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Strange Harvest

Strange Harvest: Organ Transplants, Denatured Bodies, and the Transformed Self

Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Pages: 322
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  • Book Info
    Strange Harvest
    Book Description:

    Strange Harvestilluminates the wondrous yet disquieting medical realm of organ transplantation by drawing on the voices of those most deeply involved: transplant recipients, clinical specialists, and the surviving kin of deceased organ donors. In this rich and deeply engaging ethnographic study, anthropologist Lesley Sharp explores how these parties think about death, loss, and mourning, especially in light of medical taboos surrounding donor anonymity. As Sharp argues, new forms of embodied intimacy arise in response, and the riveting insights gleaned from her interviews, observations, and descriptions of donor memorials and other transplant events expose how patients and donor families make sense of the transfer of body parts from the dead to the living. For instance, all must grapple with complex yet contradictory clinical assertions of death as easily detectable and absolute; nevertheless, transplants are regularly celebrated as forms of rebirth, and donors as living on in others' bodies. New forms of sociality arise, too: recipients and donors' relatives may defy sanctions against communication, and through personal encounters strangers are transformed into kin. Sharp also considers current experimental research efforts to develop alternative sources for human parts, with prototypes ranging from genetically altered animals to sophisticated mechanical devices. These future trajectories generate intriguing responses among both scientists and transplant recipients as they consider how such alternatives might reshape established-yet unusual-forms of embodied intimacy.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93961-5
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction: Strange Harvest
    (pp. 1-41)

    Organ transplantation in the United States has entered a state of crisis, albeit one of its own design. The boldness of this statement rests on the supposition that transplantation simultaneously epitomizes technical genius and medical hubris in this country. Specialized surgeons now understand the function of highly sophisticated organs so well that they routinely remove these organs from the recently deceased, using them in turn to replenish life in their ailing patients. Nevertheless, even after fifty years of practice and refinement, transplantation looms as a troubling realm of medicine, especially within the lay imagination. Although it stands as an icon...

  6. 1 We Are the Dead Men: Mind over Matter
    (pp. 42-100)

    The human body is a fascinatingly peculiar thing: its size can range from under twenty inches at birth to an adult stature of more than six feet, and as it matures it masters the ability to move through the world, first by rolling over, then later, perhaps, by progressing on all fours in anticipation of a lifelong bipedal stride. It can propel itself on a bicycle or in a wheelchair, or run at breakneck speed. Beneath the skin one encounters a dizzying array of systems that together enable the body to survive as well as perform astonishing tasks. As the...

  7. 2 Memory Work: Public and Private Representations of Suffering, Loss, and Redemption
    (pp. 101-158)

    On a busy street corner in Richmond, Virginia, stands a memorial complex erected to an unusual category of the dead. The National Donor Memorial occupies the grounds of the new corporate headquarters of the United Network for Organ Sharing and spans approximately ten thousand square feet of outdoor space.¹ With one end wedged into a corner near the UNOS lobby entrance, its second arm banks the corporate parking lot, shadowed by the building’s multistory garage and, in turn, by the medical examiner’s office across the street. The cost for the memorial is an estimated $1.2 million, built with monies solicited...

  8. 3 Public Encounters as Subversive Acts
    (pp. 159-205)

    In August 1998—for the first time ever—the surviving kin of organ donors arrived in large numbers to attend the Transplant Olympics, a biennial event organized by the National Kidney Foundation and held that summer at the Ohio State University in Columbus. Until that year, the Transplant Games had always been staged primarily (if not exclusively) for the benefit of organ recipients. Others in attendance included their families and friends, as well as health professionals from their respective transplant units, all of whom came to cheer them on in a host of competitive categories. This was a momentous occasion:...

  9. 4 Human Hybridity: Scientific Longing and the Dangers of Difference
    (pp. 206-241)

    In June 2004, three transplant recipients died after contracting rabies from William Beed Jr., a twenty-year-old organ donor from Arkansas who suffered a fatal brain hemorrhage in a hospital in Texarkana, Texas. Mr. Beed’s lungs, kidneys, and liver were transplanted into four separate patients on May 4: a lung recipient in Alabama, who died from surgical complications, and three other patients at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, who received his kidneys and liver.¹ These three remaining recipients recovered and returned home following their surgeries, only to develop encephalitis twenty-one to twenty-seven days later. As reported by the Centers for...

  10. Epilogue
    (pp. 242-246)

    The researcher who endeavors to study organ transfer in America must accept and even anticipate the inevitability of change. The surgical replacement of organs requires radical forms of medical intervention, where extraordinarily complex clinical skills undergo constant refinement. A single visit to any relevant professional conference quickly reveals that surgeons and related medical personnel are driven by a persistent desire to perfect their craft. Recent innovations include, for instance, graceful sternal retractors that lock into position like the quick release of a bicycle wheel, a design that eliminates the need for more than one set of hands; the perfection of...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 247-262)
  12. Glossary
    (pp. 263-268)
  13. References
    (pp. 269-298)
  14. Index
    (pp. 299-307)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 308-308)