Bodily disrepair
Bioprecarity in the context of humanitarian surgical missions
in Bodily interventions and intimate labour
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Paediatric heart surgery missions define an emergent, high-tech form of medical humanitarianism characterized by their focus not on populations in crisis, but on broken body parts – in this case, damaged paediatric hearts. Comprised of specialists from the world’s most elite medical centres, mission teams make visits to poor countries to perform highly specialized and otherwise prohibitively expensive surgical procedures on children with few alternatives for survival. A team’s success is measured in terms of patient volume, surgical complexity and the probability of the patient being well enough to leave the hospital within thirty days. This chapter explores the forms of bioprecarity that both precede and follow mission visits and that inadvertently affect the very patients whose surgeries are publicly billed as ‘successes’. As much as surgical missions aim to repair paediatric bodies in distress, they, too, produce new anxieties, uncertainties and biological vulnerabilities for patients and their families that are often visible only long after missions depart from the host country. These findings emerged from thirteen months of ethnographic fieldwork carried out in Honduras, where I carried out observations and interviews in public hospitals before, during, and after visits by paediatric heart surgery missions and in the homes of surgical patients.

Bodily interventions and intimate labour

Understanding bioprecarity

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