Organ transplantation can provide important treatment benefits in a variety of situations. While a number of live donor procedures are now possible, procurement of organs from dead donors remains the mainstay of transplant programmes. However, cadaveric donation rates remain much lower than anticipated, and some patients who receive organs struggle to adapt to their new body. The reasons for this are not entirely explained by rational or logical means. This paper uses concepts drawn from magical thinking to try to explain some of the less apparent issues at play within the process of cadaveric organ transplantation, including both the donation and receiving of organs. Three themes are explored as potentially relevant: superstitions and rituals around death and the dead body, incorporation and the meanings attached to the transplanted organ, and survivor guilt. All three are shown to be relevant for some part of the transplantation process in at least a minority of cases. It is therefore suggested that focusing not only on the logical and scientific, but also on the ambiguous and magical may enhance the organ donation process and thus increase donation rates and the psychological adjustment of transplant recipients.
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry Vol. 44, Issue 10, p. 883-887