Human Cloning – Never Let Me Go

August 26, 2006

(Warning – contains plot spoilers!) Never Let Me Go is Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 novel set in Britain in a 1990s where human cloning has become a routine way to provide spare parts necessary for transplants. The story is told from the perspective of Kathy, who is herself a clone, but is still serving as a carer – a role all clones fulfil on their way to actually donating an organ. By the end of the book she is able to look back and reflect on her friendship with Ruth and Tommy, two other clones who have recently ‘completed’ – the euphemism used for the death of a donor during or after an operation.

The book raises interesting questions about what it means to be human, but coming to it from the perspective of a scientist involved in bioethics education I ultimately found it a frustrating read. I think my main gripe is the fact that for the narrator Kathy to be in her early 30s during the 1990s, the technology used to produce the clones must have been available by the early 1960s – something I know is not the case. Yes, of course, it is a work of fiction, but nevertheless this fundamental alteration of fact grated alongside the representation of England in the 1970s to 1990s, which was essentially faithful to the history of the period. The science of cloning was never considered. From a teaching perspective, I was disappointed that there were not really any suitable vignettes to use with a class as discussion starters. The most likely sections for quoting come towards the end of the book, particularly in Chapter 22, when Tommy and Kathy discuss their schooling with one of their former ‘guardians’. On the whole, however, I think The Island is a better vehicle for introducing issues of human cloning.