The Messenger is an original work of devised theatre based on interviews with nurses involved in organ donation. The show translates the ethical and emotional dilemmas of their work into a highly stylised, physical, visual rendering, investigating the membrane between life and death, and the extraordinary group of nurses who work there. The Messenger follows one family's journey towards donating their child's heart, as told by a group of Specialist Nurses. The show explores the emotional volatility of grief, the complexity of family dynamics, and the ethics of consent.
Specialist Nurses in Organ Donation (SN-ODs) are responsible for approaching families of patients who could become organ donors. The question of organ donation adds a heightened level of emotional volatility to families in an already fraught situation. Families can be split about the decision they have to take—sometimes over-riding the patient's own wishes to donate. The SN-OD's role is to guide the family through this process. Their work is full of medical, ethical and emotional landmines, yet it literally saves lives—they facilitate the gift of organ donation.
Historically, public engagement with organ donation and transplantation has focused on the life-saving consequences of donation. Because of social taboos around discussion of death and end-of-life care, there has been limited emphasis on the donation process itself, and what it entails both for the patient and their loved ones. Because The Messenger follows the donation process, it offers an invaluable opportunity to study and analyse public response to being presented with the details of donation—research that could influence stakeholders’ attitudes to greater openness in public engagement with organ donation and transplantation.
Funded by London (September 2014)