Ethics and/or Life-Saving Research

In Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, we are once again confronted with the ethics involved in scientific research and experimentation. In what could serve as a warning to us all, and quoting Miss Lucy, one of the guardians in the novel, “The problem, as I see it, is that you’ve been told and not told. You’ve been told, but none of your really understand, and I dare say, some people are quite happy to leave it that way.” (81) I feel like that sentiment really sums up how most of the public is treated. We are provided with limited information, and if it appropriate information is offered, we have a limited capacity to comprehend. But even with these pitfalls, I am not sure how much and how many people care as long as this research leads to life-saving abilities. Perhaps this is where literature can make a significant contribution to understanding many of the topics we have discussed in this course, by seeking to comprehend the issues and bringing them to light in a different sphere, in a different context, to a different audience. And perhaps this is a valuable way that the scientific community can be “regulated” (I use this term loosely).

Never Let Me Go offers a perspective on what might happen if science is left unregulated and could serve as a warning of science run amok. Is it acceptable to use cloned embryos that were made only to achieve scientific knowledge? How do we feel about cloned humans allowed to live out their lives to fulfill what each was “created to do”? (81) Dovetailing perfectly with such discussions is our assigned reading from The President’s Council on Bioethics from July 2002. In particular, I would like to focus on several categories of concern regarding cloning-to-produce-children.

The President’s Council report argues, “cloned children may experience serious problems with identity both because each will be genetically virtually identical to a human being who has already lived and because the expectations for their lives may be shadowed by constant comparisons to the life of the ‘original’.”(5) Concerning such problems of identity and individuality, each “student” has a “possible” that is the person from whom they were cloned. To protect the students from these expectations, the “students” are not told the identity of their “possible.”

The President’s Council also brought up “concerns regarding manufacture.”(5) Essentially, they questioned how people would receive and adapt to these clones. In particular, they were concerned with the possible views of parents towards their new “children.” Ishiguro seems to have a conflicted stance on these concerns. First, the children are not associated with parents. Instead, they have the guardians at Hailsham – people who are of no genetic relation to the students. However, even the Hailsham guardians seem to have a great deal of difficulty, at times, dealing with the humanness of the student clones. Consider Madame’s reaction to the “students”: “…there are people out there, like Madame, who don’t hate you or wish you any harm, but who nevertheless shudder at the very thought of you – of how you were brought into this world and why – and who dread the idea of your hand brushing against theirs.” (36) We learn that Madame is one of the people who supported Hailsham for years.

The children are then isolated from society until they enter in as a carer to fulfill their pre-determined purpose. What is most fascinating to me is the way that the “students” do not come across as being resigned to their fate. To use this terminology implies that they had given up and were not ok with their purpose. On the contrary, each of the “students” seemed to be excited to fulfill his or her role in society. Very few questions were asked and complaints were uncommon. Actually, many of the “students” initiated the process of being a carer, and they often short-circuited the period after they had left Hailsham and moved to the Cottages. This would lead them to their ultimate purpose, to become a donor. This sense of duty and of doing their duty well is so interesting. However, they had no choice in the matter and the ethics of that are so tenuous and important to note.

It seems that the proverbial slippery slope applies to this subject. As the novel ponders, do people ultimately care more about ethical work or about loved ones being saved from a devastating disease? (263) The President’s Council had a difficult time agreeing on the ethics of human cloning, and I think the general public is probably equally divided. For all the promise of stem cell research, the future is unpredictable and success is unknown. How should we move forward?

Corey A. Kalbaugh


~ by coreykalbaugh on April 1, 2009.

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