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Week 23

Theme 6 Bodies and the body politic: life, death and organ transplantation

Week 23

Organs and ownership

As human tissues become ever more medically useful, and ever more commercially profitable, debate has intensified over who should benefit from our bodies, and how. We will look at the rapid expansion of tissue-based treatments and technologies, take a historical perspective on the different moral and ethical issues they raise.


Seminar topic: Do we own ourselves?

If not, why not? And who does? On what grounds have states and individuals argued for or against individual self-ownership? What are the dangers – and by contrast, the benefits – of asserting that our bodily fabric is or can be owned like any other object?


Required Reading:

  • Donna Dickenson, Body Shopping: The Economy Fuelled by Flesh and Blood (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2008) Chapters 1,2,5,8


  • E. T. Hurren, 'Whose Body is it Anyway? Trading the Dead Poor, Coroner's Disputes and the Business of Anatomy at Oxford University, 1885-1929', Bulletin of the History of Medicine, Winter 2008, Volume 82, Issue 4, 775-819
  • Hannah Landecker, 'Between Beneficence and Chattel: The Human Biological in Law and Science' Science in Context (1999), 12: 203-225

  • Veena Das, 'The Practice of Organ Transplants: Networks, Documents, Translations', in Margaret Lock, Allan Young, Alberto Cambrosio, eds, Living and Working with the New Medical Technologies: Intersections of Inquiry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000): 263-287.


Also, you might enjoy Mary Roach, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (London: Penguin Books, 2003) Chapters 2, 8, 10, 11 –just for fun!



Background and Further Reading:

B. Bunzel, B. Schmidl-Mohl, A. Grundböck and G. Wollenek, ‘Does Changing the Heart Mean Changing Personality? A Retrospective Inquiry on 47 Heart Transplant Patients’, Quality of Life Research, Vol. 1, No. 4 (Aug., 1992), pp. 251-256.

Renee C. Fox and Judith P. Swazey, ‘Chronicle of a Cadaver Transplant’, The Hastings Center Report, Vol. 3, No. 6 (Dec., 1973), pp. 1-3.

Charles W. Lidz, Alan Meisel, Loren H. Roth, Arthur Caplan, David Zimmerman and C. L. ‘Mrs. X and the Bone Marrow Transplant’, IRB: Ethics and Human Research, Vol. 5, No. 4 (Jul. - Aug., 1983), pp. 6-8.

Alexandria Niewijk, ‘Tough Priorities: Organ Triage and the Legacy of Apartheid’, The Hastings Center Report, Vol. 29, No. 6 (Nov. - Dec., 1999), pp. 42-50.

Jeffrey M. Prottas, ‘Competition for Altruism: Bone and Organ Procurement in the United States’, The Milbank Quarterly, Vol. 70, No. 2 (1992), pp. 299-317

Jeffrey M. Prottas, Olga Jonasson and John I. Kleinig ‘Case Studies: In Organ Transplants, Americans First?’ The Hastings Center Report, Vol. 16, No. 5 (Oct., 1986), pp. 23-25.

Margaret S. Swain and Randy W. Marusyk ‘An Alternative to Property Rights in Human Tissue’, The Hastings Center Report, Vol. 20, No. 5 (Sep. - Oct., 1990), pp. 12-15.

Catherine Waldby, Robert Mitchell Tissue Economies: Blood, Organs, and Cell Lines in Late Capitalism, Duke University Press, 2006.