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Open Access Research article

How is organ transplantation depicted in internal medicine and transplantation journals

Céline Durand1, Andrée Duplantie2, Yves Chabot2, Hubert Doucet2 and Marie-Chantal Fortin13*

Author Affiliations

1 Centre de recherche du CHUM, Hôpital Notre-Dame, Pavillon J.-A.-de-Sève, 2099 Alexandre de Sève Street, Montreal, QC H2L 2W5, Canada

2 Bioethics Department, Université de Montréal, Downtown Station, P.O. Box 6128, Montreal, QC H3C 3J7, Canada

3 Transplant and Nephrology Division, Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal, Hôpital Notre-Dame, 1560 Sherbrooke Street East, Montreal, QC H2L 4M1, Canada

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BMC Medical Ethics 2013, 14:39  doi:10.1186/1472-6939-14-39

Published: 2 October 2013



In their book Spare Parts, published in 1992, Fox and Swazey criticized various aspects of organ transplantation, including the routinization of the procedure, ignorance regarding its inherent uncertainties, and the ethos of transplant professionals. Using this work as a frame of reference, we analyzed articles on organ transplantation published in internal medicine and transplantation journals between 1995 and 2008 to see whether Fox and Swazey’s critiques of organ transplantation were still relevant.


Using the PubMed database, we retrieved 1,120 articles from the top ten internal medicine journals and 4,644 articles from the two main transplantation journals (Transplantation and American Journal of Transplantation). Out of the internal medicine journal articles, we analyzed those in which organ transplantation was the main topic (349 articles). A total of 349 articles were randomly selected from the transplantation journals for content analysis.


In our sample, organ transplantation was described in positive terms and was presented as a routine treatment. Few articles addressed ethical issues, patients’ experiences and uncertainties related to organ transplantation. The internal medicine journals reported on more ethical issues than the transplantation journals. The most important ethical issues discussed were related to the justice principle: organ allocation, differential access to transplantation, and the organ shortage.


Our study provides insight into representations of organ transplantation in the transplant and general medical communities, as reflected in medical journals. The various portrayals of organ transplantation in our sample of articles suggest that Fox and Swazey’s critiques of the procedure are still relevant.

Organ transplantation; Ethical issues; Medical journals; Transplantation journals; Thematic content analysis