The ethical debate surrounding biological engineering to duplicate human DNA in order to produce a genetic replicate has found its way into discussion through several media outlets, including medical journals, film and literature. Questions of who we are as both individuals and as a human species are raised in hopes of addressing the controversial dilemma surrounding this biological manipulation. Several films and novels have wrestled with the issue through the narration of fictional characters who find themselves in the eye of the storm, as the products of genetic cloning. “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro addresses the bioethical debate in a less direct manner, looking at the issue in a fictional context. Through the eyes of Kathy H., we are guided through her experiences as a clone growing up in an institution meant to rear the students in humane environments. Ishiguro’s novel was not written as a means to argue the ethics of cloning, however, his novel “Never Let Me Go” serves as a reference for the bioethical debate. Kathy H.’s narration can help answer the questions of how biologically engineered beings should be treated in relation to their classification as humans or non-humans, as Ishiguro attempts to define humanity through the eyes of a Kathy H., a clone with experiences much like that of any other ordinary human. Through the analysis of Ishiguro’s novel and several articles discussing the connections between bioethics and Ishiguro’s approach to the issue, I will attempt to interpret an answer to the often unconsidered, yet entirely relevant question: what does it mean to be human?
“Never Let Me Go” is set in the backdrop of an alternate society between the 1960’s and the 1990’s, where scientific and medical advancement have expanded the human lifespan to surpass 100 years. The story does not intend to give the novel a futuristic feel, in fact the novel centers on the experience of the narrator and her fellow clones rather than focusing on the scientific aspect of their creation. Though we are not told throughout most of the story what the main characters really are, we discover that they are actually a product of cloning, which has become a normal part of society. Thus meaning, society is fully aware that clones are being made and kept, and they also know that they are being used a means to extend the human lifespan. Clones are made from existing humans in a society led by “a governmental program that pursues cures for cancer and heart disease with organs extracted” from these beings (Storrow). This alone tells us that the government hardly considered the clones to have any sort of rights, not even human rights, from the moment they were created. Simply put, they were treated merely as medical bi-products used to harvest organs that would increase the health of the greater population. The constitution protects humans, yet did not protect these clones from being treated as lab rats. This can be interpreted as a means to define humanity as a result of origin. Because the clones were not naturally produced, but instead created inside of a government lab, they were not considered humane, and were therefore treated otherwise. So can we consider humanity to be a result of origin?
Let’s take a look at Kathy H., the main character in Ishiguro’s novel, who was raised in a more privileged setting that most others of her kind, at a school called Hailsham. In the novel, this is one of the very few institutions that decided to take these biologically engineered beings and allow them to live and grow up in a humane environment. The concept of Hailsham, a school for clones, is another instance of Ishiguro’s attempt to speculate the definition of humanity. The clones that were kept in labs did not get the chance to experience normal human interactions, and were not given a chance to learn. Hailsham provided a rather large group of clones, including Kathy, to live with each other and interact on a...
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