Organ wars: the battle for body parts

Med Anthropol Q. 1995 Sep;9(3):335-56. doi: 10.1525/maq.1995.9.3.02a00040.


Transplantation surgeries contribute to conceptions of the body as a collection of replaceable parts and of the self as distinct from all but its neural locus. There remains substantial cultural resistance to these conceptions, which leads the medical community to attempt to link the surgeries to social values that are sufficiently powerful to minimize the sense of a disjuncture between traditional concepts of personhood and those consistent with transplantation. The controversy over how to increase the supply of transplantable organs reveals two diametrically opposed sets of values invoked by advocates of transplantation: altruism and individual rights. The article analyzes these as the ideological equivalents of immunosuppressant drugs, designed to inhibit cultural rejection of transplantation and its view of the body.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Altruism
  • Commodification*
  • Cultural Diversity*
  • Ego
  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Gift Giving*
  • Graft Rejection / prevention & control
  • Graft Rejection / psychology
  • Human Body*
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Internationality
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Personhood*
  • Rejection, Psychology
  • Social Values*
  • Tissue Donors / psychology
  • Tissue Donors / supply & distribution*
  • Tissue and Organ Procurement*
  • United States


  • Immunosuppressive Agents