Organs without grief: the potentials of the pig model in Danish experimental transplantation research

This week in the CRESIDA seminar series, our speaker is Anja Jensen from the University of Copenhagen, who is sharing her research on the potentials of the pig model in Danish experimental transplantation research. Come and join us on Thursday, March 7th at 4.15pm in Room G070 at Parkstead House to learn more.

Anja Jensen


In Danish transplant experiments, research pigs constitute near-human patients. Hearts and lungs from pigs are removed and put on machines so surgeons can become familiar with the technology of organ perfusion and preservation. In other experiments, pig kidneys are perfused adding stem cells and transplanted into the pig again. The hope is that one day, the results of these experiments will enable the inclusion of marginal donors, improve surgical expertise, and optimize organ function in donation after cardiac death transplants; a death criterion not yet implemented in Danish transplantation. As such, the Danish research pigs play a significant role in the widespread hopes accompanying futuristic medical pursuits, which Lesley Sharp has named the “Transplant Imaginary”.

Pigs provide organs, but there is no grief. The pig’s moving in and out of the categories of pig and patient, animal and human, turns the pig into a trickster, which never falls into category. As trickster it possesses its magical power by its constant flux and its ability to create a unique social space in the surgical lab. This social space constitutes a platform for leading research at the same time as being a playful scene of a renegotiation of the social order of clinical structures and practices. Victor Turner’s concept of “communitas” helps us uncover this space.

Drawing from fieldwork among Danish transplant surgeons performing these experiments, this paper discusses how the pig becomes a reliable substitute for the human, how participating in the experimental practices become valuable for staff in the clinic, and how the moral work of animal experimentation interacts with current and future clinical life. The paper argues that the pig experiments carry social, existential and transformative meaning for the transplant professionals involved, and for the organization of Danish transplantation medicine.


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