Advertisement

Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics

, Volume 34, Issue 2, pp 147–160 | Cite as

Not quite dead: why Egyptian doctors refuse the diagnosis of death by neurological criteria

  • Sherine Hamdy
Article

Abstract

Drawing on two years of ethnographic fieldwork in Egypt focused on organ transplantation, this paper examines the ways in which the “scientific” criteria of determining death in terms of brain function are contested by Egyptian doctors. Whereas in North American medical practice, the death of the “person” is associated with the cessation of brain function, in Egypt, any sign of biological life is evidence of the persistence, even if fleeting, of the soul. I argue that this difference does not exemplify an irresolvable culture clash but points to an unsettling aspect of cadaveric organ procurement that has emerged wherever organ transplantation is practiced. Further, I argue that a misdiagnosis of the problem, as one about “religious extremism” or a “civilizational clash,” has obfuscated unresolved concerns about fairness, access, and justice within Egyptian medical spheres. This misdiagnosis has led to the suspension of a cadaveric procurement program for over 30 years, despite Egypt’s pioneering efforts in kidney transplantation.

Keywords

Brain death Organ transplantation Cadaveric procurement Egypt Islam Religious ethics 

Notes

Acknowledgments

The author gratefully acknowledges the Wolfenson Family Membership of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, for allowing me the time and space to write this article.

References

  1. 1.
    Hamdy, S. 2012. Our bodies belong to God: Organ transplants, Islam, and the struggle for human dignity in Egypt. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Fouad, S. 2005. Egypt national health accounts 2001–2002. In The partners for health reform plus project. USAID Report. www.healthsystems2020.org/content/resource/detail/1810/. Accessed August 22, 2011.
  3. 3.
    WHO. 2007. World Health Organization statistics database: Egypt. www.who.int/whosis/database/core/core_select_process.cfm. Accessed August 22, 2011.
  4. 4.
    Lock, M. 2002. Twice dead: Organ transplants and the reinvention of death. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    al-Mousawi, M., T. Hamed, and H. al-Matouk. 1997. Views of Muslim scholars on organ donation and brain death. Transplantation Proceedings 29: 3217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Wickham, C.R. 2002. Mobilizing Islam: Religion, activism, and political change in Egypt. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    al-Bishri, T. 2001. Naql al ‘adaa’ fi du’ al-shari’a wal qanun. Al-Qahira: Nahdat-misr.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Hogle, L.F. 1996. Transforming “body parts” into therapeutic tools: A report from Germany. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 10(4): 675–682.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Porter, R. 1998. The greatest benefit to mankind: A medical history of humanity. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Hogle, L.F. 1999. Recovering the nation’s body: Cultural memory, medicine, and the politics of redemption. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Cohen, L. 1998. No aging in India. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Fox, R.C., and J.P. Swazey. 1992. Spare parts: Organ replacement in American Society. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Joralemon, D. 1995. Organ wars: The battle for body parts. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 9(3): 335–356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Fox, R.C. 1996. Afterthoughts: Continuing reflections on organ transplantation. In Organ transplantation: Meanings and realities, ed. S.J. Youngner, R.C. Fox, and L.J. O’Connell. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Youngner, S.J., R.C. Fox, and L.J. O’Connell (eds.). 1996. Organ transplantation: Meanings and realities. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Agamben, G. 1998. Homo sacer: Sovereign power and bare life. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Sharp, L.A. 2006. Strange harvest: Organ tranplants, denatured bodies, and the transformed self. Berkley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Kaufman, S.R. 2005. And a time to die: How American hospitals shape the end of life. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Smith, J., and Y. Haddad. 2002. The Islamic understanding of death and resurrection. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Sharp, L.A. 2001. Commodified kin: Death, mourning, and competing claims on the bodies of organ donors in the United States. American Anthropologist 103(1): 112–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Hirschkind, C. 2006. The ethical soundscape: Cassette sermons and Islamic counterpublics. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyBrown UniversityProvidenceUSA

Personalised recommendations