“If she's a vegetable, we'll be her garden”: Embodiment, transcendence, and citations of competing cultural metaphors in the case of a dying child



In this article, I explore a struggle between parents and medical professionals to define the meaning and value of a critically ill child, Jasperlynn. I argue that the parents, who refused to sign a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order, transformed the perceptions of the medical professionals by affiliating themselves with powerful moral signifiers. In particular, I explore the roles of embodiment and transcendence as they relate to the contest over the assignment of cultural metaphors defining Jasperlynn's life. I use the term embodiment-by-proxy to describe the ways in which the parents and the professionals each attempted to change the others' dispositions toward Jasperlynn, or to become what Thomas Csordas calls “specialists in cultural objectification.” Ultimately, the only weapon the parents had in their struggle to change the value and meaning of Jasperlynn's life was their newly acquired religious consciousness. Through the family's demonstration of their deep commitment to God and family, many professionals came to realize that the value of Jasperlynn's life lay in her relationship to her parents. In effect, the parents were able to transform medicine's object to include the family.