Bound in Human Skin

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Throughout history, there have been many instances of books bound in human skin. Many of them were created by doctors using the skin of people they dissected to bind either their own work or some other work of anatomy. Even today there are instances of libraries (such as the Harvard Library) discovering that the cover of a volume they own actually came from a person. What would you do if you found one of those books? Should such books be destroyed out of respect for the dead?

A Fashion Statement

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We’ve all heard of fashion statements. Sometimes the term signifies some bold choice of jewelry or a particularly revealing outfit.But sometimes the “statement” is something political or philosophical. For instance, Lady Gaga’s famous meat dress made a bold statement about the nature of stardom and consumerism. The above pieces may look a lot more normal than a dress made out of raw beef, but they’re actually far more transgressive. These are prototypes made with pig skin, but the plan is to make them out of lab-grown human skin, specifically skin grown from the DNA of fashion designer Alexander McQueen. The statement designer Tina Gorjanc is making is a warning about the commodification of human DNA, but I’m personally more interested in the philosophical questions inherent in the ethics of using human skin. Many react with horror when they find out about books that are bound in human skin, and movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Silence of the Lambs have played on the horrors of human skin used for clothing, masks, lamp shades, etc. And that reflex is, I think, good. To violate Godwin’s Law, Nazi Germany shows what can happen when people get a little too comfortable with the idea of using human body parts for home decorative purposes.

But where does this sort of thing lie? This skin was never on a human body, or anything that had any sort of conscious life. Does that make it okay? Is it okay to grow other things in the lab, like organs? Is it okay to grow an entire body in the lab? Is it more okay if that body is complete except for a brain? And if all that is okay…then what exactly isn’t okay with using human skin that used to be on a human? Sure, murder is bad, but what if the person volunteered their skin? Is it okay to use a body or body parts for such an everyday artistic expression as fashion?

Thoughts? Leave them in the comments!