Anything but the eyes
: a fine-art investigation into the refusal to donate corneas

  • Jennie Jewitt-Harris

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Organ donation is now part of daily life in the UK. We hear about it frequently in the press, often see it represented on television and are not surprised when questions about it appear while applying for a driving license or passport. The benefits of organ donation are well known and well-publicized.

The current culture in the UK is supportive of organ donation. There remains, however, a consistently significant proportion of potential donors who refuse corneal donation despite being willing to donate all other organs (NHSBT 2014). In 2016, 89 per cent of registered organ donors who had restricted their donation excluded the donation of corneas. The concern regarding corneal donation for some people is so great that the social and moral pressure to donate cannot overcome it.

This thesis analyses the findings of a fine art practice-based investigation into the common refusal to agree to donate corneas in the event of death. The goal of the research is to investigate through artistic practice the concerns that underpin the unique relationship with the eyes, to provide a new perspective and understanding of this logically curious yet emotionally understandable phenomenon of corneal donation refusal. This practice-based research questions whether it is possible to use art as a medium to connect with and embody the feelings experienced by people who do not want to donate their corneas.
Creative practice is used to investigate material from contextual research and from interviews with people who have specifically decided to refuse to donate their corneas but are willing to donate all other organs. A semi-structured interview technique, developed for this research, is used to elicit beliefs and metaphors of interviewees that underpin their concerns, providing the material to investigate through practice. The resulting artworks present an alternative language to communicate, express, embody and explore the concerns.

Further insight into this issue is important. The new knowledge generated in this research presents an insight into the barriers to corneal donation and considers whether they may be overcome through education or communication, or whether it may be appropriate to change the approach to encouraging corneal donation. The insights provide new information on which further strategies for research can be developed, and require a greater understanding of the non-religious spiritual and philosophical concerns that underpin fears to donate, and the requirement for open discussion about the need for some people to opt-out of donation of certain organs.
Date of AwardAug 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorVictoria Kelley (Supervisor), Edward Chell (Supervisor), Jamie Dobson (Supervisor) & Trevor Keeble (Supervisor)

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