To the Havasupai Indians — a small tribe that lives at the bottom of the Grand Canyon — blood has great spiritual meaning. When they gave blood samples to Arizona State University researchers in 1990 for the study of diabetes, they say they were unaware that their DNA would be used for other research as well. To her surprise, a Havasupai graduate student discovered that the blood was used for many purposes, including an especially disturbing genetic study that established an ancestral connection to Asia — contradicting the belief that their tribe originated in the canyon.
A disproportionate number of Havasupai suffer from diabetes, which has ravaged their community and has made their ancestral way of life almost impossible. This New York Times video points out how anxious they were to find help, and how naïve when they signed documents handing over their blood to scientists. The bioethical debate over multiple uses of genetic material has implications for anyone who donates blood or tissue for research.
Moving interviews with tribal elders who have suffered through a prolonged legal battle demonstrate how important it was for them to regain the blood because “relatives and friends want to come home.” The final sequence of a Havasupai delegation in labs coats and goggles performing an emotional religious ceremony over the freezer of blood vials at the university visually connects their traditional world with modern science.
CHANNEL: New York Times
By Kassie Bracken and Amy Harmon