Unfitting Parts: the Moral, Political, and Informal Economies of Japanese Organ Transplants

Key information

5:00 pm to 7:00 pm
Russell Square: College Buildings

About this event

Alessia Costa (2012-13 Tsuda Bursary Recipient)

In Japan, the redefinition of death on neurological criteria to allow organ procurement for transplantation purposes has been the subject of one of the most controversial and long-lasting public debates on bio-ethics. While previous researches on the topic have convincingly shown the social construction of scientific knowledge (Lock 2002), I move from that to analyse the social consequences of the Japanese “brain death problem”. With this aim, I examine the national policies on organ donation and the way in which they enable and/or constrain people’s choices, judgments, and actions.
In asking these questions, I follow human organs as an ethnographic object, and discuss the findings of one year of anthropological fieldwork conducted with organ recipients, transplant surgeons, and ICU doctors. I thus present the life histories of Japanese patients and their families, focusing in particular on the phenomenon of transplant travels to foreign countries and on patients’ engagement in the regulation of this highly contested biotechnology. Following on that, I look at how organ donation is managed at the intersection between legal institutions and clinical practice after the recent reform of the Act on Organ Transplants.

The proposed discussion seeks to bring together the opposite needs by which transplantation is shaped, elucidating the tensions between the medically driven enterprise of saving life and the uncertainties surrounding the definition of death. In this perspective, I look at transplant as a dilemma always open that leaves wide room for negotiation, and as a modern anthropological problem. The final aim of this research is thus to investigate how people navigate their way through the possibilities and ambiguities brought about by this medical technology, in the conviction that their experience speaks volume about what it means to live and die in a highly musicalized society such as contemporary Japan.

Speaker Biography

In 2009 I completed my MA in Japanese Studies at the University of Venice, after spending one year at Keio University between 2007 and 2008. As PhD candidate of the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at SOAS, I am currently researching on the topic of transplants in Japan. From 2011 to 2012, I have been conducting ethnographic fieldwork in Japan as exchange researcher at Waseda University.

Organiser: Centres & Programmes Office

Contact email: centres@soas.ac.uk

Contact Tel: 020 7898 4893/2