MIT21A_355Js09_assn03_sw3A

MIT21A_355Js09_assn03_sw3A - MIT OpenCourseWare...

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MIT OpenCourseWare http://ocw.mit.edu 21A.355J / STS.060J The Anthropology of Biology Spring 2009 For information about citing these materials or our Terms of Use, visit: http://ocw.mit.edu/terms .
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21A.355 Paper 3 1 The Redefinition of Death and Creation of New Biopolitical Subjects A 6 year-old patient is lying in bed at a hospital suffering from kidney failure. Doctors have given a bleak prognosis of two weeks unless a matching kidney can be found before the two weeks are up. A few doors down, a woman is visiting her husband who has just been declared brain-dead after being in a coma for two months. Doctors ask her if she would like to keep him on life support, or perhaps let him go and allow them to harvest his organs to potentially help other patients. The woman is not informed of the following information, but his kidney is a match for the 6 year old down the hall. Should the woman keep her husband on life support in hopes that he might come out of his coma in the future, or should she allow his organs to be harvested and donated to those in need? Situations like this are not only the subjects of popular medical television shows, but also occurrences that happen every day. Less than a century ago, no one would ever be faced with such a difficult decision. Only recently have developments in organ transplant and medical life-prolonging technology resulted in the introduction of the concept of brain death. This paper seeks to investigate the effects of these developments in biotechnology on conceptions of life and death in the United States. Additionally, the bioethical and biopolitical implications of these medical developments will be assessed based on Foucault’s and Agamben’s theories on sovereignty and governmental roles in biopolitics. Organ transplant technology was first introduced in the 1950s as developments in immunology were used to facilitate kidney transplants. However, the transplant technology had a high failure rate and did not become a viable option until the 1970s when immunological responses were sufficiently suppressed (Jones 65). Once this was
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21A.355 Paper 3 2 accomplished, physicians realized that if transplantation was to be made available on a regular basis, a sufficient supply of organs would need to be generated. Live tissue showed a higher success rate in transplantation therapy than tissue from cadavers, leading to increased interest in comatose and vegetative patients being kept ‘alive’ by life-support technology as a source of live organs. Coincidentally, life-support technology was developing during the same time period in which these advances in organ transplant technology were being made. The first instance of medical life-prolonging technology was the development of breathing machines such as the Iron Lung in the mid 1900s. These artificial ventilation systems maintained vital respiratory function in patients who would otherwise face certain death (Lock 58). By the 1960s, intensive care units were developed in hospitals, equipped with
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MIT21A_355Js09_assn03_sw3A - MIT OpenCourseWare...

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