Domesticating Organ Transplant: Familial Sacrifice and National Aspiration in Mexico
Giving Kidneys (or Not)
This chapter critically examines the dependence on living related organ donors in Mexico, taking Frida Kahlo’s painting The Two Fridas as well as the resonant, ubiquitous image of la Virgen de Guadalupe as key analytic touchstones. Delving more deeply into the questions of gender, risk, and responsibility raised in the introduction in the iconic figure of the self-sacrificial mother, this chapter traces their consequences for how transplant has come to matter as both practice and idea. What emerges is a pervasive discourse that proudly posed la familia mexicana as kind of cultural technology, as a natural/national resource that made living organ donors readily bioavailable and hence enabled transplantation despite considerable resource constraints. Powerfully evoked in this discourse were strong symbolic connections between living donation and women’s bodies and roles through analogies with giving birth, with sexual penetration, and with housework. Less visible in such culturally resonant representations, however, was the material reality that half of living donor kidneys in Mexico actually came from men, complicating a straightforward tale of gendered exploitation. This chapter argues that the discursive feminization and familialization of transplantation produced a powerful effect of familiarization, which can be framed as an enabling ethical domestication of the transplant endeavor as a whole.