, outside of the study, penicillin was determined to be the leading treatment for syphilis, and these infected men were never to receive it. 

Not only were these men unable to leave the study and seek actual treatment, the subjects were never informed of this being a study to begin with. Believing that they were simply being helped, the men would not have known to seek treatment elsewhere, enabling the researchers to contain their subjects. Overall, the men did not know they were participants in a study, were at risk for infection of syphilis, and were not being properly treated. At no point was informed consent present, therefore no permission could have been given. Even after the men in the study died, their bodies were autopsied to see the progression of syphilis. They were consistently deceived throughout the experiment and into their deaths with no means of escape, serving solely as a statistic for PHS researchers. As the experimenters were driven by their mere need for data, all humanity dissipated, and informed consent could never surface. 

A similar narrative is seen in Clay’s Ark, where the characters battle with consent and whether or not it can be given when aspects of their humanity are lost. The infection the characters contract diminishes their human characteristics. As explained in the text, “The disease doesn’t go away. It just settles in and stays with you and you pass it on to strangers and to your children” (Butler, 525). The disease kept them from controlling parts of themselves after infection. It came from a different planet which resulted in inhuman symptoms. From the perspective of an infected character, Butler writes, “We’ve lost part of our humanity. We can lose more without even realizing it” (Butler, 543). As a result, they display animalistic tendencies and their children seem to almost become animals all together. The book emphasizes these characteristics stating, “The baby, when it came, looked like a gray, hairless monkey,” (Butler, 585). These traits further the idea that humanity is lacking, meaning consent is lacking as well. The book characters attempt to contain the diseased in their enclave, however, they constantly fear and plan for the incident of its spread into an epidemic, fearing that all humanity would be lost (Butler, 583). The infected were unable to give their consent and were left with only the choice to live or die. While they seem to have this choice Butler notes, “You think you can choose your realities. You can’t” (Butler, 522). The lack of options available to Butler’s characters is similar to that of those in the syphilis experiment in Medical Apartheid. The participants were unable to choose their realities as they were misinformed throughout the process of the study with regard to their diagnosis, treatment, and overall role in the experiment. To give the patients a fair choice and treat them humanely informed consent must be provided and the patients should be able to retract it at any time. 

Washington states, “research is an utterly essential and desirable component of treatment, but its subjects must be aware that they are participating, must be informed, must consent, and must be allowed to weigh the possible risks and benefits” (Washington, 7). A deception study, classified as research is where participants are deceived in order to obtain unbiased information. Therefore, the full knowledge of the study required to give informed consent is revealed only after the experiment has been conducted. Due to this, true informed consent cannot exist in this type of study. How can someone back out when the damage is already done? In Washington’s Medical Apartheid, the scientists at the time were using human test subjects to observe the effects of radioactivity on the body. Washington recounts the story of a man named Cade who arrived at the hospital with severe injuries, and doctors did not think he would make it through the night. With this in mind, they injected plutonium into Cade WITHOUT his consent in hopes to study its effects on his deceased body. Plutonium is described as a “fiendishly toxic, man-made element [that] is medically devastating because it causes cancerous changes in bodily tissues by ejecting high-energy alpha particles from its nuclei” (Washington, 444). This case and many similar to it, can be associated with the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. In these cases, patients thought their doctors were treating them and caring for them when in reality they were deceiving them as they conducted research without their knowledge. In these cases, the effects of the research could not be reversed, which killed many people. The participants in these studies could not withdraw themselves because they did not know they were being experimented on. As Washington states that for informed consent, the researcher must allow the participant to withdraw at any point, and in both of these cases that was not possible (Washington, 55). 

A similar theme runs rampant through Butler’s Clay’s Ark, much like the virus; once transmitted, there is no turning back. The characters of Clay’s Ark, Blake and his daughters, were ambushed by those from the enclave while traveling down a desert road. The infected individuals, such as Meda and Eli, took them back to their enclave where the majority of the text takes place. They expected Blake to be willing to come with them and help yet revealed no information about what it was needed for. No one from the enclave was willing to explain the circumstances because they knew they would try to escape. Blake and Meda have a conversation after she has infected him without his knowledge: “It’s a disease, she said. Have I been infected? She turned her head to look at him, smiled sadly. Oh yes” (Butler, 485). Meda continues, “She lifted his right arm, exposing the bloody scratches she had made” (Butler, 486). The deception used by Eli and the others is purposefully employed knowing well that after they revealed that Blake and the girls were infected, it would be too late for them to turn back. Those of the enclave infected a few to benefit what they viewed as the greater good. A trial such as this is to derive greatly desired data is seen to be yet again completely unethical; it leaves its participants with irreversible effects.

In the context of our course and the grand scheme of things, understanding the nature of informed consent is crucial for building a set of governing values and principles to guide us through life without doing harm. When we find ourselves in the positions of power that come inherently with the role of being an experimenter, it is of great importance to ensure that those involved are being treated properly. Care must be taken to make sure the experiment will at no point deprive participants of their humanity. The importance of viewing test subjects as human beings rather than variables in an experiment must be foremost in the mind of the researcher. If this perspective is compromised, harm is inevitable whether it comes as the result of carelessness or deliberate cruelty. There is very little difference between the two for someone who has been harmed as a result. 

Trust must not only be given, it must be rightfully placed and maintained. Without ensuring that consent is being provided from a place of understanding, abuses to human rights are bound to occur or be perceived to occur by those who have been experimented on. By entering a study, participants place a level of trust in whoever is conducting it. If that faith is abused, taken advantage of, or exploited against the best interest of the participant, trust can be lost along with consent. As Washington states, “Informed consent [is] revocable at any time during the course of treatment,” and the patient should leave with no long-lasting harm done to them if or when such consent is revoked (Washington, 232). Though a person may voluntarily submit themselves for experimentation, ethical research demands their ability to back out. Informed consent is procedural and sustained, not given once irrevocably.

Judging by Appearances: Similarities in the Treatment of African Americans and the Clay’s Ark Community

Octavia Butler’s Clay’s Ark describes the plight of a father and his two daughters who are kidnapped by a community infected with a complicated extraterrestrial symbiont. A simple description of Butler’s book may suggest that its nothing more than a science-fiction story. Yet in reality, the novel confronts many pressing social issues present in American society. One of these issues that is significant both historically and in contemporary times is discrimination experienced by people who appear differently than those who possess hegemony in society. Harriet Washington’s book Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present illustrates how African Americans have been persecuted based on the color of their skin and whites in power have justified that persecution by fabricating science. While fictitious science was historically sufficient in preserving white dominance, its fallacies are now widely known and thus are no longer considered valid by the vast majority of American society. Instead, the fabricated science of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have been replaced in modern times by myths regarding the cultural inferiority of African Americans. There are striking similarities between these myths and the prejudice that the father and one of the daughters in Clay’s Ark, Blake and Rane respectively, exhibit toward members of the infected community. One primary difference between the community and African Americans is that the infection does contain some negative features, whereas African Americans have no undesirable afflictions that are not shared by the rest of humanity. Nonetheless, the bigotries displayed by whites in American society and Blake and Rane in Clay’s Ark are similarly unjustified and based solely on false preconceptions rather than any evidence of actual flaws.  

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(Un)Informed Consent: Examples & Consequences

Written by: Katie Barry, Zach DeGraff, Matty Jackson, Courtney Lyon, Nina Mustico, Emily Vesperman

The topic of informed consent versus uninformed consent is repeatedly brought up throughout Clay’s Ark, whether it is mentioned subtly or outright. We are able to ground the differences between informed consent and uninformed consent in Harriet Washington’s Medical Apartheid. She defines informed consent clearly as “not a signed piece of paper, but rather, the fluid, continuous process by which a researcher informs the subject in detail of what he or she proposes to do … and what the possible consequences the experiment carries. The researcher must continue to inform the subjects of developments in the experiment that could affect him, and the subject may withdraw from the experiment at any time” (Washington: 55). In the case of informed consent, a subject must be aware of what is being done to them and why it is being done. If they are not provided with this information, it can be said that they do not have proper informed consent. Also, if the person involved in the research is not updated on what each step means, they are not providing informed consent, because they do not have the information needed to consent. In certain cases, such as in deception studies done by Dr. Ben Chapman, institutional review boards seek to provide an environment where test subjects are able to give informed consent according to the review board’s standards, but there can still be moral objections to deception studies as a whole. While this could be debated, the difference between informed consent and uninformed consent as a whole is clear. A person is able to provide consent without fully knowing what they are consenting to, but this by no means is adequate. The process of informing a person in order to get their consent is the principle that differentiates the two. 

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Assumptions Regarding Consent

By Ashley Hausrath, Kat Johnson, Michael Meegan, Joey Luconte, Bryan Wager, and Anonymous

In class we’ve discussed the importance of consent and informed consent in particular; informed consent is important because it shows respect to other individuals. Washington also addresses informed consent in Medical Apartheid, particuarly as it relates to the medical field. Washington quotes Dr. Sadiq Wali, who served as the chief medical director at the hospital where a nonconsensual experiment took place, when explaining informed consent: “‘(informed consent in medical parlance) has to do with the patients being told the good as well as the side effects of the drugs to be administered’” (Washington, 392-393). Here, Dr. Wali (and Washington) seemed to indicate that for there to be informed consent, one needs to enter the situation as someone who is “informed,” meaning that they enter the situation knowing all relevant information regarding risks and rewards, and have the ability to remove themselves from the situation if they feel necessary. 

While Washington argues that all necessary information needs to be provided beforehand, Butler’s Clay’s Ark provokes its readers to question Washington’s definition. In “Present 4,” Eli tells the Maslin family: “‘We [the Clay’s Ark community] got together and decided that for your sake and ours, people in your position should be protected from too much truth too soon” (Butler, 471). The Clay’s Ark community fears that giving outsiders information about the organism too early would scare the outsiders and make them take drastic actions to escape. In a way, this makes sense because if Blake and his daughters get violent, the Clay’s Ark community may be forced to hurt them to prevent the spread of the infection. It can be justified as a protection, rather than as a withholding of information from the outsiders. Lupe argues this point in her conversation with Rane. Lupe had originally stated they weren’t going to hurt Rane, but she warns Rane that her “hostile” behavior will force them to hurt her: “‘You’re going to fight us every chance you get, aren’t you. You’re going to make us hurt you’” (Butler, 521). If the outsiders begin to act violently or manage to escape, the community will need to use violence to either subdue or kill them before they can start an outbreak. So it seems as if the Clay’s Ark community chooses to withhold information for the sake of safety for those outside of the community—a choice that they believe to be the lesser of two evils. 

We’ve dealt with a similar issue in class before while discussing deception studies with Dr. Chapman. In our Skype call with him, Dr. Chapman explained how deception studies are necessary because individuals might be more likely to align their behavior with specific results if they are given all of the information. We can see here that knowing certain information or providing too much information at a certain time can lead to different results and reactions by the participants of the study. Researchers who use deception studies are employing a similar technique to that the members of the Clay’s Ark community; they withhold certain information in order to guide reactions. For the researchers, withholding information allows them to get genuine and unbiased data for the improvement of public health; meanwhile, the Clay’s Ark community thinks that withholding information will help protect against the escape and uncontrolled spreading of the organisms. Both situations reflect how releasing too much information at one time can lead to more problems not only for those in power but for the vulnerable as well. Particularly for the Clay’s Ark situation, the side effects are extreme and might justify their giving consent at a controlled pace. 

At the same time, not providing information to those entering the situation before they enter it would be considered a violation of informed consent. Washington says that informed consent consists of giving all individuals that are involved information about both the risk and rewards of a situation, and she’s depicted the extremes of how violations of informed consent negatively impact individuals. This is also reflected in Clay’s Ark itself: Keira seems to disagree with the community’s decision, for after Eli speaks to them, Keira tells him that “not knowing is worse” and they would try their hardest to escape regardless. Even Eli himself disagrees with withholding information, for he tells the Maslin family that he was the “minority of one, voting for honesty” (Butler, 471). Through the characters’ disagreement, Butler makes us think about an interesting question: is it ever right to withhold information (not have informed consent) if it would be safer? In analyzing this question, our group noticed that both the Clay’s Ark community and deception study researchers might rely too much on assumptions when making decisions about consent. Deception studies operate under the assumption that every participant would react in a similar way, that they would all be alright with being given the information after they’ve went through the study. As told to us by Dr. Chapman, this wasn’t the case, for one participant felt that their consent was violated because the information was withheld. In the same way, the characters in Clay’s Ark are making decisions about informed consent without knowing fully about the situation. The Clay’s Ark community assumes that giving information later (once the organism has taken a better hold) is the better option because it lessens the chance of violence and don’t really consider that individuals in the other situation would want to know more and know beforehand. This is particularly important considering every member within that community was put in the same situation when they first entered. They’ve all experienced being on the other side and feeling that “not knowing is worse” and yet choose to withhold information anyway (Butler, 471). The community is operating under the assumption that these individuals would accept this information being withheld as protection. Eli, the only Clay’s Ark community member depicted in the book to disagree with the withholding of information, references this. When Blake insists that he would be able to help the Clay’s Ark community despite Eli trying to tell him otherwise, Eli says “‘Assume that I’m at least as complex of a man as you are” (Butler, 471). It’s perhaps significant that Eli, the “minority of one” who voted for honestly, mentions assumptions and how acting with limited information can be destructive and wrong. Ultimately, it seems as if Butler leaves the issue about withholding consent unanswered but urges individuals to act with as much consideration as possible and not to assume. Consent is a process that involves the decisions of the individuals who are being acted upon, so it is important to consider how those individuals would feel about the situation. There needs to be less assumptions and more attempts at understanding the situation and the individuals as a whole.