Organ transplantation in fiction

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Organ transplantation is a common theme in science fiction and horror fiction. Numerous horror movies feature the theme of transplanted body parts that are evil or give supernatural powers, with examples including Body Parts , Hands of a Stranger , and The Eye .

Organ transplantation moving of an organ from one body or body region to another

Organ transplantation is a medical procedure in which an organ is removed from one body and placed in the body of a recipient, to replace a damaged or missing organ. The donor and recipient may be at the same location, or organs may be transported from a donor site to another location. Organs and/or tissues that are transplanted within the same person's body are called autografts. Transplants that are recently performed between two subjects of the same species are called allografts. Allografts can either be from a living or cadaveric source.

Science fiction Genre of speculative fiction

Science fiction is a genre of speculative fiction that has been called the "literature of ideas". It typically deals with imaginative and futuristic concepts such as advanced science and technology, time travel, parallel universes, fictional worlds, space exploration, and extraterrestrial life. It often explores the potential consequences of scientific innovations.

Horror fiction genre of fiction

Horror is a genre of speculative fiction which is intended to frighten, scare, disgust, or startle its readers by inducing feelings of horror and terror. Literary historian J. A. Cuddon defined the horror story as "a piece of fiction in prose of variable length... which shocks, or even frightens the reader, or perhaps induces a feeling of repulsion or loathing". It creates an eerie and frightening atmosphere. Horror is frequently supernatural, though it might be also non-supernatural. Often the central menace of a work of horror fiction can be interpreted as a metaphor for the larger fears of a society.


Organ transplants from donors who are unwilling, or incapable of objecting, to having their organs removed are a recurring theme in dystopian fiction.

In contrast to unwilling organ donors, there is the theme of individuals who want to donate their own life-critical organs, such as a brain or heart, at the cost of their own life.

Organ theft

The term "organlegging" was coined by Larry Niven in a series of short stories set in his Known Space future universe originally published in a 1976 collection called The Long ARM of Gil Hamilton, later expanded and re-released as Flatlander. The story The Patchwork Girl was also published alone as a novel in 1986.

Organlegging is the name of a fictional crime in the Known Space universe created by Larry Niven. It is the illicit trade of black market human organs for transplant. The term organlegging is a portmanteau combining the words "organ" and "bootlegging", literally the piracy and smuggling of organs.

Larry Niven American science fiction writer

Laurence van Cott Niven is an American science fiction writer. His best-known works are Ringworld (1970), which received Hugo, Locus, Ditmar, Nebula awards, and The Mote in God's Eye (1974). The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America named him the 2015 recipient of the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award. His work is primarily hard science fiction, using big science concepts and theoretical physics. It also often includes elements of detective fiction and adventure stories. His fantasy includes the series The Magic Goes Away, rational fantasy dealing with magic as a non-renewable resource.

Known Space is the fictional setting of about a dozen science fiction novels and several collections of short stories written by Larry Niven. It has also become a shared universe in the spin-off Man-Kzin Wars anthologies. ISFDB catalogs all works set in the fictional universe that includes Known Space under the series name Tales of Known Space, which was the title of a 1975 collection of Niven's short stories. The first-published work in the series, which was Niven's first published piece was "The Coldest Place", in the December 1964 issue of If magazine, edited by Frederik Pohl. This was the first-published work in the 1975 collection.

In Robin Cook's 1978 novel Coma , set in the present day, the organ thieves operate in a hospital, removing the organs from patients in a facility for the long-term care of patients in a vegetative state. The story was also made into a film, Coma in 1978, and later into a two-part television miniseries aired in 2012 on the A&E television network.

Robin Cook (American novelist) American physician and novelist

Robert Brian "Robin" Cook is an American physician and novelist who writes about medicine and topics affecting public health.

<i>Coma</i> (novel) novel by Robin Cook

Coma is Robin Cook's first commercially successful novel, published by Signet Book in 1977. Coma was preceded in 1973 by Cook's lesser known novel, Year of the Intern.

<i>Coma</i> (1978 film) 1978 film by Michael Crichton

Coma is a 1978 Metrocolor American suspense film in Panavision based on the 1977 novel of the same name by Robin Cook. The film rights were acquired by director Michael Crichton, and the movie was produced by Martin Erlichmann for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The cast includes Geneviève Bujold, Michael Douglas, Elizabeth Ashley, Richard Widmark, and Rip Torn. Among the actors in smaller roles are Tom Selleck, Lois Chiles, and Ed Harris.

Organ theft is a theme in a number of horror movies, including Turistas , and also (in a less overtly horrific manner) as a theme in realistic dramas such as Dirty Pretty Things and Inhale .

<i>Turistas</i> 2006 American horror film directed by John Stockwell

Turistas, released in the United Kingdom and Ireland as Paradise Lost, is a 2006 American horror film produced and directed by John Stockwell and starring Josh Duhamel, Melissa George, Olivia Wilde, Desmond Askew, Beau Garrett, and Max Brown. Its plot focuses on a group of international backpackers in Brazil who find themselves in the clutches of an underground organ harvesting ring.

<i>Dirty Pretty Things</i> (film) 2002 film by Stephen Frears

Dirty Pretty Things is a 2002 British social thriller film directed by Stephen Frears and written by Steven Knight. Following the lives of two immigrants in London, it was filmed in a documentary style and was produced by BBC Films and Celador Films.

<i>Inhale</i> (film) 2010 film by Baltasar Kormákur

Inhale is a 2010 American thriller film directed by Baltasar Kormákur. It stars Dermot Mulroney and Diane Kruger.

In the TV series, Trigun, the protagonist's severed left arm had been transplanted without his knowledge onto an antagonist's left shoulder.

<i>Trigun</i> Japanese media franchise

Trigun is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Yasuhiro Nightow. The manga was serialized in Tokuma Shoten's Shōnen Captain in 1995 with three collected volumes when the magazine was discontinued in 1997. The series continued in Shōnen Gahosha's Young King Ours magazine, under the title Trigun Maximum, where it remained until finishing in 2008.

State-sanctioned organ transplants from criminals

The same series of Larry Niven stories also contains the theme of organ donation from criminals becoming institutionalized within society to the point where even minor crimes are punished by death, in order to ensure the supply of new organs to an aging population. Niven originally developed this theme in his novel A Gift From Earth , first published in 1968 and also set in his Known Space universe. In A Gift From Earth, the descendants of colonists from an interstellar colonization mission are preyed upon by the descendants of the crew, who enact laws that make even the most minor offences carry the death penalty to allow their organs to be "harvested" and stored in "organ banks" for later use.

The theme had previously been explored by Frederik Pohl and Jack Williamson in their 1964 novel The Reefs of Space , the first novel of their Starchild Trilogy, in which mankind labours under the "Plan of Man", enforced by computers within a surveillance state. Unlike in Niven's novels, donors are kept alive for as long as possible to enable more organs to be removed for transplant until they eventually succumb from their injuries. The novel also features a Frankenstein-like theme of a man assembled entirely from the body parts of others.

In Sui Ishida's 2014 dark fantasy manga series, Tokyo Ghoul, a state sanctioned organ transplant is performed between an unwilling donor and the main character of the series. It was the subject of much controversy in the series itself. Unbeknown to the surgeons however, the unwilling donor was a ghoul, a monster who eats human flesh, causing the main character to have ghoul-like characteristics.

Organ transplants from victims raised to be organ donors

The idea of state-sanctioned involuntary organ transplants is taken one step further by the concept of creating people solely for the purpose of acting as organ donors. Generally, these donors are clones of their eventual organ recipients. This idea has been explored by several writers.

The 1979 science fiction horror film Parts: The Clonus Horror , written by Bob Sullivan and Ron Smith, is set in an isolated community in a remote desert area, where clones are bred to serve as a source of replacement organs for the wealthy and powerful. The clones are kept in a seemingly idyllic environment of apparent leisure and luxury, right up to the point where they are killed for their organs.

Michael Marshall Smith's novel Spares has a similar premise. Unlike the clones in Parts: The Clonus Horror, the clones are kept in conditions resembling those of farm animals or a concentration camp.

The 2005 American science fiction action thriller film The Island continues the theme, where clones live in a highly structured environment isolated in a compound. After the movie's hero learns that the compound inhabitants are clones who are used for organ harvesting and surrogate motherhood for wealthy people in the outside world, he escapes.

Kazuo Ishiguro's 2005 dystopian novel Never Let Me Go also has a similar theme to its predecessors, but lacks the action-adventure theme of the previous works, concentrating on the characters' feelings and personal stories and the development of psychological horror at their plight. It was later made into a 2010 British drama film of the same name.

Recently, a commission for Radio 7, (now called BBC radio 4 Extra), called Jefferson 37 by Jenny Stephens also explores the same theme in a four-part radio play. The whole plot takes place within Abbotsville, a free range laboratory, where the clones are deliberately dehumanised. The story culminates with their humanity resisting the desire to quash it.

The plot of Unwind , a 2007 science fiction novel by young adult literature author Neal Shusterman, takes place in the United States, after a civil war somewhere in the near future. After a civil war is fought over abortion, a compromise was reached, allowing parents to sign an order for their children between the ages of 13 and 18 years old to be "unwound"—taken to "harvest camps" and having their body parts harvested for later use. The reasoning was that, since all their organs were required to be used, unwinds did not technically die, because their individual body parts lived on.

Organ repossession

The idea of the repossession of transplanted organs has also been used in fiction, in the films Repo Men , and Repo! The Genetic Opera .

Self-sacrificial organ donation

In the film John Q., the character played by Denzel Washington takes a hospital hostage in hopes to force the surgical staff to transplant his heart into his dying son. In the TV series Psycho Pass, the antagonist is given the opportunity to donate his brain to help power a system that determines if an someone is likely to perform a crime.


Organ transplantation has also been used as a major plot element in a number of comedies, including Przekładaniec (1968, Poland), The Thing with Two Heads (1972) and The Man With Two Brains (1983).

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