Waiting for a liver

Fragmented intimacies and conflicted moralities of organ transplantation in Germany.

Julia Rehsmann

This project focuses on the uncertainties of waiting in the context of organ transplantation in the domain of the German transplant system. It seeks to contribute to the critical analysis and deeper understanding of the moral and ethical assemblages involved in the existential and temporal uncertainties of the waiting for a liver transplant.

Legislation, medicine and ethics create an interwoven net, which all have to be taken into account to understand the complexities and ambiguities of the transplant system shaping patients’ experiences. There are plenty of positions regarding issues of fairness of the listing and distribution process of organs, which involve highly ethical questions about lives worth saving or prolonging, the tension between obligations and claims, or the relation between the individual and the state. Although a patients chance for a new organ is determined by legal regulations, medical levels and diagnosis, the act of waiting itself is very intimate and personal. Patients with a life threatening condition are confronted with their own mortality, a fact that might have consequences on how time and life itself is perceived. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in transplant clinics, interviews with medical professionals, transplant recipients and patients waiting for one, this project explores the ways patients’ experiences are entangled with intimate ethical considerations as well as broader moral discourses about lives worth saving.

This project conceptualizes the waiting process, defined by existential and temporal uncertainty, as the space to grasp the diverse moralities in the field of liver transplantation. Focusing on this period of time allows us to develop a deeper understanding of the conflicting and shifting discourses and expectations surrounding organ transplantation in Germany and beyond.

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