Jana Vanecek

Life is Surplus Value [patented, traded and accumulated]

Installation: UV ink on polyester, LED modules, lacquered ABS, 300 x 250 x 15 cm and 100 x 100 x 40 cm | performance: 18-20 minutes | actor: Johannes Hoffmann | booklet 16 pages

All people need health care. Or at least they will need it at some point in their lives. Worldwide, more than $7.8 trillion is spent on healthcare. With the healthcare sector growing much faster than the overall global economy - and not just since Corona - these figures are almost certain to rise by quite a bit by the end of the decade [1]. At the heart of the new post-industrial economy, in genetic capitalism, is the transformation of biological life into economic surplus value [2]. Through the interplay of diverse information and biotechnologies, as well as global trade and intellectual property rights, life, understood as matter, can be dissected, stabilized, frozen, digitized, standardized, stored in genetic databases, and traded and accumulated independently of time and space, across organs and species, across contexts and companies, in the service of health and capital [3].

These trends are particularly (but not exclusively) evident in the example of cancer therapies. Thanks to technological innovations, more and more new cancer drugs have come onto the market in recent years. On the one hand, these drugs are a great achievement, since according to statistics, one in three people could potentially develop cancer at some point in their lives. On the other hand, however, the prices of cancer drugs have increased 35-fold between 2005 and 2013. In some cases, manufacturers charge up to 500,000 Swiss francs per patient [4], not including physician and laboratory costs. In addition, an international study (2020) by the University of Zurich and Harvard Medical School concluded that there is no correlation between the clinical benefit of cancer drugs and their prices in Switzerland, Germany, England and the USA [5].

Experts are increasingly warning that these high prices will make it almost impossible for health insurers to finance treatment in the long term. Because of this development in pricing, the responsible Federal Office of Public Health is increasingly forced to restrict the use of and access to the drugs with a limitatio. Under these circumstances, treatment depends on a cost approval from the health insurance company. However, a 2014 study indicated that decisions can vary widely by health insurer. This means that the choice of health insurer or, in some circumstances, even the day-to-day form of the medical examiner in charge can make the difference between life and death in Switzerland [6].

Regardless of age, gender, socioeco-nomic or ethnic background, we consider our health to be our most basic and important asset. Health is a basic prerequisite for social and economic participation in society. After all, an illness can prevent us from going to school or work, meeting our family obligations, or fully participating in our community‘s activities. At the same time, health seems to be increasingly becoming a luxury good that is not accessible or only accessible with difficulty.

(1) Vgl. OECD. «Health at a Glance 2019», 2019. https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/content/publication/4dd50c09-en.

(2) Vgl. Cooper, Melinda. Life as Surplus: Biotechnology and Capitalism in the Neoliberal Era. In Vivo. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008.

(3) Vgl. Braidotti, Rosi. «Zur Transposition des Lebens im Zeitalter des genetischen Biokapitalismus». In Bios und Zoë: Die menschliche Natur im Zeitalter ihrer technischen Reproduzierbarkeit, herausgegeben von Martin G. Weiß, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 2009.

(4) Vgl. https://nzzas.nzz.ch/notizen/geheilt-dank-einer-spritze-die-470-000-dollar-kostet-ld.1315330 | Eingesehen am 21.06.2021

(5) Vgl. Vokinger, Kerstin N, Thomas J Hwang, Thomas Grischott, Sophie Reichert, Ariadna Tibau, Thomas Rosemann, und Aaron S Kesselheim. «Prices and Clinical Benefit of Cancer Drugs in the USA and Europe: A Cost–Benefit Analysis». The Lancet Oncology 21, Nr. 5 (Mai 2020): 664–70. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1470-2045(20)30139-X.

(6) Vgl. https://www.handelszeitung.ch/politik/bei-krebspatienten-ist-kassenwahl-entscheidend-575160 | Eingesehen am 21.06.2021