New immortalities: reflections on value in the body after death
Bob Simpson (Durham University)
Paper short abstract:
This paper explores the ways in which tissue donation and powerful rhetorics of donation, altruism, giving and more recently the moral obligation to recycle become part of the process of making meaning when faced with the brute materiality of death.
Paper long abstract:
This paper explores the ways in which tissue donation and powerful rhetorics of donation, altruism, giving and more recently the moral obligation to recycle are impinging on the relationship between individual intention regarding ones own death, collective obligation with regard to the deaths of 'other people' and the profoundly human preoccupation of making meaning when faced with the brute materiality and finality of death. It brings together three key themes: cadaveric donation - the practice of intentionally offering and giving up one's body after death, as a whole or in parts, for secondary use in therapy, research or education; new regimes of value that begin to appear out of an extending repertoire of uses for the dead and, thirdly, the idea of immortality as a universal imaginary which continually takes on new forms [eg the memorialisation of donors]. The study of the intersections of these three themes tells much about the politics of life as well as the politics of death. The paper is exploratory in intent and brings together insights drawn from research in the UK and Sri Lanka as well secondary materials from the wider ethnographic record.
New immortalities: anthropological reflections on the procurement, transformation and use of human cadaveric tissue