Sunday, May 17, 2009

Never Let Me Go

Reviewed by Deborah Alecson.

Never Let Me Go, a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro is about the absolute extreme human beings would go to negate their mortality. This extreme is the established practice of cloning. Ishiguro writes about a world that could be envisioned as science fiction, but he writes from the perspective of one of the cloned, Kathy. While the reader has entered foreign terrain, continued reading brings forth a situation that indeed can be a reality towards which our present culture is headed. Kathy is a “copy” of a person, known as a “possible.” She was created to donate her vital organs. Prior to donating, she is trained as a “carer” for a clone who is in the process of organ donation. (As clones, they are not spared the suffering of surgeries, recuperations, and physical decline.)

What are the ethical issues this story poses? The ethical perspective of deontology, for example, is strictly against using a person as a means to another person’s happiness. Kathy and the other characters portrayed, come across as human by virtue of having feelings and attachments to one another. This brings to mind the humanity of The Tin Man, The Scarecrow, and The Lion in The Wizard of Oz. It is clearly morally unjust and repugnant to use Kathy and the others as means to the ends of their “possibles.” However, they are not human, born of the flesh. They are created by technology. They have a defined purpose that is not one they have chosen, for they do not possess free will. As nonhumans then, is it morally just and even a good that they exist to donate their organs?

There is, however, the overarching question of why people would even bother with clones. Isn’t the lifespan that we currently have long enough? Why the need to extend it? Is the goal to avoid the misery that accompanies disease? And, are these clones something that only the rich can afford? Do we want a clone for every Tom, Dick, and Harry or should we be particular and clone the Dalai Lamas of the world? Or, the Donald Trumps of the world? I am sure the Dalai Lama would be the last person on earth who would seek a clone. It is antithetical to Buddhism, as well as to the spiritual revelations of all religions. Donald Trump, on the other hand….

The possibility of cloning is consistent with a narcissistic culture such as ours. We want to avoid illness and its harsh lessons and keep death at bay. Ishiguro offers us this technological potential from the perspective of the clones, for it might be the only way that we can fully grasp the fuller implications.

Comment: I found this book haunting, dark and memorable. It is worth reading. Deborah raises the issues it addresses cogently and compellingly in her precis. DJE