Bioethics Blogs

Megan Crowley-Matoka’s “Domesticating Organ Transplant: Family Sacrifice and National Aspiration in Mexico” by Parsa Bastani

Domesticating Organ Transplant: Family Sacrifice and National Aspiration in Mexico

Megan Crowley-Matoka

Duke University Press, 2016, 336 pages


In Domesticating Organ Transplant: Family Sacrifice and National Aspiration in Mexico, Megan Crowley-Matoka carefully grapples with the symbols and everyday practices of organ transplantation in Guadalajara, Mexico. Her research focuses on transplantations that take place in two resource poor yet key public healthcare systems at the helm of transplant medicine in Mexico. Through detailed ethnographic engagement with clinicians, government officials, patients, and their families, Crowley-Matoka follows the discursive life of multiple icons that have come to shape organ transplantation in locally particular ways. These icons are various and woven throughout the text, including la familia mexicana, the suffering mother, el mestizo, and “the slipper state.” The theoretical framework of the icon allows her to analyze the powerful and contested representations by which transplantation is signified and materialized in Mexico.

In developing her analysis, Crowley-Matoka most consistently draws on the icon of la familia Mexicana or the cohesive and self-sacrificial Mexican family. She argues that organ transplantation is a domesticated endeavor. As such, the Mexican family holds iconic currency on multiple scales. For the biomedical establishment, the evocation of “la familia” functions as a cultural and moral technology that has enabled Mexico to excel in transplantation from living donors. In the national imaginary, organs are understood to move from mothers to their (male) family members (Chapter 1). For transplant professionals and patients, the ideal outcome of transplantation is yoked to the attainment of a (hetero) normative Mexican family (Chapter 4).

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