The advent of technology has been a breakthrough in humanity’s life with significant possibilities presented, whether in the safeguarding of people’s lives or extending life like in the case of organ transplants. However, such breakthroughs are only discussed from their ethical implications but not from the anthropological perspectives especially how they redefine and disrupt the social function systems like families and the essence of humanity. Therefore, this exploration highlights how technology possibilities like organ transplants are demeaning to humankind as they dehumanize people and the adverse effects they have on family bonds by reproducing inequality since all is done not out of altruistic behavior but mutually bonding gifting while transference of organs from one place to another undermines the integrity of the human body.
The technological inventions, best to speak, are dehumanizing. Specifically, organ transplant is the most challenging because it complicates the conventional definition of good death. For instance, the body parts have to be disassembled to get the organ, and as they are transferred to one hospital to another, the integrity of the body is utterly destroyed. Accordingly, using technology to save lives through organ transplants has been commercialized whereby people are offered excellent compensation to donate their organs. In so doing, it creates a situation of what Sharp refers to as “blood money” and as such, degrading the morals of humanity. Inequality is also promoted because it targets those who are not financially or economically able or de-franchised. For instance, a person who has donated an organ, say kidney, will practice or exercise much control on the receiver for having “given” them life. In this regard, biotechnology, at its best is undermining humanity by promoting coercion, forced sacrifices, whether they have been donated by a relative or commercialized. An excellent example is given about the Manila situation whereby young boys have to donate their kidney to support their families and that kidney donation is becoming a rite of passage for the men to become “manly” enough in supporting their families.
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The advances brought about by biotechnology, best to say, is limiting humanity and as such, reproducing inequality. Kidney donations and transplants provide an excellent example. In most cases, there are two options; either getting the organ from a living donor or the deceased. However, the inequality comes about from the heavy family pressures exerted on the ‘possible donors’ who are called to sacrifice. By putting the burden on specific members of the family, it portrays how biotechnology amplifies inequality, which to a greater extent, is shifting the responsibility and blame to specific members of the family, usually, those with lower status. The thought of using biotechnology to save lives, especially through transplants is changing and redefining family dynamics. In essence, a donation is perceived as an altruistic act but in the real sense, tends to serve the bondage within the family of which individuals owe each other favor because of “blood relations.” It is not done out of the willingness but specifically the pressures that come with the family belonging. Scheper‐Hughes provides an example of Biro who describes that families are obliged to provide life to one another, even in the mildly dysfunctional families where people rarely communicate but have to save each other’s lives when called to action. Primarily, women are the most affected since most of the donations come from the gender; they are obliged to save a family member’s life because such is their embedded role. Therefore, inequality is promoted by biotechnology as the individual or personal interests and autonomy of making decisions is forfeited, especially for women who have to donate organs.
Further inequality is portrayed as the power in the family is used to oblige other parties into donating and saving lives. Scheper‐Hughes provides the example of the manner in which a husband and a wife take part in the kidney donation. By citing international data, the author points out that there is gender bias in living donors, with wives 35% more likely to donate than 6.5% of the husbands, as the Organs Procurement and Transplantation Network(OPTN) also reported 2299 living female donors against 1637 male donors hence identifying the gender gap and as such, a reproduction of inequality in society. Again, this points to the inequality in the family because, given the health risks and dangers, all the burden lies with the wife.
Conversely, inequality exists because of the automatic claim that the receivers of organs have or place on their living donors, both psychologically and physically. Notably, the type or nature of relationship leads to a specifically master-slave arrangement whereby sacrifice and violence define mutual dependences. In this case, biotechnology through possibilities like transplants promotes social structures in families whereby some members, especially donors, gain dominance and ownership of their receivers because they “gave life” to them and that they will need them in case any issue arises. Furthermore, the art of giving depends on the social dynamics and the upheld culture. In her article, Scheper‐Hughes has observed that in societies defined by male dominance; too much pressure is directed towards the lower power status, more so female relatives who have to “volunteer” as donors. On the other hand, the tendency of choosing is that the least productive and least valuable family member is chosen, an example provided of the unemployed single aunt. Gifts are not free, and as such, inevitably come with strings attached and as such, indebting. Biotechnology has changed humanity whereby people give or gift because they expect the same to be reciprocated.
In conclusion, as shown in the above exploration, biotechnology is first leading to a reproduction of inequality in society, especially the family system since individuals with lower status are forced into donations, especially for the living donations. Besides, the family power is exercised or used in the donation, more so women have to bear the burden of living donors while females with lower status like the unemployed and single are equally made to become living donors. It is dehumanizing to disembody a person’s body parts and transfer it to different hospitals during the donations while to a given degree or extent, much it promotes coercion and violence.
- Scheper‐Hughes, Nancy. “The tyranny of the gift: sacrificial violence in living donor transplants.” American Journal of Transplantation 7, no. 3 (2007): 507-511.
- Sharp, Lesley Alexandra. Bodies, commodities, and biotechnologies: Death, mourning, and scientific desire in the realm of human organ transfer. Columbia University Press, 2007.