July’s web roundup will focus on recent conversations around organ transfer and its public perception. Organ transfer, with its complex and oftentimes invisible circuits of body parts, donors, recipients, doctors, markets and the state, is particularly ripe for intervention by social scientists. Ethan Watters’ profile of anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes at Pacific Standard says that her work on organ transfer was, “an opportunity to show how an anthropologist could have a meaningful, real-time, and forceful impact on an ongoing injustice.” In so doing, Scheper-Hughes breached longstanding and significant divides between the academy, the medical establishment and the public. In her worthy response to the profile, she defends this controversial move toward opening up her work for broader audiences by saying that anthropology’s “reticence toward actively engaged scholarship has sometimes turned anthropologists into bystanders when crimes against humanity are taking place.”
Another lens through which to view current conversations about organ transfer in public spaces is the discussion around 3D-printed body parts. Over at Wired, Katie Collins dwells on the significance of advances in “bioprinting” when it comes to organ transplant: new research out of the University of Sydney points toward 3D-printed “artificial vascular networks that mimic those found within the human body’s circulatory system, bringing hope that eventually physicians will be able to print fully working organs on-demand.” An optimistic overview of techniques used to create organs in labs at LiveScience says of 3D-printing, “where nature takes off, 3D printing could take over.” A quoted source promises “any organ of any shape,” opening up a myriad of medical possibilities. Finally, the Motherboard blog at Vice has a piece on 3D-printed “bioskin” being developed by the US Army. Where there is no doubt that some of the most cutting edge research and development is on bioprinting is coming from sources like DARPA, the article predicts that this miracle skin is nearly “battle ready.” These three posts, just a few in a handful that ran this month on similar topics, reveal that bioprinting human organs is being discussed in mainstream and public spaces as something of a magic bullet. Not only do promises of 3D-printed organs hint at solving organ shortages, but they also point to public expectations of medicine when it comes to aging and rehabilitation. Organ transfer, freed of its organic confines by the 3D printer, no longer exists only in the realm of illness; instead, it is transplanted to a future where the body is modular, not just healthy but improved.
An Excellus BlueCross BlueShield study reports that New York citizens trail the rest of the United States in registered organ donors, sparking posts on Gothamist and the New York Daily News. Perhaps more telling than the report itself was user response to the allegations, where comments reveal many popularly held ideas about and against organ transplant: “A lot of it is religious bullshit. “Oh my Zod! Someone who is not a true believer in my (Insert Name of Putative Divine Being Here) might get my organs!” (user Nos Feratu), “[I] don’t want my body parts in the black market. if anyone read up on this donor stuff, it’s very sketchy what they do do your body afterwards… ” (user Jay Le), and, strangely, “As an incentive, cops are less likely to summons you if you hand over a license and it has the organ donor endorsement on it” (user okh). Gothamist’s post, and many like-minded commenters, also echoed a discourse of laziness and selfishness around not wanting to donate. Non-donors were not only ignorant, but selfish in a way that aligns with the archetypal Seinfeld-ian New Yorker: rude, in a hurry and unlikely to pause for reflection or the benefit of others.
Mashable ran a peek inside the waiting list for organ donations, where the list is actually “separate databases divided by organ type.” In fact, the piece points to the impactful role of Big Data in contemporary organ donation, where lists are truly and complexly algorithmic and information-rich. A blog post at Advocate Health Care Health eNews mentions the useful role of Big Data in detecting and preventing organ rejection. Perhaps this is another extension of better living through Big Data, or an instance of the hot term”Big Data” being tacked on to large scale statistical analyses, but it is interesting nonetheless.
More Links of Interest:
“Wishful Thinking About Natural Gas” – Guernica