The Social Life of an Organ

by Anna Sophia Karamanli, Laura Küng, Tim Ludwig, Damian Linggi, Lara Engbert and Maximilian Behrendt

At some point in our lives, all of us might be asked the question “Are you a donor?”. While this topic of donating parts of your bodies after death may involve a lot of ethical as well as moral questions, the following will focus on the actual process of an organ being donated. In this scenario, an organ may well encounter various different bodies and tremendously influence the lives of numerous people.

The documentaries “Transplant” by BBC One, “Organspende – Auf Leben und Tod” by WDR, “Dying to Live” by , “Konfliktfall Organspende” by ARD, “Die Story im Ersten: Organspende” by ARD and “ Mein Leben für dich: Organspende für das eigene Kind” by WDR all cover the topic of organ donation from their own perspective. They similarly address legal organ transplantation in the Western European area and depict moral and interpersonal aspects that can occur when organs are transplanted.

“Mein Leben für dich: Organspende für das eigene Kind” by WDR

The documentary “Mein Leben für dich: Organspende für das eigene Kind” tells the story of two families that went through the procedure of living donor transplantations with their relatives and highlights the difficulties that such operations can bear. The documentary argues three main issues that occur in such situations: the necessity of private donations, the surgery’s medical complexity and the emotional effects on people involved. While watching the documentary I felt very compassionate for a little one-year-old boy that was affected by a severe kidney malfunction. This disease caused his whole body to become yellow. Despite his difficult start into life he managed to overcome two organ transplantations.



Documentary: “Transplant” by BBC One (2011)

The documentary follows the organs donated by a 65-year old women after being declared brain dead. How do you decide in the moment of being notified of your relatives death, whether to donate their organs? In a moment occupied by grief and sadness, such a decision is near to impossible. The message of the documentary highlights the importance of clear communication by everyone to whether they want to donate their organs or not. This requires the early dispute and confrontation with the topic of organ donation in society. The organ donation of the 65-year old women allowed three other persons to live their life again. Watching the documentary enabled a deeper understanding of the process of an organ donation, as well as the individual fates that are connected to such an organ transplan. The focus on the individual’s needs and moral aspects pared with the informative style makes this documentary worth watching.

Documentary: “Dying to Live” Transplant Documentary by John Robbins (2015)

John Robbin’s documentary broaches the issue of the seemingly controversial ranking system used to determine the recipients of organ donations. If you don’t happen to already have one foot in the grave the chances of you being chosen for that one heart are close to zero. This results in the fact that even though there are people whose quality of life deteriorated gravely due to their defective organ, they probably won’t get a replacement until their lives are actually at stake. This sounded very cruel to me at first, but considering the current shortage of organ donations this seems to be the only way to go to pursue the objective of saving as many lives as possible.


Documentary: “Die Story im Ersten: Organspende” by ARD (2017)

The documentation “Die Story im Ersten: Organspende” highlights the topic organ donation from different perspectives: the organ donor, the doctors, the organ recipient and the organ allocator organisation Eurotransplant. To donate an organ a compelling requirement is that the patient is brain death. Therefore the documentary explains in detail the requirements for the stadium “brain death”. By underlining the content with patients and relatives I got and deeper understanding and a more emotional perspective of the topic. I personally liked the way the documentary was structured; it showed from every step in the donation procedure an involved acteur. The documentary did not try to convince me to donate my organs but also showed affected relatives who refused to donate their relative’s organs. All in all I would recommend you to watch the documentary if you want to have and wider understanding of the topic. But I have to stress that the documentary does not really go into details.


Documentary: “Organspende – Auf Leben und Tod” by WDR (2014)

The documentary “Organspende – Auf Leben und Tod” consists of several contributions about the challenges and decisions patients, relatives and doctors are facing during the process of an organ transplantation. It highlights the problematic procedure of a cardiac transplantation and describes the most important steps. However, the most interesting part in my opinion was definitely about brain death and its diagnosis procedure because it portrayed the difficulties and moral issues doctors are facing while conducting the tests.


“Konfliktfall Organspende” by ARD

The documentary “Reportage – Konfliktfall Organspende” highlights a very difficult and controversial topic about donating organs from people that are dying to patients that are fighting for their lives in order to survive. The documentary tries to give an insight into the different stages and people that are affected by an organ transplantation. This involves not only the patient, but also the relatives that have to make crucial decisions in this process. The documentary highlights the emotional and moral conflicts that the different parties, which are involved in the whole process of organ transplantation are facing  and how they are trying to manage them.


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