Understanding Consent in Octavia Butler’s “Clay’s Ark”

During the initial contraction of the disease in Clay’s Ark by Octavia Butler, my mind instantly started thinking about consent and more specifically started thinking about our Skype session with Ben Chapman. 

            In Clay’s Ark, three characters- a father and his two daughters are taken hostage with the use of weapons. They are brought to a community of people who are living with an organism inside of them. Contracting this organism changes a human’s DNA sequence. These changes bring about an urgent drive to infect others, heightened senses and everlasting appetite for food. After being taken to this community, Blake, the father, is scratched by Madea, who is someone who has contracted the organism and is now living with it. This begins Blake’s process of being infected by the organism. 

            The process of Madea attacking Blake and giving him this organism made me think about the consent process of the whole situation. The family was taken hostage and given no other choice than to go to the hidden community. Blake was given no choice whether he wanted the organism or not, she just attacked and gave him the information afterwards. While discussing this in class, someone said that although Blake wasn’t given a choice, he was still informed about the disease afterwards. Although I agreed that Blake should have access to the information, the right and ethical thing to do was give him the option to say yes or no. The disease is something he will now have to live with for the rest of his life, and sure he understands how the disease came to be and what it does, he ultimately needed the choice to deny being infected. 

            I believe the reason that Madea and the other infected people gave no choice to Blake or the girls is because they did not want them to say no to being infected. They would rather just deal with the consequences of infecting someone after it had already been done. Doctor Chapman talked about some of the psychological and sociological effects of forcing someone to participate in something that they don’t want to. Psychologically, if someone is forced into research, they lose their will to fight through it. They lose hope depending what the research entails. Sociologically, Blake lost all his sense of family, as after he contracted the disease he tried to escape and tried to leave both his daughters behind. He just wanted to get to the hospital to try and undo what was forced upon him.  

            Although I do disagree with how Blake handled the situation and caused an epidemic of this organism because he escaped, as readers do we blame him? Do we blame a human for freaking out after being unwillingly given a life altering disease that would either kill him or drive him to infect others? I could see blaming Blake if he had known all the information prior to contracting the disease and choosing to be infected however, neither of these are circumstantial to this particular situation. How can Blake responsibly handle a disease he has little to no information on and he was forcibly given?

            This situation may only be fiction however, we can use it to understand the differences of uninformed/ forcibly done experiments and informed consent. 

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