Monday, July 20, 2009
Bioethicists have long looked to literature for insight into the difficult questions that arise from developments in biotechnology. Two recent novels, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper, wrestle with the ethics of using reproductive technology to create donors of human tissue and organs. Read together, the novels call into question presumed distinctions between reproduction and therapy and between the family and the state that have animated debates about ethically permissible and ethically impermissible uses of reproductive technology. They caution that what we fail to appreciate in holding to these distinctions is that reproduction and therapy do not inhabit wholly separate spheres when either parents or the state undertake to harness reproductive power to create children for the therapy of others. In addition, the novels reveal the concept of human dignity to be an inadequate standard for determining what is good or bad about therapeutic reproduction. Although arguments against reproductive cloning often rest on beliefs that cloned humans would not truly be human, in Ishiguro’s reimagined Britain, it is actually the dignity of the cloned organ donors that underscores the indignity of creating them for the therapeutic needs of others. Picoult’s story asks whether any test or standard could ever adequately assess whether parents who create “savior siblings” have treated them with sufficient dignity. In affording readers a rare glimpse into a family brought to its knees by illness, the novel suggests that the least understood ethical aspect of this problem is what we expect of parents in times of crisis. As a pair of novels responding to scientific developments at the intersection of reproductive technology and human tissue and organ donation, Never Let Me Go and My Sister’s Keeper both counsel against ill-informed policymaking in the context of difficult bioethical questions.