Body wholeness and the infant : a sociological study of the practice of pathology
‘The body’ has played a central role in sociological theory and to a lesser extent empirical research over the last two decades. However, the dead body and the infant body remain largely absent in this ‘turn to the body’. This absence is addressed by focusing on the infant body and the practice of pathology via an analysis of the ‘organ retention scandal’ in the UK. This arose when it was revealed that organs and tissues had been retained after postmortem, without, arguably, the consent of parents, and their response challenged medical sciences’ claim to the dead body. Human tissue is increasingly central to the advancement of medical science; however the incorporation of the body into a wholly medico-scientific framework contrasts with the revival of a historical discourse which has posited, not only the body, but also body parts, and body fragments as self. These discourses clearly impact on acceptance of the use of human tissue for therapeutic, diagnostic and research purposes, and become particularly acute when refracted through the infant body. This thesis explores the social significance of ‘body wholeness’ and the processes by which medical, legal, and scientific discourses define what the body is through a discourse analysis that draws on a range of documentary material produced in the wake of the ‘organ retention scandal’, and a qualitative study of medical students’ experiences of whole body dissection. The thesis argues that the infant body continues to occupy a metaphysical presence in the lives of many parents, and that in seeking to restore their child to 'wholeness’ their actions problematise the boundaries between life and death, body and self. Nevertheless, by focusing on consent medical, legal and scientific discourses effectively marginalise concerns about ‘body wholeness’ and in addition, displace the discourses of property and commodity, by that of the gift and postmortem citizenship.