A workshop co-sponsored by the ‘Geographies of Health and Wellbeing’ and ‘Politics, State, Space’ research clusters at Durham University, Department of Geography.

Located in the Holdsworth Room, St Marys College, Durham University May 20th, 2015 from 12-4.00.

The workshop will examine the politics of body parts and body waste – how bodies fall apart, decompose, are broken up, dissected, multiplied and exchanged in ways that challenge conventional understandings of the ‘subject’ of political life. We will address questions about how different ideas about culture, difference, citizenship, and our obligation to others are inscribed in the varied mobilities of organs, tissues, stem cells, embryos and sperm, and how these invite us to re-consider ideas about sovereignty, life, death, ‘gift’ economies as well as collective futures. In considering the geographies of health and wellbeing in relation to the politics of state and space, we hope to generate a refreshing set of questions about the circulation of cells, molecules, tissues and organs across borders and species.

Timetable

  • 12-12.45pm Lunch
  • 12.45-1pm Introduction.
    Rachel Colls and Angharad Closs Stephens, Department of Geography, Durham University.
  • 1pm – 1.30pm Kidneys and Clones: the distance of space, time and imagination.
    Professor Sarah Atkinson Care, Department of Geography/Centre for Medical Humanities, Durham University
  • 1.30pm-2pm Organ donation after circulatory death: situating the practice
    Dr Jessie Cooper, Department of Public Health and Policy, The University of Liverpool
  • 2pm-2.30pm Banking a connection: mothers’ reflections on donation to a placenta tissue collection
    Dr Maria Fannin, School of Geographical Sciences, Bristol University.
  • 2.30pm-3pm Bleeding in Early Pregnancy Loss as Betwixt-and-between: Encountering Menstrual ‘Waste’ and/or Baby-to-be.
    Dr Abi McNiven, Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, Oxford University
  • 3pm-4pm Coffee and Discussion

Abstracts

Professor Sarah Atkinson, Department of Geography/Centre for Medical Humanities, Durham University Care, Kidneys and Clones: the distance of space, time and imagination

I am exploring the dilemmas, paradoxes and challenges to how we care in the context of the global unequal availability of and access to transplant technology and, specifically, the strategies through which we actively enable an attitude and practice of not caring through a set of distancing strategies. The rapid advance in successful transplant technology has stimulated a number of creative imaginings of future or alternative societies. In these, the population’s wellbeing is possible only through the maintenance of a parallel sub-class of humans from whom organs are harvested. By contrast, the imaginary explorations set in contemporary Western settings mostly explore personal beatific and emotional dimensions to donation and our discourses celebrate the gift or the heroism in donating for another. However, the gap between demand and supply risks a flow of scarce transplant resources that follows and reproduces existing patterns of global inequality. The impetus to increase supply is accompanied by subtle shifts in contemporary discourses of how we care about unknown strangers. Although regulating organ transplantation shares challenges common to global health governance more widely, it exposes specific paradoxes related to care and caring for others in an age of global flows of people and resources

Dr Jessie Cooper, Department of Public Health and Policy, The University of Liverpool

Organ donation after circulatory death: situating the practice. Organ donation after circulatory death (DCD) forms part of an expanding repertoire of practices (Fox & Christakis, 1995) which aim at optimising the supply of organs for transplant in the UK. However, the activities associated with DCD have created tensions for the work of medicine, in that clinicians must negotiate between caring for the individual at the end of life, and intervening in their care to preserve organs for donation; a process characterised as an act of weighing up the ‘overall benefit’ of donation against any ‘potential harm’ to the patient. In response, legal and ethical frameworks have attempted to address professional uncertainties by standardising the practices of DCD. In contrast, this paper will contend that by focusing on increasingly precise protocols, such governing mechanisms fail to encompass the situated action of organ donation (Suchman, 1987). Drawing on exemplars from an ethnographic study in England, the paper will show that procedures for DCD get articulated within the context of the local circumstances in which they are instituted. In turn, it discusses how the problems attributed to DCD would be better understood by focusing upon the local activities of organ donation, and examining how practitioners respond to the contingencies of a situation as they arise.

Dr Maria Fannin, School of Geographical Sciences, Bristol University.

Banking a connection: mothers’ reflections on donation to a placenta tissue collection.  In the early 1990s, over 14,000 pregnant women in southwest England were recruited to a longitudinal birth cohort study on children’s health. This study involved the collection of whole placentas at birth that were subsequently preserved and stored for future research use as part of the study’s biobank. The collection of placentas aimed to ‘fix’ or arrest in time the connection between bodies necessary for development. It was also envisioned by the originators of the research study as a record of what was considered the child’s first ‘environment,’ the maternal body. Today, the study’s collection contains over 8,000 placentas. This paper will explore how mothers recruited to the study reflected, two decades later, on their bodily contribution of placental material to research. Mothers’ aspirations for the future life of the placenta after birth reflected concerns over the conduct of scientific experimentation and their relations with other research subjects. They also revealed the ambiguous nature of the placenta as a mobile body part.

Dr Abi McNiven, Oxford University

Bleeding in Early Pregnancy Loss as Betwixt-and-between: Encountering Menstrual ‘Waste’ and/or Baby-to-be. This paper considers the different ways that uterine bleeding in early pregnancy losses is spoken about in qualitative interviews with women who have experienced early pregnancy losses (defined here as <20 weeks gestation). The interview narratives from my PhD research highlight a prominent tension in thinking and talking about early pregnancy loss bleeding as betwixt-and-between encountering menstrual ‘waste’ and the body of a baby-to-be. Widely endorsed sociocultural views on menstrual fluid as a ‘disgusting waste product’ of ‘failed’ non/pregnancy sit uncomfortably with the significance attributed to the body of the deceased in much contemporary literature on grief facilitation in funerary practices. The ways in which the matter of pregnancy losses are understood by women who have early pregnancy losses, often shaped through dialogue with their wider social and medical circles, can have a range of important practical and emotional implications. Several of these will be discussed in this paper, such as: the emotional ramifications of social others’ responses to such events; issues of burial/disposal as legally and personally-deemed ‘appropriate’; and memorial gifting practices, including by voluntary organisations which produce and distribute memorial blankets.

 

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