Scientific Research Project Title

TechnEmotion: The Interaction between Technology and Emotion in Transplant Medicine

Research Institution

University of Copenhagen

University of Copenhagen

Research field

anthropology

Research leader

Anja Marie Bornø Jensen

Associate Professor

Project title

TechnEmotion: The Interaction between Technology and Emotion in Transplant Medicine

What is your project about?

TechnEmotion deals with the interaction between technology and emotion in organ transplantation. The hope of solving the constant organ shortage gives rise to many new medical technologies presenting us with new treatment options, new ethical dilemmas and new ways of interfering with human and animal bodies. October 2021, American surgeons succeeded in transplanting a kidney from a genetically modified pig to human, donated organs can now function and be optimized in machines, babies are born from a transplanted uterus and in 2022, Denmark will implement a new death criterion for organ donors, donation after circulatory death (cardiac death). The new technologies challenge well-known boundaries between life and death, body and machine, humans and animals and make us contemplate what it means to be human. Therefore, I want to explore the ethical and existential implications of new transplant technologies. Focusing on emotional practices, I investigate how humans are affected when faced with these new technologies. In particular, I also focus on the role and power of emotions when new transplant technologies are developed, implemented and received.

How did you become interested in your particular field of research?

Half way through my anthropology study, I became interested in medical anthropology, and after reading the first text about organ transplantation, there was no way back for me. I did my master thesis on American donor families in New York Organ Donor Network, and faced with what to me was a very different and fascinating American approach, I was inspired to do my Ph.D. on organ donation and donor families in Denmark. Later, I conducted research in other areas of transplantation; such as organ recipients, transplant professionals, data practices, and research on animal models. Through my fieldwork research, I have been close to people when they faced difficult choices, big dilemmas, grief, joy, hope, and fear, and I have always had a particular interest for the experiences and reactions of both patients, families, and healthcare professionals. Transplantation is about life and death, and it is characterized by big emotions and technological hope. Right now, there is a tremendous development in the field of transplantation, and I am driven by a big curiosity towards how we move from technological innovation, to clinical practice and social accept.

What are the scientific challenges and perspectives in your project?

The medico-technological advancements of organ transplantation expand the practical, ethical, and legal margins of modern medicine and redefine human life and death. Transplant technologies depend not only on scientific innovation, but also largely on willing donors and patients, cultural acceptance, and public legitimacy. Emotions matter, but where, for whom, and how do they come to play a role? In order to answer such fundamental questions, TechnEmotion investigates several areas within the future of transplantation: Donation after circulatory death, organs in machines, uterus transplantation, anonymous kidney donation and research on transplantation from animal to human. For an anthropologist, it is always an ambition to be close to the world and the people we study. Through anthropological methods such as participant observation, interviews and digital ethnography, we want to study close up how emotions are expressed, used and what significance they have when patients, families, health professionals and political actors face, work with or communicate new transplant technologies. Thereby TechnEmotion can provide knowledge on the implications of the future developments within organ transplantation and the interaction between new technology and human emotion.

What is your estimate of the impact, which your project may have to society in the long term?

Organ transplantation is often debated in public media and raises fundamental questions on freedom of choice, duty, altruism, and autonomy, as well as the role of the Welfare state in the life and death of its individuals. As researcher, I prioritize bringing my anthropological results into play with many actors and contribute to the development of medical practice and the public and political debate. With TechnEmotion, my team and I have a unique opportunity to deliver new anthropological knowledge on how people are affected by and interact with new technologies. This will be of particular relevance now in the light of the accelerating technological development within transplantation and with Denmark facing the implementation of a new death criterion for organ donation. Our results can contribute to developing tools for better care and information that is more specific when new technologies are communicated publicly and used in clinical practice. In addition, TechnEmotion can be an entry point for understanding and conceptualizing the interaction between new technology and emotion, not only within organ transplantation, but also in other areas where people’s surroundings, health and disease, life and death are affected groundbreaking technological innovation.

Which impact do you expect the Sapere Aude programme will have on your career as a researcher?

It is a tremendous honor and recognition to receive a grant like the Sapere Aude and get the opportunity to do research on the future of organ transplantation, which is my biggest interest. It is also a dream for me to manage my own research group. I find great joy and inspiration in collaborating with my brilliant young colleagues and help them along in their careers. In addition, the grant ensures that I can fulfill my long-term goals for my working life, expand my international network and contribute to underline the importance of medical anthropology and the value of cross-disciplinary collaboration.

Background and personal life

I grew up in the village Horne in the Southern part of Funen, and now I live in Dragør with my husband who is a jazz piano player and our daughters who are 10 and 5 years old. In my spare time, I love having fun with my family and good friends, attending concerts, running, and walking in nature. I have a soft spot for New York, where we have lived on several occasions, colorful flea market ceramics, and music hits from the 80s and 90s.

City of your current residence

Dragør

High school

Faaborg Gymnasium