Szczygielska Marianna | Technologically assisted life. Between biopolitics and thanatopolitics


The aim of my essay is to analyze the case of abortion law in Poland from a different perspective, as a paradigmatic case of biopower. Historical genealogy of legislation on abortion is my point of departure. I will mainly use biopolitical framework of Michel Foucault, some concepts of Giorgio Agamben (homo sacer, bare life, anthropological machine), and Ruth A. Miller’s critique of them both. I argue that science and especially new visual technologies significantly changed the way that social and national imaginary of life and death is being shaped now. To move beyond dualisms and give a posthuman perspective to my analysis I will refer to Donna Haraway’s writings on technology. In order to pursue my argument I would like to pose several questions: Is marginalizing the fetus as an actor of this social drama is a mistake of proponents of access to abortion? Could this form of life become an ally for pro-choice campaigners? Is the ambivalent status of the fetus and the role that technology plays in mediating this process of ‘making things visible = making them real’, giving the fetus a characteristic of a ‘cyborg’ figure? I would like to emphasize that the new reproductive technology is an optical machinery that allows the power-knowledge of the clinical gaze to shape our understanding of new kinship structures. It is important to notice the contradictions of this conglomerate of technology assisting life, because its proximity to the modern biopolitical state and capitalist system makes the ‘scientific eye’ blind to some spheres and some actors.
Abortion is a crucial issue in political, ideological, religious and feminist disputes in Poland. Unfortunately, this ongoing debate is extremely narrowed and has a limited set of arguments. In fact, I would risk a statement that the current debate is paralyzed because both pro-life and pro-choice organizations do not abandon a certain field of a specific kind of ethics. What is characteristic, the fetus is presented as the most important and permanently present actor in Polish social life, but it is usually positioned on the side of anti-abortion campaigners. Pro-choice activists seem to pass over in silence this undefined and inconvenient actor, focusing more on the experience and the body of the woman. The debate seems to be a perfect split between proven arguments defending the life of the fetus and those concerned about the life of the pregnant woman. To sketch the political background I will provide some examples of the latest anti-abortion and pro-abortion campaigns in Poland.
I argue that the new cyborg identities may open up alternative redistribution of power in the debate on abortion. Observing a shift from the ‘right to choose’ to the ‘right to know’ enabled by the access to prenatal diagnostics, power-knowledge can be used to create new forms of social and political belonging. New technologies can dive deep into our flesh, touching even the molecular structure of our more and more transparent bodies. New ethics can emerge from this network of multiple relations. Thanatopolitics intersects with biopolitics in the sense, that their totalizing techniques go beyond medical clinics, and incorporate patterns of consumption, marketing systems, laboratories and factories, production of contraceptives and of artificial milk, tables of fertility and morbidity as well as the new taxonomies of fetal bodies visualized as white and grey noise on the screen, in the technoscientific frame of scales and indexes in the ultrasound image.