A Death Retold

Jesica Santillan, the Bungled Transplant, and Paradoxes of Medical Citizenship

Edited by Keith Wailoo, Julie Livingston, Peter Guarnaccia

392 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 7 illus., notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5773-1
    Published: November 2006
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-7752-4
    Published: September 2009
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-8129-8
    Published: September 2009

Studies in Social Medicine

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In February 2003, an undocumented immigrant teen from Mexico lay dying in a prominent American hospital due to a stunning medical oversight--she had received a heart-lung transplantation of the wrong blood type. In the following weeks, Jesica Santillan's tragedy became a portal into the complexities of American medicine, prompting contentious debate about new patterns and old problems in immigration, the hidden epidemic of medical error, the lines separating transplant "haves" from "have-nots," the right to sue, and the challenges posed by "foreigners" crossing borders for medical care.

This volume draws together experts in history, sociology, medical ethics, communication and immigration studies, transplant surgery, anthropology, and health law to understand the dramatic events, the major players, and the core issues at stake. Contributors view the Santillan story as a morality tale: about the conflicting values underpinning American health care; about the politics of transplant medicine; about how a nation debates deservedness, justice, and second chances; and about the global dilemmas of medical tourism and citizenship.


Charles Bosk, University of Pennsylvania

Leo R. Chavez, University of California, Irvine

Richard Cook, University of Chicago

Thomas Diflo, New York University Medical Center

Jason Eberl, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

Jed Adam Gross, Yale University

Jacklyn Habib, American Association of Retired Persons

Tyler R. Harrison, Purdue University

Beatrix Hoffman, Northern Illinois University

Nancy M. P. King, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Barron Lerner, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

Susan E. Lederer, Yale University

Julie Livingston, Rutgers University

Eric M. Meslin, Indiana University School of Medicine and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

Susan E. Morgan, Purdue University

Nancy Scheper-Hughes, University of California, Berkeley

Rosamond Rhodes, Mount Sinai School of Medicine and The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Carolyn Rouse, Princeton University

Karen Salmon, New England School of Law

Lesley Sharp, Barnard and Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

Lisa Volk Chewning, Rutgers University

Keith Wailoo, Rutgers University

About the Authors

Keith Wailoo is Martin Luther King Professor of History and author of the award-winning Dying in the City of the Blues: Sickle Cell Anemia and the Politics of Race and Health (from the University of North Carolina Press).
For more information about Keith Wailoo, visit the Author Page.

Julie Livingston is assistant professor of history and author of Debility and the Moral Imagination in Botswana.
For more information about Julie Livingston, visit the Author Page.

Peter Guarnaccia is a medical anthropologist in the Department of Human Ecology and has published numerous articles on cross-cultural issues in mental health.
For more information about Peter Guarnaccia, visit the Author Page.


"Well worth reading. . . . Recommended."--CHOICE

"Provides inspiration and insight . . . for those grappling with the paradoxes of organ transplants in other settings."--Medical History

"This valued text belongs on the reference shelves in the libraries of our colleges of medicine and nursing, as this text could serve as the primary reference for an entire semester ethics course."--Journal of the National Medical Association

"This cautionary tale is well worth reading. Recommended."--CHOICE

“Experts in history, sociology, medical ethics, communication, immigrations studies, transplant surgery, anthropology, and health law . . . provide a broad overview of some of the most interesting issues facing organ transplantation today. . . . A very worthwhile read.”--American Journal of Transplantation

“The linchpin for this remarkable set of essays is the death of an illegal immigrant due to a ‘botched’ transplant. Situating discussion of this particular medical error and responses to it in a broad context, contributors raise vexing questions about medical citizenship, human rights and justice, immigration policies, and the global activity of organ tourism and trafficking. Intransigent moral and social problems associated with transplant technology are laid bare for critical reflection.”--Margaret Lock, author of Twice Dead: Organ Transplants and the Reinvention of Death