(Garrison, NY) What if I were grown only so that my organs could be harvested, and I had to care for others whose organs are being taken, too, while I wait for my own death? What if doctors cut off a piece of the tumor that killed me and grew it in a lab for the next sixty years? What if scientists discovered a gene that would ensure my happiness no matter what life throws at me?
In the spirit of summer, and especially summer reading, we asked some of our favorite well-read writers to look at bioethics through the lens of literature for the July-August issue of the Hastings Center Report. The questions above are only some of those tackled in the seven novels and one true story that is stranger than fiction that they recommend. The earliest was first published in 1858; the most recent came out this year.
In "A Better Life Through Science?" John D. Lantos writes about The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a nonfiction account by Rebecca Skloot, and the novel Generosity: An Enhancement by Richard Powers. Both are about unassuming innocents who fall into the clutches of biomedical researchers, weaving together stories about deprivation and poverty with stories about science as the ultimate redemption of our age. And in the end, both struggle with an updated version of an old question: How do we balance our inherent individuality with our ineradicable commonality?
In "Biopower and the Liberationist Romance," Bruce Jennings examines how biotechnology and the biopower it engenders can objectify and erode the self, as demonstrated in Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Kazuo Ighisiguro's Never Let Me Go. Cuckoo's Nest "calls us to rethink conventional assumptions about normalcy, mental illness, freedom, therapy, a
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