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Ka mura ka muri: understandings of organ donation and transplantation in Aotearoa New Zealand
  1. Rhonda Shaw1,
  2. Robert Webb2
  1. 1 Sociology, School of Social and Cultural Studies, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand
  2. 2 Criminology, Social Sciences, The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
  1. Correspondence to Dr Rhonda Shaw, Victoria University of Wellington School of Social and Cultural Studies, Wellington 6140, New Zealand;{at}


In this article, we refer to the separation of solid organs from the body as bio-objects. We suggest that the transfer of these bio-objects is connected to emotions and affects that carry a range of different social and cultural meanings specific to the context of Aotearoa New Zealand. The discussion draws on research findings from a series of qualitative indepth interview studies conducted from 2008 to 2013 with Māori (the Indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand) and Pākehā (European settler New Zealanders) concerning their views on organ donation and transplantation. Our findings show both differences and similarities between Māori and Pākehā understandings of transplantation. Nevertheless, while many Māori draw on traditional principles, values and beliefs to reflect on their experiences in relation to embodiment, gift-giving, identity and well-being, Pākehā tend to subscribe to more Western understandings of identity in terms of health and well-being, in line with international literature on the topic. Rather than reflecting individualistic notions of the body and transplantation as the endpoint of healthcare as do Pākehā, Māori views are linked to wider conceptions of family, ancestry and belonging, demonstrating how different rationalities and ontologies affect practices and understandings surrounding organ transfer technology. In the article, we focus predominantly on Māori perspectives of organ transfer, contextualising the accounts and experiences of our research participants against the backdrop of a long history of settler colonialism and health inequalities in Aotearoa New Zealand.

  • philosophy of medicine/health care
  • sociology
  • cross-cultural studies

Data availability statement

No data are available. Data reported in this article have been destroyed in line with institutional human ethics committee requirements.

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Data availability statement

No data are available. Data reported in this article have been destroyed in line with institutional human ethics committee requirements.

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  • Contributors RS was responsible for conception, design, write-up and revision of the article. RS and RW contributed to data collection, interpretation and analysis of data. Both authors commented on drafts of the article.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.