Organ donation, ethnicity and the negotiation of death: ethnographic insights from the UK

Cooper, J. & Kierans, C. (2016). Organ donation, ethnicity and the negotiation of death: ethnographic insights from the UK. Mortality, 21(1), pp. 1-18. doi: 10.1080/13576275.2015.1021314

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The introduction of end-of-life care criteria in the UK aims at standardising the processes of care at the end of life, including how medical decisions on death are communicated to the families of dying and (brain) dead patients. In the setting of the intensive care unit, these activities are routinely complicated by the imperative to secure donor organs for transplantation: where recent changes to donation services have seen the accommodation of organ donation procedures into end-of-life care routines. This has ramifications for understanding how medical decisions around death and dying are brokered with the families of potential organ donors. Drawing on an ethnographic study in England, this paper will document how communications around death get turned into a particular matter of concern for the practice of requesting organ donation from minority ethnic families. It shows how attempts to resolve differences of opinion between health professionals and families about a diagnosis of brain stem death or dying are mediated by sets of brokering practices: specifically, those termed technological, authoritative and religious brokering. These practices, we argue, not only facilitate a family’s acceptance of their relative’s death, but also serve to make possible a decision on organ donation.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Mortality on 5 May 2015, available online:
Uncontrolled Keywords: death, organ donation, medical technologies, death brokering, decision-making, ethnicity
Divisions: School of Health Sciences

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