Abstract: Body Banks: A History of Milk Banks, Blood Banks, and Sperm Banks in the United States

Kara W. Swanson


In the twenty-first century, body product banks are both a taken-for-granted aspect of medical care and a challenge to long-standing notions about the human body, property, and markets. This U.S. history considers the origins and meaning of the bank metaphor to describe institutions that collect, store, and distribute body products by focusing on the first three banked body products: milk, blood, and sperm. As doctors struggled to make human body products into commodities, ancient concepts of body fluids as sacred, vital, and hereditary interacted with the market ethos of the bank. An institutional history that links the history of biomedicine and technology with legal history, this dissertation draws upon the scientific, medical, and legal literatures to consider body banks from their origins in Progressive Era efforts to reduce infant mortality to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. I argue that these institutions created a moral and political economy of body products in which the relationships among cash, body product, and markets existed in multiple forms, revealing not a story of body products transformed from gifts to commodities, but rather layers of contestation and meaning along the boundaries between public and private.