The Gift of Life and Altruism: Organ Transplantation as Cultural Practice in the United States and Canada

Kazuko Sato


The term “gift of life” is used very often to describe the practice of organ transplantation. Through a closer investigation it becomes clear that the term is not simply a description of the practice, but it is used strategically to mask the disturbing aspects of the practice while encouraging the donation of organs. The article describes those unclear and often upsetting aspects, and gives some explanation of how the gift language can alleviate them. Lastly, the article analyzes the use of the gift language and the concept of altruism as a means of examining the unexpected meanings and relationships created among people involved in organ transplantation.

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University of Victoria