JCB Fellow's Talk: Farren Yero

May 16, 2018 - 4:00pm

Farren Yero (Duke University), Marie L. and William R. Hartland Fellow

"Freedom from Smallpox: Vaccine and Medical Consent in the Iberian Atlantic World"

On a Sunday morning in 1805, churchgoers in Santa Fe Bogotá learned of a marvelous new discovery—a vaccine that promised to save them from disease. Father Andrés Rosillo y Meruélo preached in his sermon that day that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross not only enabled man’s eternal salvation but also freed him from the scourge of smallpox. Redemption from this plague came in the form of a vaccine, discovered just a few years before, and transported to the Spanish Americas through the bodies of twenty-two orphaned children. As a gift from both God and the Crown, vaccination was ostensibly both free and voluntary, requiring the consent of patients or parents throughout the Spanish Empire. And yet the vaccine was incubated and conserved for the public through the bodies of young children, often orphaned or enslaved, who were certainly not afforded the choice to consent. This talk will discuss the establishment of the smallpox vaccine within the Iberian Atlantic world, and how it fostered a new but fractured culture of medical consent. Against the backdrop of the wars of independence, consent became a carefully meted out privilege. To allow some the choice to vaccinate, while withholding the choice for others, drew distinctions between who counted as fully human and who deserved the right to one’s health, one’s body, and one’s freedom. 

The Reading Room will close to researchers at 3:30 pm.