Saturday, September 11, 2010

Do Ancient Egyptians have a right to privacy?

New Scientist (Jo Marchant)

SHOULD we consider the privacy or reputation of the individual when analysing an Egyptian mummy? The assumption that ancient corpses are fair game for science is beginning to be challenged.

Though strict ethical guidelines apply to research on modern tissue samples, up until now there has been little discussion about work on ancient human remains. In a recent paper in the Journal of Medical Ethics (DOI: 10.1136/jme.2010.036608), anatomist Frank Rühli and ethicist Ina Kaufmann of the University of Zurich, Switzerland, argue that this is disturbing because research on mummies is invasive and reveals intimate information such as family history and medical conditions. And, of course, the subjects cannot provide consent.

"The human body, alive or dead, has a moral value," says Rühli, who is himself involved in mummy research. He says that no matter how old a body is, researchers must balance the benefits of their research against the potential rights and desires of the deceased individual.


Anonymous said...

Good issue. Makes you think. But, my thinking is that if I've been deal thousands of years, I don't really care. If it gives the future knowledge, then it's good. Alice

Kate Phizackerley said...

I think for Egyptian mummies it is easier thatn for other groups as they wanted to be remembered and the investigations ensure that. Taking a DNA sample is no more invasive that removing the brain during mummification. I suspect that if they had been asked, they might have approved.

Anonymous said...

I meant dead, not deal. DUH, senior moment there.


Julia Thorne said...

Although Ruhli raises an interesting point, I'm with Kate; afterall, for the ancient Egyptians, to have your name spoken aloud enabled your spirit to survive after death. I also doubt that the ancient Egyptians were such sticklers for privacy as regards their health because disease and death would've been much more of an everyday aspect of life. And because of the lack of any still-living close relatives who might have something to say on the issue, I don't think the analysis of ancient remains is surrounded by the same ethical concerns as that of more modern remains.