Abstract

Feminist analysis of cultural mythology surrounding organ donation offers a critical perspective on current U.S. transplant policy. My argument is three-pronged. First, I argue that organ donation is appropriately understood as a sacrifice. Structurally, donation accords both to general and to specifically Christian archetypes of sacrifice. The characterization of donation as sacrifice resonates in the cultural psyche even though it is absent in public rhetoric. Second, I characterize widespread feminist concerns about the over-glorification of sacrifice. These concerns provide a helpful framework for considering whether the sacrifice of organ donation is over-glorified in our culture. Third, I consider several specific aspects of organ recruitment and organ allocation. Each demonstrates an over-glorification of sacrifice that leads to a dangerous “routinization” of sacrifice. None of these excesses are addressable without due attention to the symbolic import of organ donation and transplantation. I close by suggesting lessons my analysis offers to Christian churches who support donation, to the discourse of bioethics, and to the general public.

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