Haunting Transplants: The Frankenstein Factor

MacDonald, Helen
September 2012
Somatechnics;Sep2012, Vol. 2 Issue 2, p216
Academic Journal
Soon after Christiaan Barnard performed the world's first successful human-to-human heart transplant in 1967, his patient Louis Washkansky declared himself to be the new 'Frankenstein' ( Sun: 7 December 1967). That joke, though it confused Mary Shelley's doctor with the creature he had made, resonated with long-held misgivings about medical scientists' work at the boundary between life and death. Washkansky was not alone in relating organ transplantation to Shelley's novel. He gave this endeavour a fictional reference point, in the form of a laboratory scientist who created life from the bits and pieces he had cut from corpses. But others made sense of organ grafting by calling upon confronting aspects of medicine's actual past, which haunted such surgery in this early period. This article, grounded in archival material, parliamentary debates and contemporary newspaper and journal reports, contributes to the historical understanding of organ transplantation as it was performed in the United Kingdom during the 1960s.


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