Perceptions of the Gift Relationship in Organ and Tissue Donation: Views of Intensivists and Donor and Recipient Coordinators
Social Science & Medicine 2010 February; 70(4): 609-615
The international literature on organ donation and transplantation has drawn attention to the popularity of "gift of life" discourse among pro-donation advocates, transplantation specialists, and within organisations lobbying for improved donation rates to promote the benefits of organ donation among members of the general public. In Aotearoa/New Zealand, gift of life discourse is robust. Aside from attempts to elicit altruism by promoting tissue donation in the public domain, gift terminology separates the act of donation from that of commerce and the commodification of body tissues. In distancing donation from commodification and the potential to degrade and exploit human beings, it is assumed that gift discourse transmits the positive message that donation is a noble and morally worthy act. Recent sociological research has shown that assumptions of the gift as one-way and altruistic do not necessarily align with people's perceptions and experience of donating body tissues, and that the vocabulary used to describe these acts is often at variance with reality. This article draws on interview data with 15 critical care specialists (intensivists) and donor and recipient coordinators, examining their perceptions of the relevance of gift discourse and its applicability in the context of deceased donation in Aotearoa/New Zealand. The data indicate several problems with gift rhetoric to describe the situations health professionals encounter. In sum, gift terminology tends to downplay the sacrifice involved in tissue donation generally, as well as depoliticising the exchange relations of tissue transfer in contemporary consumer culture and in the global context. This raises questions about the underlying ethics of language choice and what, if anything, empirical accounts of tissue transfer can contribute to ethical debates.
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