Domesticating Organ Transplant

Familial Sacrifice and National Aspiration in Mexico

Domesticating Organ Transplant

Book Pages: 336 Illustrations: 3 illustrations Published: March 2016

Anthropology > Medical Anthropology, Latin American Studies, Medicine and Health

Organ transplant in Mexico is overwhelmingly a family matter, utterly dependent on kidneys from living relatives—not from stranger donors typical elsewhere. Yet Mexican transplant is also a public affair that is proudly performed primarily in state-run hospitals. In Domesticating Organ Transplant, Megan Crowley-Matoka examines the intimate dynamics and complex politics of kidney transplant, drawing on extensive fieldwork with patients, families, medical professionals, and government and religious leaders in Guadalajara. Weaving together haunting stories and sometimes surprising statistics culled from hundreds of transplant cases, she offers nuanced insight into the way iconic notions about mothers, miracles, and mestizos shape how some lives are saved and others are risked through transplantation. Crowley-Matoka argues that as familial donors render transplant culturally familiar, this fraught form of medicine is deeply enabled in Mexico by its domestication as both private matter of home and proud product of the nation. Analyzing the everyday effects of transplant’s own iconic power as an intervention that exemplifies medicine’s death-defying promise and commodifying perils, Crowley-Matoka illuminates how embodied experience, clinical practice, and national identity produce one another.


"Crowley-Matoka’s semiotic-inspired approach successfully offers new insights into a growing body of anthropological work on organ transplantation." — Parsa Bastani, Somatosphere

"Crowley-Matoka’s ethnographic evidence is compelling, and her sensitive examination of what are very often matters of life and death makes clear how intimate experiences reveal a good deal about life in contemporary Mexico and the politics of transplantation more generally." — Lauren A. Wynne, Medical Anthropology Quarterly

"If it is the duty of ethnography to complicate our understanding of the world, then Crowley-Matoka has more than fulfilled her responsibility.... The book’s great strength is the depth of interview material, often acquired under very difficult circumstances, and the modesty that the author brings to her own role as reporter." — Donald Joralemon, Journal of Anthropological Research

"Domesticating Organ Transplant is an engaging and compelling ethnography that makes important contributions to the anthropology of transplant and medical anthropology." — Cristina T. Bejarano, Anthropological Quarterly

"A remarkably well-written work of anthropology, enriched throughout with well-balanced, reflexive, and theoretically challenging insights.”

— Marie Le Clainche-Piel, Medicine Anthropology Theory

"Based on extensive fieldwork with patients, Crowley-Matoka offers a fascinating insight into how notions about motherhood, miracles and mestizos shape the ways in which lives are transformed by transplantation, and how the social and familial consequences reverberate for many years thereafter." — Gavin O'Toole, Latin American Review of Books

"A beautifully written and theoretically perceptive exploration of both the biological and existential realms, Crowley-Matoka’s study deserves a wide readership. It makes a significant contribution to scholarly literature on medical anthropology, bioethics, and moral politics in Mexico.... The book is a must-read for anyone interested in medical anthropology in Latin America." — Steven J. Bachelor, The Latin Americanist

"A compelling ethnographic account of the cultural and biopolitical nature of kidney donation and transplantation in Mexico. . . . Given its ethnographic richness and depth of analysis, this book will appeal to multiple audiences, especially those interested in anthropological studies of health and biomedical practices in Latin America and the growing literature on organ transplant and its corporeal and cultural implications. This book is a robust, yet refined addition, to both these areas of inquiry." — Shana Harris, Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology

"This superbly crafted ethnography draws readers deeply into the domain of organ transplantation in Guadalajara, Mexico. Megan Crowley-Matoka lays bare the ubiquitous moral and social consequences, tragic and joyful, associated with kidney transfer from one family member to another, that reverberate for years among extended family members, transplant teams, and society at large. These findings have implications for all forms of medical manipulation involving the procurement and transfer of bodily material among humankind."  — Margaret Lock, author of The Alzheimer Conundrum: Entanglements of Dementia and Aging

"Domesticating Organ Transplant is an insightful, ethnographically rich, and original work that adds to the growing corpus of anthropological scholarship on human organ transfer. Megan Crowley-Matoka's in-depth work with families, firm grounding in bioethics, and ability to interweave key analytical concepts—such as bioavailability, domesticity, blame, and materiality—is compelling. Crowley-Matoka's profound observations and analyses in this beautifully written and heartfelt book took my breath away." — Lesley A. Sharp, author of The Transplant Imaginary


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Megan Crowley-Matoka is Assistant Professor of Medical Humanities and Bioethics at Northwestern University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix

Introduction  1

Part I. Giving Kidneys (Or Not)

1. Living Organ Donation, Bioavailability, and Ethical Domesticity  33

2. Cadaveric Organ Donation, Biounavailability, and Slippery States  65

Part II. Getting Kidneys (Or Not)

3. Being Worthy of Transplant, Embodying Transplant's Worth  109

4. The Unsung Story of Posttransplant Life  147

Part III. Framing Transplantation

5. Gifts, Commodities, and Analytic Icons in the Anthropological Lives of Organs  187

6. Scientists, Saints, and Monsters in Transplant Medicine  225

Coda 261

Notes  267

References  285

Index  307
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Winner, 2017 Best Book in Social Sciences Prize, Mexico Section of the Latin American Studies Association

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6067-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6052-0
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