>(Edited for typos – I guess I can’t listen to audiobooks and blog at the same time.)
The Women’s Bioethics Project has begun a Bioethics Book Club on their website. The Club pages include “kits” on the selected books, with thoughtful and thought-provoking questions. There are even links to sample letters (in Word Files – .doc ) for readers to send to their legislators to “ban,” “encourage,” and/or “regulate” research in Human Germline Genetic Modification.
I’ve already read Never Let Me Go and I’m currently reading My Sister’s Keeper(“listening” to the latter, actually – the book is available at Audible, as well as in the form of an “ebook”, conventional hardcover and paperback versions on Amazon). Oryx and Crake is by Margaret Atwood, the same author who wrote The Handmaid’s Tale.
I believe that the selections are a pretty good start, but I have a preference for my own, wider, list of stories and novels with bioethics subjects. Most of my list is science fiction. (And the lessons are much more subtle, in most cases – although my comments may not be.)
Warning: spoilers follow!!!
Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go is an incredible novel that seems to be the diary of a shallow young woman. The story slowly draws you into a world where children are created, nurtured until adulthood, and finally harvested for their parts. None of them seem to understand why they are donors and rebellion, on the rare occasion that it is expressed, is incredibly (there’s that word, again) understated. But, knowing the range of human nature, it’s credible.
I’m enjoying My Sister’s Keeper, as much as I can enjoy an excellent telling of the story of a family which has become absorbed in the sickness of one child which causes them to create another to use for the benefit of the second. The fire metaphors are great.
I haven’t started the 3rd novel, and probably wouldn’t have considered it if it hadn’t been on the list. I read The Handmaid’s Tale back when it first came out. There was a bit of truth in the story, but the agenda was as obvious as that in any hell and brimstone sermon. The Scarlet Letter is much better written, and The Crucible is subtle in comparison.
I’m a fan of science fiction stories and novels that deal with bioethics. Not all SF does – some are just horror stories, westerns or swashbucklers set in space or some technological setting. It seems that these are the ones that become Hollywood movies.
SF that explores the interaction of science, medicine, research ethics and human nature can inform us about what I believe are lessons we don’t have to learn the hard way.
Nancy Kress, Kate Smith, Elizabeth Moon, Anne McCaffery, and Lois McMaster Bujold are women who tell good stories, that just happen to be about people (both human and non-human) who know that their lives are the result of manipulations by other people, using science and medicine.
Nancy Kress has written many insightful stories, told with out preaching or stereotyping, about genetically modified “designer babies” and their families.
From the introduction to a collection of short stories entitled Trinity:
A friend pointed out to me that nearly all my fiction contains the same theme: absence of God. More specifically, I write about what people use to make sense of the world when they do not believe in the concept of a Supreme Being.
Her remark annoyed me, mostly because it was true and I had not, until then, realized it. My characters embraced — sometimes desperately — mysticism, art, reincarnation, even an anguished desire for UFO’s in valiant or pathetic attempts to feel connected to the larger universe.
It’s not surprising that people will cling to what appears to be a miraculous or technological answer to all our fears or our secret desires. We all want to live longer, to be stronger, to achieve, or at least to be in control and “connected.”
I don’t believe that there’s anything necessarily or essentially wrong with even the most ridiculous attempts at gaining this control. Although I have a strong “yuk” factor myself, I require a better reason to restrain someone else from their pursuits.
Except, as in all human pursuits, we must stop at the point when any human is redefined as a tool to use for our own purposes.