Lock, M. M. 1997. Displacing Suffering: The Reconstruction of Death in North American and Japan. In Social Suffering. A. Kleinman, V. Das, and M. M. Lock, eds. Pp. 207-244. Berkeley: University of California Press.
In this comparative study of social and medical attitudes towards medicalized death and organ transplant medicine Lock situates the brain death debate at the heart of her analysis. Lock compares two sites, US and Japan, in which technological development of transplant medicine and different professional and social contexts allow or preclude the social production of organ transplantation. In both contexts notions of personhood, mortality and immortality are central to the public debate and the general approval or rejection of brain death as a defined marker of the end of one’s life, and the justification for organ removal and, then, transplantation. Informed consent is also a key part of this displacement of suffering (quote: “a fist step is to recognize how easily suffering can be used in the service of ideological and political ends” (238)). For Lock, in Japan, the individual suffering and the dying person, and the repulsion to receive an organ from a person beyond the “natural” kin group may produce the lack of public support to organ transplantation. Whereas in US, the notion of “gift of life,” with its inherent altruism, allegedly give meaning to the individual death, and, thus, support the ethics of transplant. Another important issue is the role of technology within society, Lock says that in Japan “A tension between technology as both creator and destroyer of culture is evident” (231). Whereas in US, bio-technology is a central force that propels a highly corporative and non-inclusive biomedicine. For Lock, there is a need for a middle ground that avoid “the silencing of individual suffering in the name of nationalism, or professional or governmental interest” (237).