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Ishiguro illustrates this danger in Never Let Me Go. The narrator, a 30-year-old woman named Kathy H., identifies herself as a “carer,” nursing organ donors after operations. When two friends from her past come under her care, she begins to recount her youth at an exclusive private boarding school in the English countryside. We discover later that the students at this special school are clones, created and raised to become carers and then donate their organs until they “complete,” or as we normals say, “die.” It’s a chilling premise, but Kathy’s memories are less of a freakish biotechnological nightmare than an unremarkable childhood of privilege. She mostly recalls the rigidities of boarding school life and the mundane conflicts and ensuing gossip among her classmates. These are some petty clones, but not unlike “normal” kids in the throes of puberty. Their lives are heavily regimented, and information about where they came from is shrouded in mystery by their teachers in an effort to shelter them (a post-human equivalent of abstinence-only education?). They understand that the altruistic purpose of their existence is noble, but they know nothing of the world outside this narrow trajectory. Still, their lives aren’t wretched and they get pleasure and meaning from familiar places — art, nature, love and friendship.
As they grow up and approach their donations, Kathy and her friends learn more about their origin and the future that has been planned for them. They also learn of a debate raging around them over whether clones have souls. They regard this kind of bioethical discussion as a silly waste of everyone’s time. Fundamentally, they are no different from anyone else. Ishiguro makes this point — that the technology itself has altered little — throughout, beginning the final chapter with Kathy’s oft-repeated remark, “Nothing seemed to change much….” Kathy’s artificiality has not deprived her of a happy or meaningful life. Rather, efforts to regulate cloning to insure its medical benefit have determined completely her role in society. A common worry among bioethicists is that biotechnology will be used for non-medical, perhaps even cosmetic, purposes, as the philosopher Carl Elliot has said, “that we will ignore important human needs at the expense of frivolous human desires.” He and Fukuyama may be right that cloning left up to personal choice could result in horrific misuses. But Ishiguro points out that government regulation isn’t where the story ends. Never Let Me Go assumes that cloning techniques will be regulated so that they could be used only for medical ends. At the same time, it takes seriously the prospect that persons created through cloning will be people; that they will have hopes, ambitions, frustrations and grievances — they will want to make mistakes. It isn’t the unchecked use of cloning technology that has trampled their human rights. Instead, it is the over-regulation of their lives for the greater good. It is subsuming their human desires to general human needs.