Sociological Questions

1. What social views and values about medicine, society, and the body are reflected in policies that allow or forbid the selling of human organs? Whose views are these?

2. Which social groups are in conflict over this issue? Whose interests are served by laws forbidding the sale of human organs? By laws permitting it?

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3. Which of these groups has more power to enforce its view? What kinds of power do they have?

4. What are the intended consequences of permitting the sale of human organs? What are the unintended social, economic, political, and health consequences of this policy?

social movements focus on winning medical acknowledgement for contested ill- nesses. For example, few doctors believe in the existence of “multiple chemical sensitivity,” which is theorized to make some individuals ill whenever they contact any of the many chemicals common to everyday modern life. Persons who believe they have this condition have organized to lobby for medical recognition of their condition and to sue insurance companies that refuse to cover their treatment.

The rise of health social movements reflects a variety of factors. The civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights movements set the stage for a broader discussion of rights and a broader acceptance of political action across American culture. Health social movements are partly a product of this changed cultural climate. In addition, the same cultural and technological forces that in- creased the use of the Internet and alternative health care have fostered health so- cial movements by reinforcing the idea that individuals have the right to challenge medical authority. Individuals are most likely to participate in health social move- ments when they come to believe that medical authorities have failed to protect them (or their loved ones) from diseases, to identify their diseases, or to treat their diseases appropriately. For example, the environmental breast cancer movement was organized primarily by women affected by the disease who questioned why medical research has focused almost exclusively on early diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer rather than on prevention. As this example suggests, people who live with illness and disability are not simply victims of their fate. Rather, they may actively work to better their situation and those of others like them.

Illness and disability threaten self-concept in various ways. People who be- come physically deformed or less attractive often find it difficult to maintain their self-images. And no matter how attractive a disabled person is, others typically assume they lack sexual desire. Similarly, those who lose their financial standing or their social roles as worker, student, spouse, or parent due to illness or disability can find it difficult to maintain their sense of self. In addition, the need to rely on others for assistance can shake individuals’ images of themselves as competent adults.

To cope with these threats to the self, individuals sometimes attempt in- tellectually to separate their essential selves from their recalcitrant bodies. They might mention how their leg is acting up today, as if they were talking about a neighbor rather than a part of their body, or talk about their lives and their selves with no mention of their bodies at all. This strategy succeeds best when symptoms follow a predictable course and the problem affects only one part of the body.

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