This book explores the new applications of established theories or adapts theoretical approaches in order to illuminate behaviour in the field of food. It focuses on social processes at the downstream end of the food chain, processes of distribution and consumption. The book reviews the existing disciplinary approaches to understanding judgements about food taste. It suggests that the quality 'halal' is the result of a social and economic consensus between the different generations and cultures of migrant Muslims as distinct from the non-Muslim majority. Food quality is to be viewed in terms of emergent cognitive paradigms sustained within food product networks that encompass a wide range of social actors with a wide variety of intermediaries, professional and governmental. The creation of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) occurred at a juncture when perceptions of policy failure were acknowledged at United Kingdom and European Union governmental levels. The book presents a case study of retailer-led food governance in the UK to examine how different 'quality logics' actually collide in the competitive world of food consumption and production. It argues that concerns around food safety were provoked by the emergence of a new food aesthetic based on 'relationalism' and 'embeddedness'. The book also argues that the study of the arguments and discourses deployed to criticise or otherwise qualify consumption is important to the political morality of consumption.
A Czech story tells of a blind man who asked for the eyes of a young girl and was given instead, in secret substitution, the eyes of various animals. Each time, he saw what the animals saw: when he was given the eyes of fish, he saw fins and scales; when he was given the eyes of birds, he saw the sky and clouds. This story reflects the widespread folk belief that when you see with someone’s else’s eyes, you see what that creature sees; more broadly, when you are given someone else’s organs, you take on that person’s personality in some way.
(Doniger, 1995: 202)
The opening quote from the Czech folk story tells how eyes transplanted from different species have varying effects on the recipient, that is, ‘eyes from birds’ gave visions of the sky; ‘eyes from fish’ offer perspectives of the sea. As outlined in the last chapter, the reality may be as strange as it is in folk stories. Narratives have persisted since the first organ transplantation procedure conducted in the late 1960s about subjectivity alterations connected with the creation of new hybrid human bodies. It was not my intention to evaluate the claims of these organ donor recipients, but it does lead to further questions about how widespread such a contra-Cartesian belief is. The transplant recipient community is a small sample of unique individuals at the moment and perhaps only a fewer number report such alterations. As was discussed in the last chapter, the Cartesian Dualism that dominates current medical practice and thinking is one that is found more generally in society, with the modern emphasis on the brain as the materiality of self.
In this chapter, I set out to research whether embodiment is ambiguous only with the experience of body modification such as amputation or transplantation or is there a broader social-cultural belief that subjectivity might be altered when given a hypothetical scenario? To put it another way, are the narratives of those reported by some transplant recipients echoed in the expectations of those who do not have organ transplants? These are important questions because if there is any way to improve the current organ supply-demand shortage experienced almost everywhere despite alternative systems of procurement such as presumed consent, then anything that would promote the acceptability of alternative sources is an important area of exploration. Further, given the importance I stressed at the end of the last chapter on how embodiment is embedded in particular social contexts, are the different transplantable materials (human, non-human animal or mechanical) thought to have differing consequences for subjectivity?
In 2016, a series of four focus groups were carried out, followed by a representative questionnaire-based survey of young adults. The focus group study was conducted first for several reasons; mostly to explore views about the acceptability of using human, animal, or mechanical in such procedures in a deep, interactive and meaningful manner. Responses help identify and operationalise questions specifically for the survey (for example, ensuring that the option in living donation includes the word ‘known’). Of course, the focus groups also generated data through the unique interaction between participants and therefore offer important data in and of itself. From 11 years to 17 years of age, 1,550 young people were then targeted in a survey. This age cohort was chosen because they are 1) possibly more open to technoscientific solutions to replace, repair or regenerate human organs given they are internet citizens and 2) least likely to perceive themselves in need and therefore offer responses unaffected by the possibility of requirement. General demographics collected in the survey were age, gender and religion as well as eating preferences, such as vegetarianism (e.g. was there a connection between vegetarianism and being against xenotransplantation?). Views could be captured by asking young people to indicate their most and least preferred options from the following:
An organ taken from a pig (a procedure known as xenotransplanation);
A mechanical device that did the work of the organ (such as implantable medical device);
An organ grown from your cells in a laboratory (an experimental procedure known as 3-D bioprinting);
An organ taken from a stranger who has recently died (such as the current deceased organ donation system).
When given a choice between the options of animal, mechanical and human, both qualitative focus groups and quantitative data from the survey show in order of preference: a majority in favour of 3-D bioprinted ones, then followed by a preference for organs from a known individual and then a deceased stranger followed by a choice for a mechanical device, and finally, a huge majority against xenotransplantation. The popularity of 3-D bioprinting and the desire to have personalised organs relate to avoiding concerns about bodily functioning that xenotransplantation raises (reliability and compatibility), avoidable harm to others (including the animals) and knowledge about the source of the organ. Also stated in the focus groups and survey were the possibilities of becoming ‘part pig’. Hence, preference was for human options and then the mechanical one. This suggests that it is important to maintain identity and integrity on two levels. First, the possibility similar to the narration from human organ transplant recipients, that pig organs can alter a person’s subjectivity through the modification and breach of the integrity of the body with an organ from another (once) living being. Second, this breach is not from a human being, and therefore the boundary that separates humans from non-human animals is at risk of transgressing the categories of what is known to be human and what it is to be animal. Finally, xenotransplantation, as is the case with beliefs about possible gender alteration through organ donation, threatens an individual’s subjectivity. These are all boundary disruptions that 3-D bioprinting, human organ transplantation and mechanical hearts respect. Mechanical implants such as implantable cardiac devices or pacemakers do not have the same story of other (once) living beings that organ transplantation or xenotransplantation have. Implanted devices are not contaminated by, and cannot cause contamination to the recipient by association with the once living host. I will develop the idea of contamination as a means to explain how particular social characteristics are transferred from human and indeed, non-human animals.
I turn to the practice of using non-human animal organs for therapy and transplantation in humans; a practice called xenotransplantation. Then I will outline what is currently known and achievable through implantable medical devices such as SynCardia’s Total Artificial Heart device and the possibility of 3-D bioprinting. I then describe in detail the results of the focus groups and survey before concluding with a reflection on what the preferences for human, then mechanical and finally animal options tell us about the ambiguity of embodiment and the Triad of I, that is, of identity, image and integrity.
H. G. Wells wrote The Island of Doctor Moreau in 1896, describing how the ship-wrecked Prendick discovers an island where non-human animals are being turned human. In a short novel written in 1915, The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, the narrative of transformation is reversed when the human protagonist awakes as a monstrous insect. There is a fascination with complete transformations from animal to human but also with different combinations of humans and animals. For example, from ancient Greek and Egypt times onwards with sphinxes (human-lion combinations), centaurs (human-horse combinations) and fauns (human-goat), to more present-day modern fictional accounts of werewolves and mermaids. Whether it is humans fully or partially morphing into non-human animals, or non-human animals turning human, these are only a few examples of what appears to be a continuing cultural enthralment with the connection humans have with animals.
Xenotransplantation turns the fiction of human and animal hybridity into a reality for medical therapy. However, skin grafts using frogs, cats, dogs, chickens, cockerels and pigs have been unsuccessful (Appel, Alwayn and Cooper, 2000), as were chimpanzee testes implanted into aged men to improve fertility (Rémy, 2014). Xenotransplantation remains an experimental procedure and has a high failure rate, as was tragically demonstrated in the 1980s when Baby Fae died after her failing heart was replaced with one from a baboon, raising questions about the ethics of the procedure, especially whether her parents gave full and informed consent (Kushner and Belliotti, 1985).
Advances in successfully creating a non-human animal and human hybrid tend to work on a much smaller scale, for example, in the conventional medical practice of using porcine or bovine material to replace human heart valves or proposals to use animal embryos for therapeutic purposes in biomedicine such as cytoplasmic embryos (Haddow et al., 2010). Success in solid organ xenotransplantation is hampered because animal organs maintain their non-human animal cellular structure, thus making them liable to attack from the recipient’s immune system. The success of gene-modification such as CRISPR-Cas9 could be significant as it demonstrates how gene-editing (and immunosuppressant therapy) could potentially suppress the ability of human bodies to reject those organs not recognised as the person’s own. Such a breakthrough was reported in 2016 when a genetically modified pig’s heart was placed inside a baboon’s abdomen, and the baboon survived for over 900 days (Mohiuddin et al., 2016). Pigs are generally preferred due to having a similar organ size to humans as well as raising fewer ethical concerns than using primates. In the UK, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics (1996) (NCoB) report on xenotransplantation emphasised that clinical trials of xenotransplantation must proceed ethically and responsibly (Fovargue, 2007) alongside the preservation of ‘human dignity’ (Degrazia, 2007). The report suggests that xenotransplantation practices call into question where the boundaries are between what is human and what is a non-human animal. The discourse of the value of the shared physiological features between human and non-human animals, is challenged by an awareness of the rights of non-human animals based upon a recognition that they share emotional and cognate abilities similar to human beings. This is partly why the term ‘non-human animals’ is used by animal activists and academics in the field of animal studies (Francione 2008).
The creation of pigs to exploit their bodies in xenotransplantation procedures is controversial when increasing emphasis is being placed on vegan and vegetarian dietary choices based on ethical, environmental and health grounds. Researchers Birke and Michael (1998) object to xenotransplantation because of the possible unethical use of animals in the xenotransplantation context:
We might consider the suffering of humans who are chronically ill with heart or kidney disease and who face an equally chronic shortage of organs: To what extent is the possibility of alleviating human suffering sufficient to justify raising animals in order to kill them for their organs? There is also the question of whether we consider it ethical not only to use animals for such purposes but also to deliberately create them.
Their focus group research indicates the mixing of non-human animal and human organs produces reactions of disgust or ‘yuck’ from members of the public (Brown, 1999, Brown and Michael, 2001, Brown and Michael, 2004, Brown, 2009). For ‘[Fl]esh is something about which we are culturally ambivalent, even when it comes to eating it … [m]oving it about in the fashion of xenotransplantation is hardly likely to be culturally neutral’ (Birke and Michael, 1998: 252). Similarly, Davies discusses the concept of disgust concerning xenotransplantation (Davies, 2006). This was based on focus group work with members of the public, and she focused her analysis on the ‘yuck’ factor, suggesting that in some cases, disgust could be a useful and instructive feeling and not one easily overcome by ‘rational’ scientific explanations (Davies, 2006: 432–433).
Social and cultural beliefs about the acceptability of xenotransplantation are likely to vary and may be dependent on need, preference, the amount of non-human animal material used, as well as where it was going to be implanted. Although there are no successful examples of xenotransplantation, de-cellularised structures are used when repairing heart valves. Porcine and bovine tissue have been commonly used to successfully replace failing aortic heart valves since the early sixties. Porcine replacements last approximately 10 to 15 years; less in younger recipients although the reasons for the shorter life span of the valves in this cohort are not well understood. Some research with patients who have received small de-cellularised tissues instrumentally viewed the porcine implants with little evidence of concern (Lundin, 2002, Teran-Escandon et al., 2005, Idvall, 2006), although Lundin also found anxiety in her research with diabetic patients transplanted with insulin-producing porcine islet cells (Lundin, 1999). One diabetic patient who had received porcine islets reflected: ‘It feels like something big and meaty. And I am wondering what way it can change me as a person. Yes, not that I’ll develop a tail or anything like that – but that something will happen to me all the same’ and ‘Like small piglets … tiny pig cells that I have no control over and that can pump something animal like into my body’ (Eva in Lundin 2002: 337). Recipients implanted with de-cellularised porcine heart valves also demonstrated similar concerns about the transference of animal qualities (Lundin, 1999, Lundin and Widner, 2000, Lundin, 2002). A patient with Parkinson’s disease reflects on the possibilities of using animal tissues in another study, suggesting that ‘The personality’ is in the brain. If you add a very small quantity of cells from a pig to an existing brain, that’s OK. But if we are talking about replacing half of the cerebrum, then we would be replacing a large share of the individual’s personality’ (Lundin and Widner, 2000: 1175).
A review of different acceptance rates in potential transplant patients and carers (transplant waiting/already transplanted patients; dialysis and Type 1 diabetic patients; health care professionals and members of the public/students) found an agreement to the possibility of xenotransplantation varied greatly from 80 per cent finding it acceptable, dropping to other studies finding only 19 per cent deeming it acceptable (Stadlbauer et al., 2011).
Many studies have sought to gauge public attitudes towards xenotransplantation. These are often based on attitude scales, and the results paint a relatively similar picture to each other. They show xenotransplantation can be as acceptable as human organ transplantation (80–90 per cent would accept such a procedure if necessary), but that this support drops significantly if more information about xenotransplantation is given. Or if the given scenario suggests that xenotransplantation would not be as good as a human organ transplant (Bona et al., 2004, Canova et al., 2006, Conesa et al., 2006, Lundin and Idvall, 2003, Lundin and Widner, 2000, Martinez-Alarcon et al., 2005, Rios et al., 2005, Sanner, 2006). Concerns found in this research related to disease transmission or a possible transference of genetic material, ethical issues with xenotransplantation practice, as well as fears ‘about the psychological aspects of having an animal organ in the body’ (Stadlbauer et al., 2011: 498). Some researchers found more favourable attitudes towards smaller amounts of non-human animal cells and tissues such as porcine heart valves rather than larger organs in the general population:
On the one hand, an organ from an animal is larger than separate cells or tissue and might be experienced as a greater encroachment on one’s body. On the other hand, it is well defined and one knows exactly where it is located, which might create a sense of security. A collection of cells is more diffuse and less well identified, but is smaller. In many situations, things that are larger are considered to be more important and could even be more threatening.
(Persson et al., 2003: 76)
Lesser amounts of non-human animal organs are found to be more acceptable especially when it comes to the broader social importance placed upon the brain in terms of human identity (Stadlbauer et al., 2011). The logic presumably is that with decreasing amounts of materiality used from the source, the less likely the risk of contaminating the recipient. As I will discuss later in this chapter, the idea of contamination is a useful way to describe how using organs from a human or non-human animal donor could alter the recipient’s identity. Therefore, the more materiality used to change the human body, presumably the increase in possibilities of altering subjectivity, and hence less is more. Where in the body xenotransplantation occurs affects expressed views with the brain seen as integral to the self. This highlights the social acceptability of a brain-centred approach to identity, as well as how much brain can be transplanted before the person is changed. It appears that it is not only a case of how much of the human body requires replacement but where the substitutions are made and whether it is of the same material or from a different origin.
Implanted medical devices
If there were a race to be the first to replace or repair an entire human organ, the winner would be a mechanical implant in the form of a medical device. Implantable devices (medical, aesthetic and for sensory interactions) are becoming increasingly common and complex, or ‘smart’ as colleagues and I have termed it (Harmon, Haddow and Gilman, 2015, Haddow, Harmon and Gilman, 2016). The number of therapeutic devices that are semi-autonomous and (partially) implanted range from cochlear and retinal implants, neuro-bionics, DBSs (deep brain stimulators), neuro-implants, vagus nerve stimulators, cardiac pacemakers, LVADs (left ventricular assist devices), artificial pancreas and ICDs. These are arguably different from prosthetics because all of these devices perform an active function rather than serving as a support structure, for example, hip joint.
In February 2012, the American-based company SynCardia reported on their website that they had implanted 1,000 Total Artificial Hearts (TAH) (www.syncardia.com/). TAHs replace the entire human heart which has to be removed and used as a bridging device until a human organ donor can be found. However, TAHs are increasingly being relied upon for long periods of time as a destination therapy, that is, when a heart transplant cannot take place. In 2015, SynCardia was approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration for this permanent use (approving it as ‘destination therapy’) in 19 patients who had biventricular heart failure and were ineligible for a heart transplant. The SynCardia website has numerous testimonials from patients suggesting how much the device has improved their life despite having to carry a large power supply for the TAH to be carried by or with the recipient at all times (Standing et al., 2017). Whereas this may be seen as a general inconvenience, implantable devices do pose issues about device failure, rejection and infection:
As of 2011, 47 patients had been supported with a SynCardia TAH for greater than one year worldwide (35). The mean support time was 554 days … Device failure occurred in 10% of patients. Systemic infections were observed in 53% of patients, driveline infections in 27% of patients, thromboembolic events in 19% of patients and hemorrhagic events in 14% of patients.
(Cook et al., 2015: 2178)
Studies report individuals are aware of these risks that are associated with devices but still view them as more preferable to the problems of contamination and altered subjectivity associated with using non-human animals. In Sharp’s study of 50 under-graduates, she found the majority preferred human organs, followed by mechanical devices, with none of her respondents choosing an organ from a baboon (Sharp, 2006). A few survey respondents reflected on why they would prefer a mechanical option as ‘[N]obody’s used it before me and infected it’ (Sharp, 2006: 229). One or two of Sharp’s participants were worried about taking on characteristics of the baboon suggesting, ‘[I]f it all worked equally well, I wouldn’t care. Though it would be a little strange to have a baboon heart. Would I start baring my teeth and bottom?’ (Sharp 2006: 232). One survey found 77 per cent of Swedish respondents indicated more willingness to accept an organ from a relative (69 per cent), followed then by a preference for an organ from a deceased person (63 per cent), then an artificial ‘organ’ and the least preferred (at 40 per cent) was for a non-human animal organ. Artificial implants are viewed more favourably than using non-human animal organs by members of the public (Sanner, 1998, Sanner, 2001a, Sanner, 2001b, Sanner, 2003, Sanner, 2006). These comparative studies are important but did not include innovations such as 3-D bioprinting or identified the pig as the source of the organ (Sanner 2001b, see also Kranenburg et al., 2005).
3-D bioprinted organs
An alternative and very recent addition to proposals to repair the human body does not rely on replacement of organs from different origins such as animal or mechanical, but relies instead on the regeneration of organs: 3-D bioprinted organs from the recipient – essentially making the source and receiver the same and doing away with any middle organism. 3-D bioprinting of organs takes personalised medicine to the next level, offering the possibility of printing an individual’s organs sourced from their own cells, on demand, hence avoiding contagion from other humans or non-human animals entirely. Specialised printers use biological inks (bio-inks such as differentiated-, human embryonic-, or induced pluripotent stem cells) to print layers of living materials one slice at a time, placing them on top of each other. 3-D bioprinting works with organic materials such as living cells to create structures approximating body parts from the person that needs them (Vermeulen et al., 2017). Yet, ‘[A]chieving the desired level of cell density, effective, vascularization and accelerated tissue maturation are remaining challenges’ (Mironov, Kasyanov and Markwald, 2011). The risks of the procedure, especially using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), are unknown and have never been attempted before; such repercussions could therefore prove to be fatal (Vermeulen et al., 2017). Although 3-D bioprinting organs may one day prove to be the Promethean regeneration for the modern era, it has yet to undergo clinical trials.
Despite this lack of progress with 3-D bioprinting, it could potentially avoid the challenges that xenotransplantation raises in terms of rejection and immunosuppression as well as associated ethical concerns, in addition to possible cultural and social ambivalence about using non-human animals for this purpose. 3-D bioprinting also removes questions and concerns about the source of the organ. Would individuals prefer 3-D bioprinting despite its lack of testing and novel premise? Should it be successful, how would 3-D bioprinting compare to procedures that already make use of devices or the proposal to use non-human animal organs? Indeed, where can these options be located in terms of attitudes towards the current system of human organ transplantation, which although it cannot meet current demand, is arguably a successful procedure that is saving and improving human life?
Mixed methods: focus groups and surveys
In 2016 we carried out a series of focus groups followed by a representative survey of young people to investigate whether members of the public would prefer human, animal and mechanical as possible replacements if their organs were diseased and failing. The focus group study was conducted first for several reasons, mostly to explore questions and areas that could be discussed generally about views of biomedical technology in a deep and meaningful manner.
The focus groups were initially purposively sampled for age, religion, sporting activity and familiarity with technology hence: 1) the 65 Years of Age and Over, 2) University Competitive Fencers, 3) Computer Gamers and 4) members of a University’s Islamic religion group. Although identification of group members was based on primary characteristics (such as being pre-internet citizens in the case of the ‘Over 65s’, or assumed technology embracers such as the ‘Computer Gamers’, competitive sports for individuals focused on body work, or known religious views regarding meat), the participants’ identities varied by experience, demographics and interests. For example, Roy in ‘The 65 Years of Age and Over’ group and a ‘pre-internet’ citizen was a committed vegan which strongly affected his views of xenotransplantation as further discussed below. The focus group data that was generated partially informed the next phase of data collection, which was a series of questions in a survey format to young adults.1
Aged from 11 years to 17 years of age, 1,550 young people were targeted in a survey as: 1) possibly more open to technoscientific solutions given they are internet citizens and 2) least likely to perceive themselves in need and therefore offer responses affected by this possibility or requirement. The overall sample of young people comprised around 300 state secondary schools throughout Scotland (UK). The sampling frame was stratified by local authority, school size and urban-rural classification and a random start point ensured a representative sample of secondary schools was produced. Each school agreeing to participate in the research was randomly allocated two-year groups from S1–S6. The survey was administered by class teachers, using self-completion online questionnaires in a mixed ability class such as Personal, Health and Social Education.
General demographics were included such as age, gender and religion as well as eating preferences such as vegetarianism. The results of some of these associations between views and demographics are reported below. The questions were generated partly from the focus group data as well as in close collaboration with Ipsos MORI, who are a large UK market research company commissioned to carry out the study (www.ipsos.com/ipsos-mori/en-uk).
I expected that posing questions about abstract ideas of identity and subjectivity of other humans as well as other species would be extremely difficult for participants to engage with or respond to. The focus groups were difficult to recruit partly due to this reason. Informal feedback suggested that this was partly based on a perceived lack of qualification by those approached to discuss the topic of animal, human and mechanical technologies. Indeed, in the focus groups, I felt I spent too much time explaining the benefits and risks of the technologies, which restricted further opportunities for their contribution. Apart from the initial choice question that was given to survey recipients, no additional explanation was offered during the administration of the survey about the different human, animal and mechanical. Posing questions about hypothetical future technologies is both conjectural (preferences for using human or non-human animal technologies that do not exist) and rhetorical (even if they did exist the decision whether someone would receive one would be clinically informed and not based solely on individual choice). The methodological context is hampered by the creation of a question format of a ‘what if’ variety (‘what if this happened’). The difficulty in answering the questions is demonstrated with a large proportion of young adults suggesting that they ‘Don’t know’ or ‘Prefer not to say’ (26 per cent) indicating a lack of respondent confidence in how to respond when limited information is offered. This is bound to be the case when some participants were very young, for example, only 11 years old. Survey respondents were therefore encouraged to give additional open comments at the end of the questionnaire explaining their choice, even if it was a ‘don’t know’. Although it is not possible to link these comments made in the open section of the survey to actual respondents (as the respondents and responses were irreversibly anonymised), the comments left in the open section offer extremely rich data; the frequency of comments was numerically counted and similarity noted (e.g. ‘It’s a pig’ was a very common response). The survey was analysed with the use of SPSS v11.5 and the open comments imported into an Excel spreadsheet. The findings below therefore draw on all data from the survey results in the questionnaire, the frequency and content of the open comments and the focus group discussions.
Results: all the humans (3-D, living and deceased)
The following key question was offered in the survey:
Sometimes people’s organs (e.g. their heart or their liver) can stop working properly. If this happens, they need to have that organ replaced. Imagine you needed to have an organ replaced because it wasn’t working properly, how would you want it replaced? Please rank the following options from 1 to 5 in order of preference (1 being the option you most prefer and 5 being the option you least prefer).
The following options and short explanations were given and rotated in different order in the survey:
- An organ taken from a pig (a statement to describe xenotransplantation);
- A mechanical device that did the work of the organ (to refer to implantable medical devices);
- A spare organ taken from someone you knew who was alive (to avoid confusion it was stated that this was a related living organ donation and with an organ that wasn’t needed, hence ‘spare’);
- An organ grown from your own cells in a laboratory (3-D bioprinting);
- An organ taken from a stranger who has recently died (the current UK system largely based on deceased organ donation).
Despite my earlier misgivings about the difficulties participating in the study would cause, the overall findings were unequivocal. All the human organ options (3-D bioprinting, living donation and deceased donation) were the favoured options with 3-D bioprinting by far the most preferred (21 per cent or 22 per cent) (as shown in Table 2.1):
|An organ taken from a pig||25||1.6|
|A mechanical device that did the work of the organ||123||7.9|
|An organ taken from a stranger who has recently died||179||11.5|
|A spare organ taken from someone you knew who was alive||336||21.7|
|An organ grown from your own cells in a laboratory||345||22.3|
|Prefer not to say||135||8.7|
The ‘Computer Gamers’, ‘University’s Islamic’ group and the ‘65 Years of Age and Over’ groups stated their top preference would be for 3-D bioprinted organs, thus confirming an overall preference in the results, for an organ to be created from one’s own body. As Sophia in the ‘Over 65s’ group suggests:
I would prefer to have something that is connected in some way to a human being either past or present or manufactured from something in the … Well, just having a connection to a human in some way, even it was made from cells cultured in the lab originally, an imaginary source.
Statements in the open part of the survey supporting 3-D bioprinting ranged from ‘They [organs] come from me’, being from ‘my own cells’, ‘it was your own’, ‘part of my body’, ‘part of me’, ‘my own cells in my own life’ and that this was preferred from other human bodies, as it was from ‘my own body and not from someone else’. However, Adila, in the ‘University’s Islamic’ group pointed out that should 3-D bioprinting become a possibility in the future, potentially avoiding issues around rejection (as is the case, for example, with human transplantation and xenotransplantation), this would be an expensive first world option:
I think I would, of course, prefer my own stem cell and my reason is like what I pointed out earlier. Sometimes our body rejects a new organ, someone else’s stem cell might have a different reaction, there is a risk, the issue of risk. However, going back to the initial stem cells in, yes, I would prefer that, but on the other hand I think it’s quite an exclusive option because there are many countries, we cannot afford such technology, and we have to depend on a human donor, so it’s great, but it’s very limited in how it reaches up to people and there are a lot of people who are in need of organs, and probably people from first world country could develop this technology. The only thing your own stem cells do for organs that can be in turn donated to people who cannot afford it in third world countries, I think that’s a great option, yeah.
The human living options were stated as being the preferred option, although deceased organ donation (n=179) was the least popular of all the human options. One reason for ambivalence about deceased organ donation was that the deceased donor was a stranger: ‘I don’t know the person or how they lived their life’, ‘because it seems risky and I wouldn’t know their past’. The other reason for dislike was that the donated organs came from an individual who had died and ‘because they are dead and that’s weird’, ‘I don’t like the thought of someone’s dead organs in me; they wouldn’t work’. Those who supported deceased donation did so for the same reason that those against it gave; it was ‘because the person was dead’ and the ‘organs would not go to waste’.
Organs from deceased donors appear more disliked by young men (38 per cent; n=109) than young women (61 per cent; n=69) in the current sample. Why young male respondents were more likely to dislike the current way that organs are procured from deceased donors is unclear and could not be ascertained from this data. The next best substitute would be of a known living individual; the quality of being known seems almost as important as being human. A reason for not favouring the current deceased procurement system, in light of these future possibilities, is because the donor is both deceased and a stranger. So, to summarise, an organ created from the individual is preferred, a known organ donor is liked, but a deceased stranger’s organ will do. What will not do, however, is using organs from a pig, as I turn to next.
I have emphasised in previous chapters that the materials that are placed inside the body are also ones that are socially and culturally embedded, and this would most obviously be the case when it comes to views around the use of animals for transplantation. 3-D bioprinting, for example, potentially avoids ethical, practical, religious and social challenges posed by xenotransplantation (Brown and Michael, 1998). The survey results (shown above in Table 2.1) demonstrate less than 2 per cent of the young adults (n=25) gave xenotransplantation as their preferred option. It was said by a few individuals in the focus groups to be very similar to consuming meat. In the ‘Computer Gamers’ focus group, the following exchange occurred between Chris, Oliver and Timothy:
Chris: Does it make a difference if you can use the rest of the pig for meat?
Oliver: That makes it better. That makes it better.
Chris: What’s that again, what’s that kind of meat? Sorry.
Oliver: If you get a heart for a transplant …
Timothy: And, bacon.
Oliver: … then you also get bacon, so …
Chris: To ruin the heart that you just got.
Timothy: To be fed to the person that’s got the heart.
Apart from the apparent jocular nature of the exchange between the male focus group participants, a view is expressed that if a person consumes meat then this should make the person hold positive opinions about using animals for xenotransplantation. In the ‘65 Years of Age and Over’ focus group, Roy who was a life-long vegan expressed a similar view in a far less humorous tone in an exchange with Cameron (who consumed meat):
Roy: I’m a 30 years vegan, so it’s quite clear my decision on that, I think it’s an appalling idea. I think it is again the exploitation of animals and whatever which I think, don’t think we really should be involved in …
Cameron: Not enthusiastic.
Roy: We agree, yes, we have found common ground probably for totally different reasons.
Cameron: Given that I enjoy a bacon sandwich, I think it would be illogical for me to say I wouldn’t take something from a pig, again providing that it is done without cruelty.
Roy: …if you’re prepared to put it down your throat, then why wouldn’t you be prepared to put it in your leg or whatever, your heart?
The challenge from Roy is that those who consume meat should be in favour of xenotransplantation as ‘if you’re prepared to put it down your throat, then why wouldn’t you be prepared to put it in your leg or whatever, your heart?’ The survey results paint a different story, however. Roughly equal numbers of those who self-identified as vegetarians (46 per cent) and those who consumed meat (48 per cent) said they were against xenotransplantation. It may be that the practice of transplanting pigs’ organs is not equivalent to choosing to consume pork or ham. Through the digestive process, meat consumption will leave the body, whereas xenotransplantation will not and would be a permanent addition. Neither does eating meat instigate a rejection process by the body, whereas a xenotransplanted organ does. In the ‘Competitive Fencers Group’, Amy discussed the issue of immunosuppression required for the recipient’s body so as not to attack a non-human animal organ:
Amy: If it was a last resort I would definitely accept an animal organ. But I would accept a human organ over an animal organ if they were both available. Because even if it was like perfectly functional, the same, but there are risks associated with animals because they are different, physiologically. So, if you get down to like cellular level with all the receptors and everything, it means you have to be on … I know you have to be on immunosuppressants in a human, but you have to be on more, I think, with an animal.
Such discussions echo the challenges of over-riding the body’s immune response to attack any organic materiality that is foreign to the recipient’s body.
If lifestyle decisions about meat consumption appear to have little relationship to xenotransplantation, does religious instruction forbidding eating meat play a role in being against xenotransplantation? Some authors have suggested it is acceptable for religions against eating meat, for example those who identify as Muslim, to accept pigs as organ substitutes (Welin and Sandrin, 2006, although see also MacKellar and Albert Jones, 2012) despite instruction that says otherwise. Fifteen of the 27 respondents who self-identified as Muslim in this survey were not in favour of using pig organs for xenotransplantation. Some participants chose to identify themselves as Muslim in the open comments section, saying that because the pig was not halal, it was an ‘unclean’ animal. In the following exchange, which occurred in the ‘University’s Islamic’ group between Azzam and Leilah, Azzam is trying to articulate why pork consumption is unacceptable:
Azzam: For example, like pigs are seen in Islam as … so if you look like … I’m trying to say … like for example, pigs and stuff, like they also like … the reason why they don’t … I think the reason is because pigs are like … they play around in mud and stuff.
Leilah: Lay there in faecal matter.
Azzam: And they also eat their …
Azzam: Yes and their own poo, so they’re generally seen … I was thinking of a way not to say that, by the way, if you didn’t get it. So yeah.
Importantly, the association of pigs with dirt was articulated regardless of religious affiliation. The frequency of the comments (such as, ‘It’s yuck, disgusting, gross, unclean’, ‘It’s a farm animal with a very unhealthy diet’ and pigs are ‘disgusting, rank, not natural, grim, vile, rank’) outnumbered any explicit or implicit link to religious affiliation. Not only was the pig thought dirty, but it could also be a vehicle for diseases: ‘the pig could have had a disease’, ‘because pigs are disease-ridden creatures’, ‘pigs can have some nasty diseases’.
Other comments were made that were not as clearly articulated such as ‘It just feels strange’ and ‘It doesn’t sound right’, ‘it would especially make me feel mentally uncomfortable’, ‘it would creep me out’, ‘it’s not nice to think about’, ‘I don’t want a pig/animal inside me’. Having a pig’s organ would make someone ‘part pig’ and that the risk of using non-human animal organs was not just about practical or ethical questions but had to do with personal identity issues. Comments included: ‘I would hate to have an organ from an animal, I wouldn’t feel right having a pig’s organ’, ‘I don’t wanna be part pig, cos I would be pig’, ‘I don’t want a pig inside me’, ‘I would feel awkward about having a pig organ’. Very often the reason given in the survey’s comments section for being against xenotransplantation was stated matter-of-factly: ‘It’s a pig’. This exact phrase occurred frequently suggesting a shared understanding of the reason that pigs would not be acceptable did not require any further elaboration.
Responses in the current research suggest the pig for use in xenotransplantation is dirty, physiologically incompatible and potentially a vehicle of disease. Previous studies show that proposals to mix non-human animal and human organs produces public reactions of disgust or ‘yuck’ (Brown, 1999, 2009, Brown and Michael, 2001, Brown and Michael, 2004). Kass (2002) relates ‘yuck’ to a ‘wisdom of repugnance’ that is not just a matter of individual taste but is a powerful way to discuss how reactions to the way that such proposals are challenging what is considered as ‘natural’:
The contemporary need for naturalness can be better understood as a response to the fact that technology makes reality more and more makeable and, consequently, more contingent. Advancing technology changes everything that is, into our object of choice … [I]f human nature itself becomes makeable, it can no longer naively be laid down as the norm.
(Swierstra, van Est and Boenink, 2009: 274)
The Nuffield Council on Bioethics’ (2015) more recent analysis of the role that the concept of ‘natural’ plays in public debate concluded that it is a term to be avoided, mainly because of the variability of the way it is used. There may be a stable interpellation between classifications of what is natural that only arise when it is challenged – challenging the perceived boundaries of the natural illuminate where the edges of the natural are.
‘Yuck’ echoes anthropologist Mary Douglas’ arguments about challenges to the boundaries between species and is linked to ideas about ‘Pollution behaviour’ which is ‘the reaction which condemns any object or idea likely to confuse or contradict cherished classifications’ as out-of-place (Douglas, 1966: 36). Pollution behaviour is invoked when controversial crossing and blurring of boundaries between bodies and species occurs. Although pigs, or any other non-human animal for that matter, may not necessarily be considered unclean (although pigs are considered unclean by some because of scavenging faeces and dirt as discussed above), their usage in transplanting human bodies challenges the known schemata of what it is to be a ‘pig’ and what it is to be ‘human’. Indeed, Douglas suggests that the pig is the ‘odium of multiple pollution’ (Douglas, 1972: 79). Pigs are entities that transgress familiar and taken-for-granted boundaries between species (Chakrabarty, 2003, Alter, 2007, Robert and Baylis, 2003). The creation of chimaeras and hybrids, for example, is seen as ‘an affront to the hierarchical superiority and separateness of the human species’ despite the practice of breeding animals and hybridised plants (Knoppers and Joly, 2007: 284). Views about xenotransplantation might be therefore closer to understandings about chimaeras and the mixed bodies of species, rather than vegetarianism. As I have shown, there is little variation in terms of religion or vegetarianism beliefs that helps explain respondents’ negative views of xenotransplantation. Rather, the finding from this research suggests a deeper-seated repugnance expressed as ‘yuck’ due to the perceived challenge to what is considered the natural species’ boundaries. One last comment worth mentioning is that not everyone thought that pigs’ organs would affect identity. As Adila suggests: ‘I don’t think it affects me as a person. I think it … if I needed, it’s urgent, I might die without it, I think I would take it and it will not affect me as a person, I’m really sure of it. Neither my cognitive ability, my spirituality, my emotions, so …’. This was not a common response, but it does highlight that a person’s need for an organ, even an animal’s one in the case of xenotransplantation, may overcome any social or cultural ambivalence or abhorrence about the source.
So, what about machines?
Overall, data in this research suggest using devices to replace whole organs was not as popular as human organs. However, they were not found to be as unpopular as using animal organs. Azzam and Adila in the ‘University’s Islamic’ group exchanged views around the difference between an artificial device and an organic living thing, with Adila stating that she would prefer the human option as it retains the necessary ‘human element’:
Azzam: And also the system, it’s a man-made thing, as in it’s not exactly … I say manmade … I mean, I think I would rather use that, yeah.
Gill: Can I push you a little bit more on the distinction between it being artificial, say, manmade, we’ll go with manmade, that’s fine, it’s okay and animal, is there something …
Azzam: Well, I mean, there is obviously a difference because it is not a living creature. I don’t want to go all hippy and try and like …
Gill: No, no …
Azzam: But obviously it is different, it’s a completely different thing because it’s not a living thing, it’s not something that God has created, it’s just something … it’s not a man creation, but it’s not real, it’s not that valuable.
Adila: Quite the opposite, actually, I wouldn’t take it (machine). I would put it last (in terms of preference), simply because I think the human connection is very important. Taking an organ from a human donor to me, is the best option. I know it sounds macabre, but because I myself, I have … expressed earlier, when I die I would like to strip myself bare in the sense that you take everything I have for use of someone who really needs it and I think on that note I would prefer to take from human being who is obviously deceased, but it’s not that I undermined the competency or the value of machines, but it’s just that taking something human is essentially human of me. It’s more sentimental, there’s nothing … I have no scientific or religious opinion on this, it’s just sentimental.
In this exchange, Adila and Azzam agree on the value of the human body. But Azzam suggests because a machine is less valuable then the machine should be used, whereas for Adila because the human is more valuable than a machine, the human is preferred. Other reasons for not wanting to have a machine used for the repair of the human body, were generally similar to the following: ‘you’d feel like a robot or a freak’, ‘makes me less human’, ‘because I don’t want a machine inside my body’, ‘I don’t want to be cyborg’, ‘I don’t want metal inside me’.
The small number which indicated the mechanical implant was their most favoured option referred to popular films, suggesting that ‘I want to be like Iron Man or the Terminator’, and ‘It would be cool being part-robot’, ‘It would be cool to be Robocop’, ‘I feel that it’s easier and I’d be more comfortable with that than someone else’s organ in my body’. Other survey respondents suggested that, due to thorough testing and advances, technology was felt to be ‘smart’: ‘Because technology now is really smart so I would feel safe having something smart doing the work.’
One or two individuals in the focus group took a more pragmatic approach, choosing to focus on the stable functioning of the implant over-riding any preferences for materiality (whether human, animal or mechanical). Daniel, in the ‘Computer Gamers’ focus group, was consistent about this, repeating that, ‘Not really, as long as it works, I keep saying this, I know’ (Daniel, ‘Computer Gamers’ focus group, emphasis added). Technological vulnerability is an issue raised by survey respondents and those in the focus groups. Fears about technology breaking and malfunctioning were routinely expressed. Biohacking was only mentioned in the ‘Computer Gamers’ focus group, however:
Timothy: Well, I think my point was the same technology that could be used to control the misfiring of epilepsy could be used in other ways that aren’t quite as seemly …
Elizabeth: Also, to murder people potentially just find the right frequency and you fry your brain or stop your heart.
Machines do break, rust and malfunction. These concerns about the reliability of technology, including functionality and malicious hacking, are issues are returned to in the following chapters when I discuss the becoming of an everyday cyborg.
Contamination and brains
Unexpectedly, in the ‘Computer Gamers’ focus group, conversations included allusions of equating the human body to a car, and inserting devices then makes the human body a ‘changed vehicle’ echoing the Cartesian Dualist view of the body-as-machine, or as a car or other vehicle:
Timothy: I’m just thinking of an old ‘Star Trek’ episode, because … oh, no it was one of the films actually, ‘Data’ the android talking to a kid and he’s talking about how he doesn’t know what it’s like to grow up because the kid is constantly in flux, he’s growing all the time and he [Data] doesn’t have that. So, like if you were to suddenly be in someone else’s body, you would have totally different size of arms, totally different size of legs, how long would that take you to get used to? A changed vehicle.
Chris: I suppose it’s a much more convoluted than like buying a new car type of thing.
In this group, discussions about mechanical implants led to talk about the consequences it would have for the human body and subjectivity. Oliver and Elizabeth (in the exchange below) consider how much of the body could be replaced before a ‘cyborg’ identity would be created:
Oliver: I suppose there’s going to be reasonable gap between people getting them and then people also getting enough of them that you can say they are almost completely cyborg.
Elizabeth: Yes, so pretty much we can change everything, you can just be a cyborg.
Elizabeth: As long as your brain is there it’s still you.
Elizabeth’s statement, ‘[A]s long as your brain is there it’s still you’, is reflective of the modern idea of the self, that is, materialised in the brain, with cognition as the key process of selfhood. It echoes the widespread belief held in contemporary society that the mind or self is closely associated with the brain as the materiality of self-identity and thinking as cognition (Vidal, 2009). It echoes the statements made to the wife of Louis Washkansky, the first person to receive a heart transplant, that it is not the heart that is the loci of personhood, but the brain. This discussion also echoes the philosophical question mentioned throughout this book about ‘The Ship of Theseus’ and how much of a ship needs to be replaced before it is no longer the same ship. In discussions of replacing human bodies, the experiment can be stated, as it was in these focus groups: ‘How much of a human being has to be replaced before that person is no longer the person they once were?’ Williams argues that in creating the cyborg it is ‘best conceptualised on a continuum with the human organism at one end (i.e. the “all-human pole”) and the pure machine (automaton) or artificial intelligence (AI) device at the other’ (Featherstone and Burrows, cited in Williams, 1997: 104). This depends on a Cartesian ‘body-as-machine’ (discussed in Chapter 1). Bodies are a quantitative sum of body parts, which are altered through the addition and subtraction of materiality and not by any differences in the type nor kind. In the ‘65 Years of Age and Over’ focus group, similar discussions took place about ‘where the person was’ when replacing body parts; either materialised as the brain or in the heart:
Jacob: Well, you have the question of head transplant and which is getting transplanted, the head or the body? So, as far as I can see at the moment the head is the important bit, but in the future, we might discover it’s a minute part of the head that’s important.
Roy: So, that sort of person, so if Jacob and I swapped over, right, Jacob would become me with my marvellous body and I would get stuck with him. That’s as far as we know for now.
Cameron: But, there are some cultures that put great emphasis on the heart and a lot of people believe that, but as far as we can tell at the moment it is the head.
Gill: What do you all think?
Sophia: You could still have a mechanical body with a brain operating everything.
Discussions show that almost everything in the human body can be replaced with mechanical parts apart from the person’s brain. This stands in contrast with beliefs about xenotransplantation when ‘less is more’, and not even fractional parts of the human body can be replaced with pig’s organs. No one in this research (or indeed in the others I reviewed earlier on in this chapter) raise the consequences of replacing all of the human body apart from the brain with non-human animal parts. The idea that large parts of the human body could be replaced with non-human animal organs never arose and is notable for its absence. It would appear that the cultural fascination that is held with non-human animal and human hybrids is not shared with the desire for creating them. The social scientist Sanner proposes the concept of contamination as a way of offering a social explanation to address how these characteristics from non-human animals such as pigs could be transferred (Sanner, 2001a, Sanner, 2001b):
This law [contagion] states that things that have been in contact with each other or have belonged together may influence each other through transfer of some of their properties via an ‘essence’. Such a contamination remains after the physical contact has ceased and may be permanent. The rule is ‘once in contact, always in contact’.
(Sanner 2001a: 1497)
Organic materials can contaminate the recipient with pig-like characteristics, as Sanner suggests: ‘once in contact, always in contact’. It is unsurprising to find that those members of the public asked about how they might feel about xenotransplantation and using pig organs were worried giving them pig organs would also give them pig characteristics; making them more pig-like. ‘In essence, when organs are made of flesh and blood, recipients find it impossible to forget where they came from’ (Sharp, 2006: 240). The idea of contamination (Sanner 2001a) can be applied to human organ transplantation to explain why human organs can carry within them the social features of the human donor as was discussed in Chapter 1. Although cellular and pharmacological explanations have been put forward by some commentators, there are additional factors to consider about not only why the organs are thought to be able to transmit characteristics, but also how social characteristics such as gender transferred.
Other researchers discuss contamination as the ‘acquisition of possessions of another person that have been intimately associated with that other person’ (Belk, 1987: 151). Wearing someone else’s underwear, eating pre-chewed food and using another person’s toothbrush, in Western society, are all examples of an association with another person that may make some individuals feel unsettled (Belk, 1987). For some, as in used underwear, this intimacy has the opposite effect of unease or even disgust, and the contamination can be a desired fetish and commodity by some. The social porosity and contamination that materials have, ‘once in contact, always in contact’, applies to organic fleshy beings, and not technological devices when implanted into bodies. In the next chapter, I discuss why this is the case and what are the implications for identity living as a techno-organic hybrid.
Conclusion: organ rejection and contagion versus technological infection and invasion
The most popular option to replace failing organs in the human body found in this research was for 3-D bioprinted organs grown in a laboratory from an individual’s cellular material; this clear preference was made. Ideally, 3-D bioprinting organs avoided subjectivity alterations caused by organs from any other organic sources. By keeping the materiality of the donor and recipient the same, there was no better way to avoid the possibility of changing who you are by altering what you are. The popularity of receiving organs from someone you know or ones that are 3-D bioprinted in the current study relates to avoiding concerns about bodily functioning as is found in using mechanical devices (e.g. reliability and infection), avoidable harm to others as could be produced through xenotransplantation or living organ donation and perhaps avoiding knowledge about the ‘dirty’ origins of the organ from a pig.
Preference for 3-D bioprinting was followed by a stated desire for an organ donated by a known living donor. If a personalised printed organ is the most highly valued because it comes from the recipient; then the next closest to this option socially and physically is a preference for an organic living human source, known to the recipient. As living donation is often conducted in the UK between two individuals who are related, this choice suggests that when a participant cannot have an organ identical to them in identity terms (a 3-D bioprinted one), then an organ ‘known to be as close to me’ as possible is a narrative for this selected option. Knowledge of the donor appeared important to some respondents and something that was not generally possible in receiving a transplant from a deceased stranger (although social contact can be made via the transplant co-ordinator as discussed earlier). Knowing the story of the organ from another human body highlights a preference not to cross the species boundaries generally or disrupt the embodiment of the individual specifically.
I argued that Sanner’s (2001a) theory of ‘contamination’ was an important reference point to think about how meanings attached to organic material are porous and transcend biological boundaries between bodies. Xenotransplantation and human organ donation, therefore, are able through contamination processes to modify the recipient’s body and alter subjectivity. Xenotransplantation was almost universally disliked and created a range of concerns about the ethics of using animals in such a way and physiological incompatibility with human bodies, for example. Some comments were made about whether xenotransplantation would make the recipient ‘pig-like’. This produces yuck-type responses concerning the ontology of what a non-human animal is. The identity crisis relates to the distinction between humans and non-human animals, and concern about the boundaries of either are not crossed. Of such attempts at xenotransplantation, the feminist technoscience scholar Donna Haraway writes of the ‘ethical perplexity – for animal rights activists as much as for the guardians of human purity’ (Haraway, 1999, cited in Kirkup et al., 1999: 165). The porosity of the contamination that can result from mixing humans’ inter-species shows the possibilities of intra-species boundary disruption between non-human and human and why the natural boundaries that separate the species require observation and surveillance.
Technoscientific advances in biomedicine, such as xenotransplantation, challenge what is human identity and therefore can be expected to produce ‘yuck’-type responses in relation to the ontology of what a non-human animal is – as a threat to species identity (on the abstract level). But ‘yuck’ is also apparent on challenges being made to the individual’s body and identity changing what she is; altering who she is. No matter how close the biological similarity between humans and other species is, as espoused by clinical and medical researchers attempting to alleviate the human organ donor shortage, it does not follow that there is a positive socio-cultural acceptance from sharing visceral spaces between humans and animals. In sum, therefore, there is a preference for human organ replacements to be sourced from the same or related (person), and although similar (other human bodies) might do, different (non-human animals) will not.