Return of blood samples to Brazilian tribes

11 June 2010

Following the news earlier this year that blood samples used for genetic research were to be returned to the indigenous Havasupai Indians in the US by Arizona State University (see previous news) comes a new report that a similar repatriation will take place to the Yanomamö Indians of Brazil. Originally collected for biomedical research by anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon from the 1960s, who studied the Yanomami tribe in their Amazonian rainforest homes between Brazil and southern Venezuela, the samples have been stored in various US laboratories ever since.
Five centres will now return these samples to the US Brazilian Embassy, which will return them to the Yanomami for disposal. This move was prompted by allegations that the original sample collection (in the days before informed consent procedures were standard for such activities) was unethical, leading to demands for the return by tribal representatives. The Yanomami cremate their dead and are unhappy with the concept of retained samples.
Spokesman Davi Kopenawa said: “I am very happy that the white people have now understood the importance of returning the blood… Science is not a god who knows what is best for everybody. It is we Yanomami who know whether or not research is good for our people” (see Survival news).

However, Chagnon has reportedly commented that they may, rather, be worse off, saying: "The Yanomamö, like all populations, depend on medicines…I think it's reasonable that they should participate in what it takes to develop medicines, instead of being just the recipients" [Couzin-Frankel J. Science. 2010 Jun 4;328(5983):1218].

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