Barren Bitches Book Brigade: Never Let Me Go

March 9, 2009

Barren Bitches Book Brigade Welcome to the Barren Bitches Book Brigade, featuring Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at Stirrup Queens. You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant.

I really enjoyed this book. I have rarely experienced such a well-orchestrated denouement. (I can’t believe I spelled that correctly on the first try… thanks, Mrs. G., my 7th grade English teacher!) Thought-provoking, touching, haunting, even occasionally funny.

Choosing “Never Let Me Go” as the title of the book makes me almost cry every time I see it.

Hey, did you see the news that it’s going to be made into a movie staring Keira Knightley? Not how I imagined Kathy at all. I’m glad that I finished reading the book before I learned that information.

I will read and comment on everyone else’s BBBB posts as soon as I can, but right now I can barely keep my eyes open, having slept a total of 5 hours in the past 2 days (and also Barcelona is calling).

At the end of Never Let Me Go, they mentioned “designer babies” had turned people against the whole clone issue.  Now, ABC news featured a story tonight (3/3/09) about parents being able to build their baby (a bit of reality reflecting art).  How does this make you feel?  Do you think PGD should only be used to avoid health issues and genetic defects?  Is it ok to use it to have a baby who can save your current child’s life through marrow transplant?  Is it ok to pick hair type and eye color?

Honestly I think a lot of the worry is overblown. Yes, those who use donor gametes already do this to some extent by choosing certain characteristics. But the rest of us choose characteristics by picking a partner.

I happen to have chosen a very tall partner — not because he was tall, it was just part of the package. If I wanted a short child for some reason, I just don’t think the genes would be there, no matter how many embryos we tried to test.

Blue eyes? Different story. DH has blue eyes — a beautiful shade of blue, in fact. My eyes are quite brown. Some people in my extended family have blue eyes, so it’s possible that I am heterozygous for the trait. If so, each embryo would have a 50/50 chance of being blue-eyed. Would I ever select on the basis of eye color? You’ve got to be kidding me.

Would I love to ensure that my child won’t end up with the heart disease that killed most of his/her paternal ancestors? Of course. Would I use PGD to do that, or to select any other trait aside from preventing life-threatening genetic disorders? No. Especially given that we haven’t gotten any embryos to freeze in two IVFs, selecting out healthy embryos because of whim or preference (and reducing the chances of ending up with any baby at all) is just plain silly. My baby has to play the hand that s/he is dealt, just like the rest of us. The upside of the hereditary heart disease is having many amazing relatives who are smart, funny, and kind. Anyway, my kid won’t eat meat and therefore will be at substantially lower risk of heart disease. Suck it, fate.

If you knew with certainty that you had a child with a shortened life expectancy, would you raise the child any differently? For example, are there certain experiences you’d want to ensure that they had? Are there things that you wouldn’t bother to make them do (flossing? eat healthy foods? go to school?) since they wouldn’t have the same long-term impact as they would for other children? Would it make a difference in your parenting if you knew exactly at what age the child was expected to die as opposed to a general sense of foreshortened lifespan?

I’ve seen this in action with parents of terminally ill children. They seem to try to treat all of their children equally — so if the healthy children have to floss, so does the ill child. If questioned as to the reasons for treating children differently, the explanations would be absurd. “Timmy doesn’t have to floss because he’ll be dead before periodontal disease could possibly affect him.” Instead, everyone flosses, because that’s what the family does. Seems reasonable.

In terms of the reverse, ensuring that the child does have certain experiences, absolutely yes. We already are quite liberal with spending money on travel and worthwhile experiences for ourselves. We have no plans to stop once children arrive (and once we can stop paying for treatments, we’ll have all sorts of surplus cash!). The child’s shortened lifespan would just expedite matters. If my sick kid was fascinated by the Great Pyramids, you’d better believe that we’d be on the next plane to Egypt. If a healthy child was fascinated by the pyramids, we’d probably plan a trip to see them in the near future — just not as urgently.

Short answer to the original questions? In practice, mostly no. But I’m sure there would be all sorts of intangible differences and random bursts of crying and extra snuggles.

If you were a student a Hailsham, would you have wanted to know your ultimate destiny as a Donor? Why or why not? How do you think knowing at that point in your life would have affected you? Does this desire to know your outcome apply to your own real life? In what situations do you find knowledge helpful? At what times can it be detrimental?

Having knowledge of the destiny all along seems preferable to getting surprised with that kind of information. Thinking you will have a normal life, then finding out that the assumption is wrong, is a rude awakening.

One aspect that I have in common with Hailsham students is infertility. It’s unclear whether they are genetically altered to be infertile, or whether perhaps they were all surgically sterilized at a very young age. It is clear that they will never become parents.

As an infertile whose ability to have a child is uncertain, I would have liked to know in advance of my problems, because it would have caused me to stop denying the situation early on, to seek help earlier, and to be more aggressive with treatments. I had no idea about anything when I started TTC, and I wasted years of my fertility on patience.

If it truly were impossible for me to have a biological child, I would want to know ASAP so that my treatment efforts aren’t futile and that I can redirect my energy and time to a more productive method.

One thing that struck me while reading the book is that the characters seem very passive. Although certain knowledge is withheld from them along the way, and they do have questions, they do not really rebel or protest their fate, or try to escape. They seem quite accepting of the future that has been laid out for them. Why do you think this is so?

They reminded me of the underclasses seen throughout various societies and historical periods. The idea that you can escape your designated destiny is pretty recent, and still not universal. They seem passive from our point of view, but their attitudes allow the system to continue. It is part of the greater good.

Along those lines, the idea that someone would fantasize about bucking their destiny by becoming a drone in an office is hilarious.

10 Responses to “Barren Bitches Book Brigade: Never Let Me Go”

  1. loribeth Says:

    Your last line totally cracked me up. I never thought of it that way, but you’re right!!

    I agree with your thoughts on infertility & not knowing. In some ways, it’s the uncertainty of it all, the fact that nobody can give you a clear answer as to whether you’ll ever be able to have a baby, that’s the hardest thing about it.

  2. At the end of Never Let Me Go, they mentioned “designer babies” had turned people against the whole clone issue. Now, ABC news featured a story tonight (3/3/09) about parents being able to build their baby (a bit of reality reflecting art). How does this make you feel? Do you think PGD should only be used to avoid health issues and genetic defects? Is it ok to use it to have a baby who can save your current child’s life through marrow transplant? Is it ok to pick hair type and eye color?

    At the time of writing this comment, in Australia, it is illegal to use PGD for anything save for genuine cases of avoidance of proven genetic defects (i.e. you can’t just ‘make one up’ and assume they’ll roll with it, they do extensive testing to confirm that you have it, or if its in the family, they try their very best to get bloods done on those family members to confirm).

    I’m a firm believer in this. In my humble opinion, the whole Gattaca idea of ‘designer babies’ is just a tad dramatic and feeds the morons that think that IVF is not Christian and a sin. (yes, I somehow stumbled onto THAT gem of a website, ugh). Okay, so maybe that’s a little harsh, but forgive me if I don’t feel sorry that you have 4 daughters and are desperately seeking son?

    DH’s daughter was actually considering 1. flying to the states and 2. doing PGD – because she has 2 boys. I mean, she didn’t even wait until she had 3 boys or 4 where it was really obvious where it was going.

    I’m sorry. Maybe when I’m in a very fertile position or at a different end of my infertility journey, where I can pick and choose the gender of my children without being desperately grateful that they are alive and with me… I will rethink my rigid point of view on this. Picking hair color and eye color… motherf#cker please. These things are only minor and have nothing to do with the health of the child. I’ve seen brown eyed parents have a hazel eyed kid and I’ve seen two blye eyed caucasians have a ginger.

    We’ve done two PGD cycles because of recurrent first trimester miscarriages. We create 1 normal embryo for every 4 embryos. That in itself, means, a sub-genetic condition (PCOS with a sprinkle of MF/ICSI’d sperm) which leads to chromosomal abnormalities ‘incompatible with life’. We only qualified for PGD after 2 miscarriages and the stillbirth of our daughter at 21 weeks.

    Now, on the other hand, using PGD to save an existing child’s life. I have no opinion on this, deliberately. Because I just cannot imagine what it would be like to be in that situation and have to be desperate enough to need it, and I just don’t know if its fair to have an opinion unless you have a complete empathy and understanding of the situation.

    whoo. my two cents. 🙂

  3. blye eyed would be interesting indeed…I meant ‘blue’ of course


  4. Cat Says:

    Sounds like a great book! One more to add to my list.

    I totally agree with what you said about choosing designer babies. There are lots of traits of both DH and mine that I hope our babies do/don’t get: my hair, his skin because mine sucks, my build for a girl, his for a boy (his mom has his build and it’s not flattering on a woman), etc. The bottom line is I just hope they’re healthy and happy. The bit about saving a sibling’s life reminds me of My Sister’s Keeper by Jody Piccault (sp?), which my book club is reading. I think that’s a horrible burden to impose upon a child and cannot imagine the psychological trauma of knowing you were only brought into this world because of your sibling, not because your parents just wanted another child.

    The Red Tent is a fantastic book. Happy reading!

  5. Kristin Says:

    Loved your final line. That is pretty freaking hysterical.

  6. Stephanie Says:

    Your final line killed me. Love it.

    And I very much enjoyed your perspectives on the other questions. The PGD one especially, because I think that is how I feel (I’m just not as coherent at saying it.)

  7. Annie Says:

    You last line cracked me up too! Though I guess if your destiny is donation until death, any kind of life at all seems exciting in comparison. Sigh, it’s just so sad.

    It is definitely hard for me to imagine selecting based on eye or hair color or gender. Selecting to avoid terminal diseases, yeah, I get that, but going through all of that because you want a blue eyed blond haired child this time around? It’s hard to believe that someone would actually want that bad enough to go through the whole process, but at the same time I think those people are out there (maybe even more so when it comes to choosing gender–something I’ve never understood is the weeping after an u/s when you found out you weren’t getting what you wanted, I’m pretty happy just to know the baby is still alive, who cares about gender!).

  8. ana Says:

    That book sounds great—I’ve heard about the movie, which seemed interesting, but I always prefer to read the book. To speak to your first point: In this age of celebrity babies-as-accessories, its not too hard to imagine those that have the means going the “designer baby” route. I think being able to use PGD to prevent a painful & short life with a terminal disease is a marvel of current science, and will spare so many families from suffering. It should not be abused to satisfy a whim, for appearance or gender traits. Unfortunately, this gets mixed into the general negative opinion about IF treatments,even though it hardly needs to be said that most of us that need such treatments would be happy with a live, take-home baby of any gender, eye color, height, etc…

  9. Melissa Says:

    i loved the last line in your response to the first question!

  10. Mel Says:

    It was so so so wrong, and yet I couldn’t stop laughing at “Timmy doesn’t have to floss because he’ll be dead before periodontal disease could possibly affect him.” I think it was a nervous laugh.

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