Life with an Implantable Cardiac Defibrillator: The Becoming of the Everyday Cyborg

Speaker: Gill Haddow # University of Edinburgh

23rd Jan 2017

15:30 - 17:00

Staff Room, 6th Floor, Chrystal Macmillan Building


“[I] had it [ICD] fitted in there, I wanted to tear it back out again. I did…I was quite…I…I don’t know what the word was, but I just didn’t like it in there…I didn’t want it…I felt that you…you were conscious of it being there all the time…” (Ronald).

In most economically developed countries, Implantable Cardiac Defibrillators are viewed as the gold standard medical treatment for avoiding death caused by sudden cardiac arrest. Despite the technology’s life-saving properties however, research has shown that an ICD causes a variety of emotional, psychological, physical and social challenges for some recipients and their families. In this article, I outline why biomedicine’s reliance on technical solutions to disease, such as ICDs, can make life difficult for some. Findings from semi-structured interviews with 21 ICD patients and 13 of their significant others suggest that an ICD can be challenging due to its unique positioning both on and in the body and possible functioning in life. I argue the recipients of ICDs are everyday cyborgs because 1) inserting an ICD cybernetic technology (cyb) into an organism (org) creates a cyborg (Clynes and Kline, 1960) and 2) the term ‘everyday’ is used here specifically and intentionally to describe these medically created cyborgs whose everyday lives cannot be taken-for-granted (Das, 2010 ). I will focus on stories that the everyday ICD cyborgs told, or tried to tell, as the quote from Ronald shows, about living life with a heart device. Their narratives highlight how ICDs made their everyday experiences distinctive from other cardiac patients in two ways 1) an awareness of a new inorganic-organic hybrid identity and 2) the autonomous functioning of the device compromises the autonomy of the cyborg. In concluding, I speculate, about the emergence of a biomedical nemesis that may impact on the alleged benefits from a posthuman condition.