Reading: Excerpts from: Strange Harvest by Sharp, L.
[This article is about strategies used in medical context for depersonalizing brain dead donors.]
-In the public arena, organ transplantation is always represented as a radical and successful
form of personal transformation, where the generous gifts from one person have offered a
renewed life to others. This transformation is considered so extraordinary that recipients speak
of their surgeries as “rebirths”, and they publicly celebrate their lives twice each year: real
birthday and on their rebirthday.
-The excerpts throughout the chapter deal with the feelings and communications of transplant
recipients and donor relations.
-“Donor guilt”: recipients are reminded that their well being springs from the lost lives of others,
and some find this burden overwhelming.
-The donor family who wish to publicly memorialize the dead but are directed to stick with a
scripted formula for public discussion.
-Sharp describes both the emotions felt in this circumstance and the hostility that may result,
and how transplant public policy is evolving due to the efforts of those who see the control as
unwarranted and overly sanitized.
- Sharp captures the sense of denial of grieving that many donor families feel and the complex
sensations of the recipients, who are sometimes asked to suffer silently because they have
been given a gift and are thus expected to just be grateful.
Discussed in class:
-Lazarus Response is a reflex movement in brain-dead patients: wherein they briefly
raise their arms and drop them crossed on their chests (in a position similar to
some Egyptian mummies). The phenomenon is named after the Biblical
character Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead. The Lazarus sign is an example of a
reflex mediated by a neural pathway which passes via the spinal column but not through the
brain. As a consequence, the movement is possible in brain-dead patients whose organs have
been kept functioning by life-support machines, precluding the use of complex involuntary
motions as a test for brain activity.
-language: “artificial mean’instead of ‘life support’
-style of clinical care (cyborgic technology)
-surgical management (anasthesia): so that the body does not move during extraction of
-brain death is ‘true death’—a consequence of embracing organ transfer as an act of great
-nurses discouraged from talking to brain dead b/c it sends mixed signals to the family
Reading: A First: Tailor-Made from Body’s Own Cells by Fountain, H.
[This article is about alternative for human donation and tissue engineering.]
-Mr. Beyene found a golf-ball size tumor growing into his windpipe
-Dr. Paolo Machiarini wanted to make a new windpipe out of plastic in his own cells
-This would be the first implant of a ‘bioartificial’ organ in the field of regenerative medicine
-In Mr. Beyene’s case, an exact copy of his windpipe was made from a porous, fibrous plastic,
which was then seeded with stem cells harvested from his bone marrow. After just a day and a
half, in a bioreactor (—a kind of incubator in which the windpipe was spun, rotisserie-style, in a
nutrient solution—) the implant was stitched into Mr. B, replacing his cancerous wind pipe. -So far, only simple and hollow organs (like bladders and windpipes) have been made and
-Scientists around the world are now using similar techniques to build more complex organs
-Dr. Machiarini implanted other bioartificial windpipes in another cancer patient, and 2 others in
Russia—he is planning even more operations
Reading: The Kindest Cut by MacFarquhar, L.
[This article is about donating their kidneys to strangers.]
- Paul Wagner, a Philadelphian read a newspaper article MatchingDonors.com, where people
who need a kidney transplant can post a message on the site, describing themselves and their
situation in the hope that a stranger will see the posting and be moved to donate.
-Searching for patients in Philadelphia, Wagner found Gail Tomas and felt that she was the one.
-He got negative reactions from his partner, Aaron, and his family about his decision to donate.
-Like many donors, Wagner had to deal with peculiar emotions after the surgery, but he and
Tomas eventually became friends.
-Giving a kidney to a stranger is more common than you might think. Potential donors sign up
on MatchingDonors.com almost every day.
-Around six hundred have gone through with the surgery, either through the site or through a
-MatchingDonors.com was thought up five years ago (2004?) by an entrepreneur named Paul
-The first patient to list himself on the site was Bob Hickey. A man named Rob Smitty donated
his kidney to Hickey through the site.
-There were concerns by doctors regarding the ethics of altruistic kidney donation.
-Psychology of organ donation: Donation tended to bind the donor and the recipient together,
sometimes with love, sometimes with guilt, or gratitude.
-Even in the case of cadaver donations, emotions shadow the transplant.
-Melissa Stephens, a 24 year-old woman donated a kidney to a rock musician named Kris
Randall. Stephens and Randall did not become close after the surgery, but she doesn’t regret
-The waiting list for kidney transplants keeps getting longer, and more and more people die
- Kimberly Brown-Whale, a United Methodist pastor in Maryland, volunteered to donate her
kidney. Writer observes the surgery to remove Brown-Whale’s kidney and transplant it to the
recipient, a middle-aged man from Rhode Island. Brown-Whale never heard from the man who
got her kidney.
Funerals R Us
Reading: Getting Dead by Green, J.
[This chapter from Beyond the Good Death is about modern end of life experiences that are
shaped by medical, demographic and cultural trends. People who are dying are kept alive
(sometimes against their will) by means of medications, machines, and ‘heroic measures.]
-In November 1998, millions of tv viewers watched as Thomas Youk died in his home in
Michigan. Suffering from the late stages ALS, Youk had called pathologist Dr. Jack Kevorkian to
help end his life
-After delivering the videotape to 60 Minutes, Kevorkian was arrested and convicted of
manslaughter, despite the fact that Youk's family firmly believed that the ending of his life
qualified as a good death.
-Kevorkian assisted over 130 suicides; hence the infamous name “Dr. Death”
-Previously, Kevorkian’s clients activated his ‘suicide machines’ themselves, turning the knob or
pulling a handle to start the flow of fatal chemicals -However, Youk was paralyzed and could not do that, so Kevorkian injected the lthatl solution
into his arm (active euthanasia)
-Death is political, as the controversies surrounding Jack Kevorkian and, more recently, Terri
Schiavo have shown.
-James W. Green takes an anthropological approach, examining the changes in our concept of
death over the last several decades.
-He determines, the attitudes of today's baby boomers differ greatly from those of their parents
and grandparents, who spoke politely and in hushed voices of those who had "passed away."
-Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, in the 1960s, gave the public a new language for speaking openly
about death with her "five steps of dying." If we talked more about death, she emphasized, it
would become less fearful for everyone.
- "Good death" re-entered the public consciousness as narratives of AIDS, cancer, and other
chronic diseases were featured on talk shows and in popular books
-Green looks at a number of contemporary secular American death practices that are still
informed by an ancient religious ethos.
-Most important, Green interprets the ways in which Americans react when death is at hand for
themselves or for those they care about.
Reading: Funerals-R-Us by Lynch, T.
[This chapter from Bodies in Motion at Rest is about a small town funeral director (Thomas
Lynch), who critiques the corporations that franchise ‘death care’. This business hurts
-The stories in this Chapter attempts to connect George W. Bush and funeral home mogul,
-The stories contain unsavory implications about state employees, depositions, big-bucks
campaign donations and politics.
-Small town funeral directors know very little about Bush, besides his huge campaign, the
unstoppable candidacy and the apparent inevitability of his nomination.
-Most small-business types have Republican tendencies and hometown duties
-Waltrip of Service Corporation International (SCI) in Houston, is a multinational mergers-and-
acquisitions firm that bought funeral homes and cemeteries on five continents, including one in
five in US, where George W. will maybe be president if everything goes according to plan.
- Waltrip is a Big Mac that comes disguised as the burger you get from your local diner.
-SCI has made a fortune trading on the long-established names of local funeral directors, who
never made in a year what Waltrip has given to the Bush campaigns
-For many funeral directors, as for many Republicans, it all seemed unstoppable, inevitable —
SCI was everywhere, lavishing free booze and finger food on small business funeral directors
and national conventions, offering cash and stock options and a “bigger is better” view of the
-This is the late-century American way: to merge and acquire, to buy and sell.
Reading: In Rural Georgia, Helpful Hands on Life’s Last Segregated Journey by
[This newspaper article is about the death in rural counties (like rural Georgia) where
segregation of blacks and whites are still prominent.]
-When a black person dies in one of the rural counties around here, chances are the body will
end up in the hands of Charles Menendez. All of his cases were black. If Sunday remains the
most segregated day in the South, funerals remain the most segregated business.
-“That’s the way it has always been here in the rural areas,” Mr. Menendez said. “White funeral
homes employ white embalmers, and black funeral homes employ black embalmers. That’s the
South.” -Mr. Menendez (59 years old) runs a 94-year-old funeral home
-But with another black-owned funeral home in town competing for business and only about 60
deaths among blacks a year, it is not really possible to make a living. So he also works as a
contract embalmer, traveling the back roads of Georgia to funeral homes in places like Union
Point and Social Circle that are too small to afford a full-time employee to prepare the dead.
-His base of operations is the Mapp-Gilmore funeral home in Madison, a town of antebellum
homes built with cotton riches and slave labor
-The funeral home was the first black-owned business in town. Two sisters inherited it from their
father and then passed it down to other family members.
-Mr. Menendez, who went to embalming school in Atlanta, began working there in 1986. He
bought the business in 2001 with help from the Rev. Hoke Smith, the pastor at Calvary Baptist
-Their small funeral home used to be the place where men sat outside and gossiped over
checkers. But the neighborhood changed. In an effort at urban renewal, the city recently added
a park across the street where people gather.
-The art of embalming, he said, is about the embalmer, not the tools. It takes about an hour to
embalm a body and another hour to dress it. He said the trick is to release the tension in a face,
fill in sunken spots and make sure clothes drape naturally.
-But that is just half the game. Mr. Menendez has also become practiced in the art of handling
grief. The moment people walk in the door, he can tell how prepared they are and how difficult
his job will be.
-Whatever the state of the family, he runs a funeral old school: quiet processionals, dark suits,
and somber viewings
-He is not fond of the ways younger, flashier funeral directors in Atlanta — where prices can be
four times as much as his
-For him, embalming the dead and preparing a funeral is simply about making it as easy as
possible to put someone to rest.
Cemeteries and Memorials- Ongoing Relationships with the Dead
Reading: Communicative Commemoration and Graveside Shrines: Princess Diana, Jim
Morrison, My Bro
Max, and Boogs the Cat by Thomas, J.
[This chapter from Spontaneous Shrines and the Public Memorialisation of the Dead is about
contemporary and spontaneous shrines that to express people’s devotion and pain]
-“Spontaneous shrines” refer to those temporary memorials that people construct, at their own
motivation, to mark the sites of untimely deaths. These shrines usually are made up of flowers,
candles, personal memorabilia and notes, or religious icons.
- Metro Tickets for Jim Morrison: Morrison (famed rock star from the band “The Doors”) shrine is
located in Pere Lachaise Cemetery (Paris). His graveside shrine counts as a graveside shrine.
Although his shrine contains many characteristics of a spontaneous shrine, it is official as it is
located in the cemetery. His marker is covered with graffiti (messages about/for Jim ex) “I see
Jim alive”) and gifts from fans.
-AMemorial for Princess Diana: Princess Diana’s shrine is a public spontaneous shrine above
Pont de L’Alma in Paris, where she was killed in a car accident inAugust 21, 1997. People chose
to create a public spontaneous shrine to Princess Diana on a monument to French resistance to
Nazis in WW2. It is a large shiny, gold copy of the flame that the Statue of liberty holds in her
hand. It consisted of flowers, candles, and notes containing kind words. When the statue of the
flame was removed for ‘refurbishing’, the spontaneous shrine was still there. The
commemorative graffiti left for Diana was more political that Morrison’s (ex)”La Princess Diana=Heroine de L’humanite”. This commemoration shows a clash between the elite and the
public, the graffiti itself marks an unofficial shrine (vs her official shrine in Buckingham palace)
-Guardians of Peace: Elsewhere in Paris, posted on buildings throughout the city are plaques
commemorating the death of resistors at the hands of the Nazis in WW2. The plaques say
things such as (in French), “Here, fallen for the Liberation, Jean Montauron, Guardian of Peace,
24 August 1944”. These markers are placed by an official organization, the state. They are not
temporary. Unlike spontaneous shrines, official shrines rarely challenge the gov’t or critique its
role in a tragedy. For instance, these plaques avoid implying that there was not enough French
resistance to the Nazis.
-Death and Love on the Highway: Roadside shrines differ from graveside shrines as roadside
ones are sites where the tragedy occurred. Roadside shrines mark the sites of ‘bad deaths’,
such as car accidents, in which death was sudden and violent. These are sometimes located on
a particular stretch of road; these markers are sometimes removed by officials in charge of the
roadways because they see them as distracting and adding to danger already present in the
-Greeting Cards from the Afterlife: In US, Max’s family mourn him (died in oct 1999 at age of
29). His grave in Salt Lake City was rich of personalized offerings of love including flowers,
beers, volleyballs, and greeting cards. A shrine constructed in a gravesite, like this one, allows
for easier intimate communication with the deceased. The offerings left for Max tell much about
him as a person. Thus, gravesite shrines for private citizens share similar traits with
-Cenotaph Offerings: In the same cemetery as Max is an angel with aspirations of the official.
The cenotaph does not mark a grave, rather a cenotaph (A tomblike monument to someone
buried elsewhere, esp. one commemorating people who died in a war.). This is an official
monument that deliberately invites folk behaviours, such as the construction of a spontaneous
shrine—although, in harmony with its official nature, the statue suggests the proper objects to
leave: flowers. Even though this marker is in a graveyard, it is not a graveyard shrine. It is a
communal monument created and viewed by a diverse audience; it is a public spontaneous
-Sharing the Holidays with Dead Pets: North of the cemetery of the angel statue and Max’s
grave, is a small cemetery notable for its graveyard shrines. It is called Tiffany’s Memorial Pet
Cemetery in Ogen, Utah, Tiffany was a poodle. These graveside shrines indicate that the
custom is democratic; it extends from the private citizen to the famous, and even the furry.
Archie, a rabbit, had a grave decorated by an elaborate Christmas tree. Boogs, a cat, had a
marker surrounded by little green fence decorated with various holidays (from Valentines to
Christmas). These two are examples of holiday graveside shrines. These shrines can also
communicate the deceased one’s favourite holidays.
-Consumerism and Spontaneous Shrines: Spontaneous shrines can be seen as an expressive
of consumer culture. They reflect the influence of multinational capitalism; we can now afford
more objects, and mass production of objects are increasingly important in our expression of
seld. The discussed shrines are shrines of our times, but are also shrines of all times too.
Consumerism is more apparent in our shrines.
Reading: Contact with the Dead by Benett, G. [This chapter from Alas, Poor Ghost Traditions of Belief in Story and Discourse is about life after
death, visitations and ghosts as represented in the memories of Manchester (England) women
who shared their experiences.]
-Bennett records stories about Manchester women’s experiences that confirmed or denied
notions of the supernatural. The more controversial the subject matter, the more likely
individuals were to tell stories, especially if their answers to questions of belief were positive.
-These were most commonly individualized narratives of personal experience, but they
contained many of the traditional motifs and other content, including belief in the supernatural
-Bennett calls them memorates and discusses the cultural processes, including ideas of what is
a "proper" experience of the supernatural and a "proper" telling of the story, that make them
communal as well as individual. These memorates provide direct and vivid examples of what
the storytellers actually believe and disbelieve. In a final section, Bennett places her work in
historical context through a discussion of case studies in the history of supernatural belief.
-In Sum: In a typical community in Britain today, the experience of seeing a ghost is restricted to
malevolent and purposeless manifestations. Deliberately trying to contact the dead or recall
them to this world is taboo, yet at the other end of the spectrum from ghosts, the women have
an informal belief in a variety of friendly and purposeful visitations from dead members of the
Death as Spectacle
Reading: Death by Laderman, G.
[This chapter from Sacred Matter: Celebrity Worship, Sexual Ecstasies, the Living Dead, and
other Signs of Religious Life in the United States is about death in popular cult