Resurrected Bodies: Individual Experiences and Collective Expressions of Organ Transplant in North America

Arlene Macdonald
2010 Bulletin for the Study of Religion  
The dissertation is an ethnographic study of religion as conceived and experienced by organ transplant recipients. It is also a cultural study of North America's collective expressions of transplant as found in Christian journals, popular media, advocacy literature and public policy statements. The study finds evidence that religious metaphors and directives, cosmological figures and theological arguments, rituals, scriptures and places of worship are actively, vociferously, and consciously
more » ... ged with organ transplant discourse and with the experience of giving or receiving organs. While the transplant recipients under study cannot be considered representative (being largely advocates for transplant and almost exclusively of Christian background or affiliation), this group was articulate about the ways their new organ invoked the sacred: they described new metaphysical understandings, they spoke of a closer relationship with God, the universe and other human beings, they divulged inexplicable incidents and mystical states of being, they articulated a complex set of ethical prescripts. "Thinking how many times you should have been dead and you're still here" was for many an imperative to "start to find out why." I argue that these spiritual seekers traverse a 21 st century terrain shaped by the practices and discourses of what Foucault termed "biopower". The private and public production of sanctified donors and 'redeemed' recipients is inextricably bound to the desires of transplant professionals and government officials, and cannot hope to escape the very real commodification of the body that transplant represents. This seeming paradox of 'the sacred in the secular' does not make transplant's religious constructions inauthentic or irrelevant. Religion remains an active and inventive register for the recording of potent bodily experiences of illness, loss and conditional regeneration. Further, the religious activity around transplant affords a window on emerging rites, on contemporary understandings of death and immortality, and on new conversations about miracles and morality. Circuits of biotechnology are not immune to religious influence and inflection -but, simultaneously, contemporary religious meanings, practices and experiences are indelibly shaped by our newfound ability to transplant organs.
doi:10.1558/bsor.v39i1.002 fatcat:4pxmcqa4pve43atlctovuplgsm