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Impossible gifts: Bodies, Buddhism and Bioethics in Contemporary Sri Lanka

Simpson, R.



The ethical concerns generated by transactions in human tissue touch on fundamental ideas of the body, society, and the nature of giving. These issues have generally been discussed using Euro-American terms of reference. Drawing on fieldwork carried out in Sri Lanka, this article describes the ways in which a distinctively Theravāda Buddhist notion of giving and charity has been linked to the development of strategies to encourage the donation of human tissue. Eye and blood donation are used as illustrations of the linkages that have been forged between religious duty, other-wordly aspirations, and nationalist sentiment in the development of national donation services. The key question which is then addressed is how these distinctive beliefs and values inform attempts to frame donations of sperm and ova which are now beginning to take place in Sri Lanka. In religious and cultural terms the candidacy of sperm and ova as gifts appears to be evaluated very differently. Explaining these differences opens up the possibility of a more thoroughgoing anthropological critique of bioethics and the manner of its diffusion both within and beyond the Euro-American context.


Simpson, R. (2004). Impossible gifts: Bodies, Buddhism and Bioethics in Contemporary Sri Lanka. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 10(4), 839-859.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Dec 1, 2004
Deposit Date Aug 1, 2008
Journal Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
Print ISSN 1359-0987
Electronic ISSN 1467-9655
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 10
Issue 4
Pages 839-859
Keywords Organ donation, Gift, Buddhism, gamete donation, Sri Lanka.
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