During my first fieldwork visit to Mexico I found myself encountering the
same striking story again and again, a story centered on a young boy in kid-
ney failure, the son of a Mexican father and a German mother. Initially diag-
nosed in the city of Guadalajara, the boy was then taken by his (relatively af-
fluent) parents to Germany for additional consultations. In both places they
were told that a kidney transplant was the best hope for their son. In Mexico,
a living donor transplant was all that was offered, given the local scarcity of
organs obtained from brain-dead (or cadaveric) donors.1 In Germany, how-
ever, physicians strongly advised a cadaveric transplant— a recommendation
based, in part, on an aversion to the instrumental use of living bodies in the
long aftermath of the Nazi era (Hogle 1999). After much consideration, the
German mother decided to give a kidney to her increasingly ill son, moti-
vated by the somewhat higher success rates with living donor transplants
over cadaveric ones.2 Once so decided, went the story, German physicians
advised the couple to return to Mexico, deferring to the greater experience
and expertise of their Mexican transplant colleagues with living donation.
The mother’s German natal family, by all reports, was horrified and an-
gered by her decision, and vehemently opposed the donation. It seemed
inconceivable to them that she would risk herself when another option ex-
isted. The mother, however, determined to do everything possible for her
son, rejected their pleas that she reconsider. The family returned to Mexico
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