Chernobyl Aftermath

Categories: Chernobyl

When individuals come forward with their personal experiences of pain and suffering, their bodies are turned into social and political instruments by larger, more powerful, entities: the medical authorities and the government. They are no longer individuals living in horrible situations but empirical objects to be analyzed and studied. So, as an empirical body of study, Petryna, in her book, analyzes the body as individual, social, and political. She interviews people suffering in the Zone, medical professionals, and examines the controversial political, scientific, and social circumstances that followed the disaster.

In the years after the Chernobyl meltdown, the government took the classifications of the medical authorities when they separated the people known as “sufferers” in the Zone (Petryna 2). The government, does however, expend money and a percentage of its budget on the Chernobyl aftermath and most of that percentage goes to the sufferers for legal-medical, scientific, and welfare costs. But because of these, Ukraine’s response to Chernobyl post-Independence, legitimized them and set them on their path to autonomy by combining “humanism with strategies of governance, state building, market strategies with forms of economic and political corruption” (Petryna 5).

Thus effectively using the pain of the aptly named sufferers as political and economic instruments to gain traction internationally post socialism. Unfortunately, Petryna’s work actually sheds light on the realities of “aid” that the Ukrainian government is handing down to its people – on paper it is as I stated previously but as she illustrates in her book, a large impoverished part of the population has to fight and “negotiate the terms of their personal economic and social inclusion” as opposed to simply having the right included in their Ukrainian birthright (Petryna 7).

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It is up to the people to use their own voices to gain access to health care, welfare, self-preservation. Specifically regarding the personal welfare of the people and their personal experiences of pain and suffering, they are being “rationalized” – there are “new determinations and values” being attached to them by external actors (Petryna 15). Especially in the case of Chernobyl sufferers, advances in biomedical technologies are playing a greater and greater role in the social arena. As a result, those classified as “sufferers” receive less compensation than those classified as “disabled,” and would then have to fight much harder to receive even remotely decent social protections from the Ukrainian government (Petryna 18). The bio-scientific knowledge in the Ukraine actually lowered the measure for safe living, increased the size of the labor entering the contaminated Zone, and expanded the territory considered contaminated, enabling a larger sector of the population claiming state-protected polity (Petryna 24). The goal of this was to establish a new national bond but more people became active in the compensation system and more people wanted social protections exacerbating the already difficult and tension-filled fight for disability status. This, in turn, led to the further restrictions of benefits and the access to state protections. People claiming injury by using their personal experiences of pain and suffering would then become embroiled in public dramas with the arbiters of the claims over who had the right to compensation and social protections (Petryna 25). In the Ukraine, the bodies of these individuals is both material and symbolic: they have essentially defied nature by surviving yet they are also considered a burden on the public welfare system (Petryna 101). However dangerous these assumptions and perspectives, Petryna’s argument gains sympathy when she includes the true stories of the individuals. Take Rita’s story for example: Rita was a gatekeeper at the time of the Chernobyl blast and went to the hospital with a multitude of symptoms and was infirm for around a month. But, her exit paperwork indicated that instead of being an ARS patient, her condition was befitting a more “psychological mold” (Petryna 123). As a result of the bureaucratic interventions and medical practices and decisions would “shape the course of her future illness experience” (Petryna 123). Petryna shows how the event has not only shaped the course of Rita’s illness experience, but that of a newly independent nation. Chernobyl and the Ukraine’s policies towards its victims has made health a system of negotiation and entitlement. As she tracks the emergence of a ‘biological citizenship,” the assaults on health become the currency through which sufferers pay for biomedical resources, social equity, and human rights.

II – Babushkas of Chernobyl and “Blasted Landscapes”

An insight that Morris’ Babushkas of Chernobyl and Tsing’s “Blasted Landscapes” give in studying bodies in nature is the necessity of talking to the people, engaging with the individuals that you are studying. Simply talking to the scientists of Chernobyl, i.e. the ones taking soil samples to test, will only give part of the story. Talking to the actual babushkas that chose to stay and were directly affected by the meltdown made Morris’ argument and work much more inclusive and convincing. Similarly, when talking about the effect of disturbances on bodies in disturbed landscapes, one cannot talk about the bodies without incorporating the voice of said body. Without the perspective of the individuals living in these ecologies, the study loses most of its significance. For example, Tsing writes about the Matsuke mushrooms and what they mean to the people and say that “with mushrooms, displaced and disempowered people find life on blasted landscapes” without consulting the people (Tsing 90). Tsing, unlike Morris, does not rely heavily on the voice of those effected in the Matsuke forests. The paper reads as though there is a wall between the reader and the people living the reality that Tsing writes about. She mainly consults with researchers and experts who are convincing on their own but the only times the reader is privy to the emotions and realities of the bodies in the disturbed nature is when Tsing incorporates a photograph of them tilling the land, harvesting mushrooms, etc. Or when she briefly talks to the pickers about the mushrooms being poisonous and villagers talking about the Great Leap Forward.

Almost in direct contrast, most of Morris’ movie shows the lives of the babushkas intertwined with the information and opinions of the experts studying the area. This weaving of stories creates a well-rounded work that incorporates all the bodies at work in the disturbed landscape. Studying the people without portraying them as specimens behind a glass wall and us, the audience, as the researchers and observers studying them. This effectively pulls the audience into the study presented to them – the audience can make their own decisions and pose their own questions with more information and more perspectives, not just those of other scientists and researchers. That is not to say that Tsing’s writing is not convincing or complete, but it could be stronger the actual bodies that she seeks to describe and study were included in the final product. Her emphasis on historical context brings something of value as well as context helps the reader travel and follow the devices that the authors and filmmakers use to study the people and bodies in the disturbed landscapes. Context is especially important when considering an object’s effect on the global market, i.e. Matsuke mushrooms making their way across Europe and becoming a delicacy as well as a symbol for the Japanese people. If “ruins are our gardens,” we must acknowledge and explore the reason they became ruins in the first place.

III a – Petryna When Experiments Travel

The implications of the claim that clinical trials are increasingly “global” is that pharmaceutical companies are gathering clinical trial data from other countries – outsourcing trials – to support a license application for economic reasons. Global in this case referring to the globe as clinical trials are becoming more and more international – “the outsourcing and offshoring of clinical trials” (Petryna 7). Clinical trials are expensive and are taking longer to conduct than in the past, thus further compounding the increased costs. There are many reasons for the increased cost and duration of clinical trials, but it is a widely held view that clinical regulations, or more precisely, the interpretation and implementation of these regulations, are a major factor. It is important that there are well-regulated clinical trials to ensure high ethical standards and that trial conduct and processes are producing valid and accurate data. However, there is a call for making trial regulation less complicated and more readily adaptable to risk, and for having guidelines that are globally applicable and adaptable to all types of trials. Such was the thinking behind the AZT placebo-control trials as “placebos lower costs” and they “produce better evidence,” yet many of those treated with placebo pills were not getting the treatment they needed for the sake of the end result (Petryna 35). One of the ethical problem with many of these outsourced trials is the care that the control groups are denied: people whose data is crucial to the success of a clinical trial are later denied access to the drug they helped get to the global markets because it is expensive. Many of the people who participate in these clinical trials are desperate for a cure, a solution, aid, but instead receive nominal recompense for their participation.

In some situations, there is not enough monitoring to ensure the data is being captured accurately and that the participants’ rights and safety are being protected. Such was the case of the drug Vioxx being removed from the market because of its “adverse cardiovascular effects” (Petryna 80). The signs were ignored by the pharmaceutical company and the FDA and thousands of users suffered because of the oversight. However, whilst in high-income countries efforts have been made to streamline and simplify ethics and the regulatory review process, application to ethics committees has become highly administrative in resource-limited countries with increasing paper work and reviews are often needed before a trial can start (Petryna 94). More wealthy foreign trial sponsors may well have the capacity to resource the administrative burden of getting protocols through these committees; however, low investment and support for ethics and regulatory committees in developing countries is a problem for external sponsors.

IV a – The Body Shop

When it comes to the material practices of The Body Shop, they claim a commitment on their website to “enrich [their] products.” On their website they exclaim, “Our products nourish, enrich and uplift but never make false promises and are never tested on animals.” They make many claims and promises on their website – it reads more like a mission statement than a true representation of facts and figures. For example, they claim to be “experts in caring for all different skin types” yet there is no evidence to bolster such a claim. But this is a pattern throughout their website. They throw numbers at the reader as a sort of recompense for the lack thereof. Yet we can rest assured, that they will “ensure 100% of our natural ingredients are traceable and sustainably sourced, protecting 10,000 hectares of forest and other habitats.”

A promise that The Body Shop appears to be keeping faithfully is their promise to “publish our use of ingredients of natural origin, ingredients from green chemistry, and biodegradability and water footprint of our products.” For the past two years, as a part of their Enrich Not Exploit initiative, a five-year program to deliver 14 goals to enrich people, their products and the planet by the year 2020. In their report for 2017, they explain how they expanded their Community Trade program to make a positive social impact on communities through trade while sourcing “exciting, sustainable ingredients.” Again, a major issue with the way they deliver information is that they use buzzwords like “exciting,” “empowering,” etc. to distract the reader from the fact they have presented few pieces of hard evidence like a study, an academic journal, or anything from a source that isn’t trademarked by The Body Shop.

In regards to The Body Shop being a global concern, in 2006 they were acquired by L’Oréal which used ingredients that had been tested on animals, while The Body Shop was publicly opposed to animal testing. Groups like Naturewatch and Uncaged called for a boycott of The Body Shop, calling Roddick a sell-out and citing animal and human rights scandals surrounding both L’Oréal and Nestlé. Since the acquisition in 2006, The Body Shop has received an ethical rating of 2.5 out of 20 on the Ethical Consumer’s “ethiscore” system, which is down from its rating of 11 pre-acquisition – Ethical Consumer is a non-profit magazine and website which publishes information on the social, ethical and environmental behavior of companies and issues around trade justice and ethical consumerism. Then, on The Body Shop’s website, each product has two tabs for their ingredients – one for the “main ingredients” and another for “all ingredients.” The tab for “all ingredients” tend to have ingredients that are less natural and thus makes one question the veracity of their claims of “100% natural ingredients that are traceable and sustainably sourced” and the acquisition of the company by L’Oréal made people question their commitment to their ethics.

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Chernobyl Aftermath. (2022, Apr 22). Retrieved from

Chernobyl Aftermath
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