ASA2016: Footprints and futures: the time of anthropology

(P13)
Death and chronicity: new perspectives on cadaveric donation
Location Science Site/Engineering E101
Date and Start Time 07 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 1

Convenors

  • Bob Simpson (Durham University) email
  • Rachel Douglas-Jones (IT University Copenhagen) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

A widening repertoire of therapeutic, research and educational uses for human tissue brings narratives of global 'shortage' and questions of how communities might secure the ethical procurement of tissue. How might these developments be shaping how death is conceived?

Long Abstract

The ever-widening repertoire of therapeutic, research and educational uses for human tissue has ushered in narratives of global 'shortage'. Efforts to procure human tissue ethically to meet these needs has stimulated analogue and digital media campaigns by governments, medical services and communities across the world to address this issue. Our contention is that these practices are beginning to shape the ways that death is conceived, given meaning and managed at the level of disposal across a range of different traditions, both religious and secular. Specifically, there is an insertion of the demands of biomedicine into the complex exchanges that every death initiates and the way that these might then unfold over time. Whether it be exhortations to sign up for an organ donor register, complete a living will or pledge one's body to medical science, there is a growing alignment of personal, relational and spiritual moralities and ideas of secondary uses of the body and its parts at death. In this panel we are seeking to attract papers that explore the following question: What are the temporalities implicit in contemporary donation practices? We welcome papers that explore donation practices in different cultural traditions and the ways in which biomedical rhetorics articulate with the diverse ways in which death is given recognition, meaning and significance over and above each individual death.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Death and chronicity: what do we mean by 'new' perspectives on cadeaveric donation

Author: Bob Simpson (Durham University)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper I will provide an overview of what the 'new' perspectives are that we have in mind when trying to understand contemporary practices of post-mortem body donation for therapeutic, research and educational purposes.

Long Abstract

Demand for cadaveric human tissue to serve biomedical need for therapeutic, research and educational purposes, is growing both internationally and transnationally. It is our contention that encouragement to engage in, or merely contemplate, cadaveric donation, or what we refer to as corporeal charity, is having wide-ranging consequences for the way in which death, mortuary rituals and immortality are currently conceived and practiced. The paper will set the scene for a discussion of just what these consequences are and how we might study 'death itself' ethnographically in the 21st century.

Contemplating relations between body and person through cadaveric donation

Authors: Maria Olejaz (University of Copenhagen)  email
Klaus Hoeyer (Copenhagen University)  email

Short Abstract

The paper explores how Danish people articulate understandings of their own body by way of contemplating cadaveric donation for science education or transplantation

Long Abstract

This paper explores how Danish people articulate understandings of their own body by way of contemplating cadaveric donation for science education or transplantation. The paper is based on fieldwork in Denmark and, in particular, on interviews with 33 Danes. Some had decided to bequeath their body to science, some had registered as organ donors, some had done both and some were still undecided or had decided against cadaveric donation. Interviewing people with these varying stances gave us an opportunity to explore how the possibility of cadaveric donation intervenes in the lives of the living. Talking to people about their donation choice thus serves as an opportunity to articulate their vision of a good death as well as what they believe happens after death, and most importantly explore how these visions of death and afterlife draw on different repertoires; biomedical, religious and secular and articulate different relationships between body and person.

Anatomy collections and the ethics of the past

Authors: Ian Harper (University of Edinburgh)  email
Elizabeth Hodson (University of Aberdeen)  email

Short Abstract

To what extent should an ethics of the present judge the past and in what ways do historical practices inform our contemporary ethical concerns? If ethics involves articulating our broader responsibilities, then how do body-collecting practices in the 19th century inform current donation debates?

Long Abstract

To what extent should an ethics of the present judge the past? In what ways do historical practices inform our contemporary ethical concerns? This paper seeks to address these questions in the following way: Anatomy, at the University of Edinburgh, is home to an extensive collection of body parts and artefacts that speak to its rich history both for acquiring objects and remains - at home and abroad - but also as a centre for body donation. Within its collections there are numerous skulls, gathered from across the globe between the 18th and mid 20th century, and housed in a purpose-built room within the Anatomy department. The skulls were collected for the purpose of contributing to the then ongoing scientific debates in phrenology and comparative anatomy, and were acquired through the personal and professional relationships between Edinburgh-trained colonial medical officers and the University's anatomists. Starting with the skull room itself, its architectural and classificatory aesthetic, which was built in the 19th century specifically to store and study the skulls, we trace how Edinburgh's current donation policy has been molded through its particular history, from the skulls to more recent repatriation exchanges. If the history of ethics involves the shifting boundaries around how we define our responsibilities (legal and other), then how have these historical trajectories informed current donation practices?

Times of death, times of giving, times of grief

Author: Arnar Árnason (University of Aberdeen)  email

Short Abstract

The modern medical view has seen death as failure. This panel suggests that medically death is increasingly seen as a resource. This paper examines this in relation to discourses and practices of organ donation in Iceland which it links to earlier conceptions of grief as an opportunity for growth.

Long Abstract

Long-standing views in the social scientific account of death, speak of the medicalisation of death in many, particularly western, contemporary societies. According to these views, modern medicine sees death as a failure to be avoided and struggled against. This panel proposes importantly that a fundamental shift in medical views of death has taken place and that as biomedicine inserts itself increasingly into the spaces of dying, and perhaps grieving, death is more and more seen as an opportunity, a resource to be exploited. This paper investigates whether a new medical view on death is emerging in relation to discourses and practices of organ donation in Iceland. It examines the links between the possibly emerging medical view of death as a resource, with earlier conceptions of grief as an opportunity for growth. A connection here is organ donation as a mechanism of grief. The paper discusses how emerging views alter the times of death and the times of grief, not least in relation to the changing broader cultural and political contexts that thus become available to place individual deaths in.

The spectre of death and the discourse of organ transfer in Kerala, India

Author: Abin Thomas (King's College London)  email

Short Abstract

I intend to discuss how death appears in the contemporary discourse of organ transfer in Kerala, a state in southern part of India. I address this question through the case study of an organization called Suvartha and by reading some of the newspaper reports on cadaveric organ donation.

Long Abstract

Following Lesley A. Sharp’s idea of organ transfer as signifying both organ donation and transplantation, I intend to discuss how death appears in the contemporary discourse of organ transfer in Kerala, a state in southern part of India. I address this question through the case study of an organization called Suvartha, which specializes in mobilizing people to generate transplant fund, and by reading some of the newspaper reports on cadaveric organ donation. This organization believes that ‘No one should die, because of lack of money for treatment’ and uses media networks effectively for its fundraising campaign. Meanwhile, the news reports on cadaveric organ donation represent the death of the brain-dead donor as a life-saving event. In both cases, it has to be noted that the figure of ‘impending death’ is constantly used in the entire discourse. Also, in the attempt to promote the cause of organ donation, these developments portray the power of medicine and associated technological innovations to bring back someone from the verge of death. At the same time, when the actual death of the transplant patient happens due to various reasons, the above theme momentarily disappears from the whole discourse on organ transfer. Thus, in this paper, I aim to show that the topic of death circulates in the public discourse of organ transfer only as a spectre, but not as a reality.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.