The school year started today at Macquarie and I’m trying to juggle obsessively revising the reading list for the Honours Seminar I’m running this semester and obsessively revising the budget of my ARC application, so I really do have better things to do than write little ditties for this blog, because Obsessive Revising really ranks very high on my list of Important Things To Do. But I simply can’t resist with this one.
Let me back up to tell you that a couple of weeks ago, my brother-in-law wrote me from Toronto to tell me that he’d met an anthropology graduate student who was doing his research on organ trafficking. Here’s how Rob put it:
“He noticed I was reading about the search for and arrest of a Canadian organ harvester in Nepal. He’s doing his thesis on organ trafficking and wanted to know what I thought. I asked him where I could buy a kidney.”
Har, har. I wrote back,
He’s doing his thesis on organ trafficking, eh? That’s like the most heavily researched topic in medical anthropology. He’s got to compete with the biggest names in the field: Margaret Lock, Lawrence Cohen, Nancy Scheper-Hughes. Not to mention all of the Lesser Anthropologists who do work on this, too numerous to list. Good luck to him. I’m sure he’ll find something original to say that all the others haven’t said.
Okay, I was a little sarcastic, but the thing is, I’m sure he will find something good to say, and people who want to hear what he has to say, because it really is a fascinating field for anthropology to study, even if it is getting a little overpopulated (and what Hot New Topic isn’t?). Even though my work is not remotely related, I keep coming back to that literature to help me think about issues related to medical technologies, kinship, gift economies and commoditization of the body, transnationalism, class, discourses on human rights and medical rights… the list could go on.
And it sticks in my head. There’s something about the topic that I find riveting in its macabre logic. There’s this lovely little article by Lawrence Cohen, for example, which of course I can’t find right now because I still haven’t unpacked all of my boxes of articles from when I moved here 6 months ago, but anyway the part that stays with me is Cohen’s description of one woman who has a scar across her back from where she donated a kidney to pay for food for her family. “That’s where he beats me when he drinks,” she says, gesturing to the scar and referring to her husband. (I’m paraphrasing, mind you.) Cohen uses the anecdote as a lead-in to describe how the black market economy of kidney selling is gendered, and goes on to deconstruct* the logic of kidney transplant clinics and doctors who argue in favor of the poor being able to sell kidneys using an argument that is a peculiar mix of Adam Smith and neoliberal human rights discourse: the invisible hand of the market meets in/alienable property rights (Kidneys of the poor: alienable. The right to buy someone else’s kidney: inalienable. The right to not starve: Sorry, it just can’t be guaranteed. Therefore, the chance to feed your family by selling an organ that you don’t really need: priceless.)
So today I discovered a bizarre spoof website, “Medical Adoptions,” which speaks to all of these issues in its parody of the logic of international adoptions and organ trafficking. Here’s from the home page, which features lots of wistfully smiling children of color that are familiar from anyone who has given to a Save the Children-type charity:
Finding high-quality organs in a timely fashion can often be a problem. You can’t buy them for any price legally, and attempts to do so often end in the disasters only afforded by the underground, black market of illicit organs.
If you need a lifesaving organ transplant, you have to meet strict, often unfair criteria, and then wait for your turn to come up on the list, regardless of urgency. You might get the pound of flesh you need to continue your life, and you might not.
The Chance to Give Back as Much as You Get
We are a domestic and international adoption agency where parents are free to adopt a child who is a perfect match (up to 18 yrs) for the transplant of one or more “non-essential” organs to be donated to one of the adopting parents or your own children. Your new son or daughter would give you their heart, if it was possible, but a lung, eye or three feet of intestine might be enough to prove that love.
Your new child will give of themselves the same love you will give unto them, only in your case it will be citizenship, food & shelter, education, clothes, a good life with a loving, healthy parent, a college trust fund, and a guaranteed equal share in the family estate as per our standard Medical Adoption Child Trust Agreement.
Funny, huh? Or not? Consider some of the sample profiles of the children available for “adoption”:
Name: Natia Budzianowski
Age: 15 years old
An orphan whose parents whereabouts have never been known, she spent six years working in the underage sex-trade, several more years in foster homes, and now needs a new home. She’s since discovered our Lord Jesus Christ, pledged a vow of chastity, and has been free of the sins of physical flesh for more than six-months, though suggests that this may be open to negotiation.
Name: Vladimir Corbu
Age: 12 years old
About Vladimir: The bastard child of an alleged military serviceman and a working class factory mother, Vladimir doesn’t even remember a world in which a “family” was a normal situation. Vlad loves to read books in any language, but really prefers to color them, even if they aren’t coloring books.
Name: Amarosya Krubizik
Age: 8 years old
About Amarosya: This curiously masculine girl has strong bones, and would like nothing more than to share her blood and/or marrow with a gracious, loving family member. If you’re looking for the loving contribution of scarcer tissues, this may be an ideal child to introduce into your family, assuming a tissue match can be made.
The logic of the ranking is painfully hilarious in the way it replicates the uneven distribution of global wealth: all the children in the “platinum package” are white Europeans from former Soviet countries. It insinuates that some might also be sexually available to their “adoptive parent.” Those in the “gold package” are Asian, from China, Singapore, and North Korea. “Bronze package” children come from Latin America. Finally, the “onyx pricing package,” which is the “best value,” is full of, you guessed it, Africans.
It parodies the way blurred line between gift and commodity exchange in its Frequently Asked Questions:
Is it legal? Of course it is! “Organ trafficking” is illegal, but this is something very, very different. You can not legally “purchase” an organ under any circumstance. You can, however, give or receive an organ between willing persons, at no charge. If you are in need of an organ but can’t get to the top of the donor list, for any number of the many reasons, your best chance is to convince a close friend or family member to share the gift of life. If you can’t find such a person, which can be difficult, you may need our services. We can insure that you have just such a loving, caring family member.
The site is flawlessly constructed; whoever is responsible for the parody is a keen observer of the shared organizational logic and aesthetics of corporate/charity websites. I have no idea who is responsible, but they seem to be part of a network of spoof websites, because on the “contact us” page they link to ConjugalHarmony.com (“Prison dating and marriage service based on one dimension of compatibility”).
* I’m sorry but I just can’t resist noting that the auto spell-check function on this WordPress blogware does not like the word “deconstruct.” After the little red line appeared under the word to let me know that it was spelled wrong, I peered at it for about a minute to make sure there was no typo before I concluded that it just doesn’t believe that deconstruct is a word. I feel like the blogware is some reactionary academic conservative that regards deconstruction as hopelessly po-mo.[back]