Tuesday, April 11, 2006

WBP Launches Book Club Campaign: Stories about cloning and “designer babies” bring bioethical issues to life

The Women’s Bioethics Project (WBP) today announced the launch of a book club program designed to empower women to explore the dramatic ways in which emerging biotechnologies are affecting peoples’ lives. The program provides book club support materials that go beyond asking literary questions to promote discussion of bioethical issues, raising provocative questions such as, “Is it ethical to conceive a child as an organ donor for her sister?”
The format of the WBP book club program is designed to inspire participants to draw their own conclusions about the kind of world they would like to live in. It also encourages readers to consider some of the proposed advantages of new technological advances in biomedicine and genetic engineering, as well as to look at whether it would be possible to minimize the undesirable effects these technologies may have on individuals and society at large.

“Through a series of interviews we’ve learned that women are eager to discuss bioethical issues if they are put in a context that shows how they directly affect their lives,” said Kathryn Hinsch, founder of the Women’s Bioethics Project. “Many women we spoke with said they wanted to participate in discussions about these topics, but only if it didn’t require additional time away from their families and their already loaded schedules. Furthermore, many said they wanted to go beyond merely raising difficult questions to actually taking action on issues that they found personally meaningful.”

The first novels in this book club series chosen by the WBP for this program include the following:

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult, which explores the impact of embryo selection and “designer babies” on one family and the heart-wrenching choices that ensue.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro goes a step further, examining human cloning and organ donation from the perspective of an isolated community of human clones.

Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood presents a world so altered by the effects of genetic engineering that both society and the natural environment are profoundly affected.

When read in this order, the selected novels take readers along a continuum from technologically feasible issues surrounding organ transplants and genetic engineering to futuristic scenarios involving advanced applications of these and other biotechnologies that force us to examine many of the implications of what it means to be human.
Public Policy Implications of Bioethical Issues

Beyond the literary analysis and examination of important bioethical issues, another important aspect of the WBP book club program is that it ties the issues raised in these three books to current public policy debates. The book club materials provide women with guidance on how to get involved, share their thoughts with their legislators and help shape legislation.
The most pressing public policy issue the WBP would like to see women take a closer look at after reading these books is human germline genetic modification, which is sometimes referred to as producing “designer babies.” The WBP believes the application of genetic engineering in this area will have profound implications for women and their families. Whether they feel limits should be placed on this technology or believe it should be banned outright, this book club forum offers women a unique opportunity to discuss these issues with one another and explore their feelings about genetic engineering and other biomedical advances on both a personal and policy level.
“We hope that women will come away from this experience feeling informed and motivated to get involved,” said Hinsch. “Although we have included three novels in our campaign, Jodi Picoult’s book My Sister’s Keeper was really our original inspiration. The way she captures the real-life ethical issues around ‘designer babies’ from the perspective of one family really demonstrates the power literature has to let us explore unfamiliar situations and reach our own conclusions.”
Jodi Picoult, author of 12 other novels in addition to My Sister’s Keeper, including the recently published The Tenth Circle, shares this goal. “I was honored when Kathryn asked me to participate in this book club campaign,” Picoult said. “I truly believe the time to address the impact of these emerging technologies is now, and I think this program offers an accessible and relevant way for women to begin engaging with others on these issues. I’m pleased that my novels can play a small
part in that effort.”

All book club program materials are available on our Web site.

1 comment:

Karama said...

What a great idea! You may also want to consider Bebe Moore Campbell's 72 Hour Hold which tackles issues around care of the mentally ill. My local book club is reading it this summer. We enjoyed My Sister's Keeper just a few months ago.