The Bioethics of Cybermedicalization (2010)


Miah, A. & Rich, E. (2010) The Bioethics of Cybermedicalization, in Nayar, P. The New Media and Cybercultures Anthology, Wiley-Blackwell, 209-220.  

"Our analysis claims that the body is neither obsolete, as Stelarc (1997) proclaims, nor does it ‘no longer exist’ (Kroker and Kroker 1987); the digital form does not obscure the body. Instead, it enables the development of an alternativee, pros- thetic body to emerge, which brings with it both new and old burdens. As Braidotti (2002: 227) notes, ‘today’s body is immersed in a set of technologically mediated practices of prosthetic extension’. However, before we explain this fur- ther, it is necessary to clarify the meaning of prosthesis and why we claim that a new form of prosthetic – to replace the last prosthesis, Viagra – is a useful articu- lation of cyberspace’s medicalization, compared with cyborg manifestos.

Prostheses are artificial devices that replace absent (body) parts, though virtual bodies lack no visual parts. The ‘missing part’ is imag(in)ary, again, and the (ab)users pursue some truth of being that is entirely fabricated. The sites of these medicalized, prosthetic identities are hypothetical cyberspace communities. Notably, however, the Web does not play a constructive role here. Rather, the underlying ideologies embodied by cyberspaces reflect the mediatory nature of cyberspace. The images are indicative of a broader synthetic that is valued because it defies its designation as virtual, as non-reality. This is the discourse that drives Hayles’ (1999) informational human. The cyberspatial prosthetic is an informational prosthetic, necessarily a mask for someone rather than something.

In this sense, the body-self narratives of young anorectics operate within a ‘mediated co-presence, where the real and the virtual enmesh and interact’ (Mules 2000). Thus, our language for engaging the cybermedical problematic resists the  complete overcoming of cyborgisms in favour of an emerging prosthetic, outlined in various recent texts (see Smith and Morra 2006). We do not advance the idea that online discussion boards or blogs are indicative of bodies becoming less fleshy, or neutralized into mere information. Rather, we articulate them as ambiguously transformative, absent but present. As Wright (1999: 24) indicates, ‘‘‘I” may become text, seemingly free of gender or racial identity, but both text and fluid identity remain prosthetic’. Extending Wright (1999: 23), we have argued that the cybermedicalization of the body is a further ‘step towards the de- politicisation of gender’. In this sense, it can be characterized as post-gender, but not past-gender. It is a critical reworking of gender boundaries, rather than the complete effacing of them. It also provides a reason for scepticism over the dis- tinctiveness of cyberfeminism as a discrete discourse. To reiterate our earlier point, prostheticization does not lead to the effacing of gendered discourses, but is the means through which to rework some of the boundaries."