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J Med Philos. 2012 Apr;37(2):139-58. doi: 10.1093/jmp/jhs011. Epub 2012 Apr 2.

Organ transplantation and personal identity: how does loss and change of organs affect the self?

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Södertörn University, 141 89 Huddinge, Sweden.


In this paper, changes in identity and selfhood experienced through organ transplantation are analyzed from a phenomenological point of view. The chief examples are heart and face transplants. Similarities and differences between the examples are fleshed out by way of identifying three layers of selfhood in which the procedures have effects: embodied selfhood, self-reflection, and social-narrative identity. Organ transplantation is tied to processes of alienation in the three layers of selfhood, first and foremost a bodily alienation experienced through illness or injury and in going through and recovering from the operation. However, in cases in which the organ in question is taken to harbor the identity of another person, because of its symbolic qualities (the heart) or its expressive qualities (the face), the alienation process may also involve the otherness of another person making itself, at least imaginatively, known.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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