Organ Harvesting in Literature

Since I did not do a digital media project, I would not have another chance to present the work I have done for my final project.  Also, talking about a research paper in the front of the class would not be very interesting.  So, I figured a blog on what I have been researching this semester might be the best way to share my work.

As we have learned throughout this class, science can have a major effect on literature.  There are books written on both current and future technologies.  The benefit of dystopia or science fiction novels is that they can show us the social consequences of implementing certain extreme technologies.  For example, in Never Let Me Go, the effects of harvesting organs from thinking, feeling human beings is explored.  The clones are shown to be emotionally damaged and have major identity crises because of their place in society.  While it may seem like we are a long way away from cloning humans for our own benefit, the future is closer than you think.  While this is not cloning, there have been instances of parents deciding to have another child in order to create a bone marrow donor for their ailing first child.  This new child will have to have identical antigens to the original child in order to be useful in donation.  Tests can be done prenatally to see if the fetus has the correct antigens.  From Never Let Me Go, we can see the potential complications to the identities of the new children conceived for this procedure.  Kids are created with the purpose of benefiting someone else through a procedure that does not benefit them and their parents are deciding their fate.  While this marrow donation is generally not life threatening, the lack of information and choice shadow that of the children in Never Let Me Go.

Oryx and Crake is another good example of a potential organ harvesting technique, xenotransplantation, gone wrong.  Xenotransplantation in this case means that human organs are engineered in animals and they are harvested and transplanted to humans.  In this novel, human DNA is placed in pigs and those pigs, “pigoons,” grow human organs.  It all sounds very ideal at first, but the cautionary tale begins when the pigoons eventually escape and take on disturbingly human characteristics.  They keep watch over Snowman and employ relatively intelligent siege skills by cutting him off from most exits in the compound.

While the formation of specific human organs outside of the human body is probably the furthest from happening any time soon in the real world, there are already ethical concerns about mixing human DNA with that of other animals.  One research team stated, “Our studies on the fate of human hematopoietic cells engrafted in fetal pigs led us to find that some human cells actually fuse with swine cells and that the nuclei of the fused cells have chromosomal DNA of the two xenogenic partners” (Cascalho et al. 2006).  Combining Oryx and Crake and this scientific research, mixing of DNA is a real concern that exists right now.

Finally, I watched the movie Dirty Pretty Things (with Audrey Tautou) which is about kidney harvesting and selling on the black market.  Through my research I learned that live illegal kidney harvesting is happening today and the people who do it rarely gain a real benefit.  The short term benefit of money or a political favor does not turn out to be greater than the risks and health drawbacks from having surgery under poor conditions.  From this movie, it is clear that the poor or needy can be exploited even in a westernized world (this was set in London) and that those who sell their kidneys are not making an autonomous decision.

I hope this was interesting to you guys because I certainly learned a lot from researching these three harvesting techniques.  The moral of the story seems to be that we should look to all sources of information, whether scientific or fictional literature, to guide our foray into using live humans or genetically modified animals for their organs.  I hope everyone has a great summer.


1. Cascalho, Marilia, et al. “The Future of Organ Transplantation.” Annals of Transplantation 11, 2(2006): 44-47.


~ by nmajoras on April 21, 2008.

One Response to “Organ Harvesting in Literature”

  1. Nikki, your project is a fascinating and important one. Thanks for telling the class about it.

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