Lawrence Cohen in Public Books:

ScreenHunter_1940 May. 14 20.49Maylis de Kerangal’s Réparer les vivants, beautifully translated into English by Sam Taylor and published as The Heart, has been something of a publishing sensation in France, and beyond. I am reading it at a café by a small lake in a South Indian town, where I have just been talking to a transplant surgeon about his practice.

It is a book centering on a heart and the events set in motion when this heart becomes marked for a possible transplant. I am an anthropologist who writes about organ transplantation. The surgeon I met was a urologist; he did not work with hearts but with kidneys.

Our conversation kept returning to how transplants become public affairs and organs gain celebrity. The surgeon chairs his hospital’s Ethics Committee, and I asked him about what kinds of transplant situations get marked as ethical problems. He answered by mentioning transplants that make it into the newspapers, onto television and the Internet. There was a story just today, he said, from Bangalore, about whether HIV-positive persons should receive transplanted organs. Then there was a story not too long ago, he added, about a kidney donor who was mentally disabled: the hospital would not allow him to give a kidney to his brother because the offer could not be considered a matter of consent. He described some of the hopes and challenges of heart and liver transplants, mentioning accounts of surgeries conducted elsewhere in India that he knew of from professional meetings and from the popular press. In considering when an organ becomes an ethical problem, he did not speak of his own practice as a surgeon as much as he elaborated on his participation in a range of mass and expert publics and the ways these animated his concern.

More here.