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10 December 2008 update added at the end.Double Helix by Nancy Werlin is young adult mystery which my daughter handed me recently. The main character, Eli Samuels, a recent high school graduate, is at a crossroads in his life in more ways than one. His mother is completely debilitated and dying of Huntingtons disease. He cant afford college but his father vehemently opposes a lucrative job offer with prestigious Wyatt Transgenics by its founder, a legendary molecular biologist. And yet Elis father wont give a reason as to why he shouldnt take the job. Well, of course, Eli takes it and thus we have our mystery.Woven throughout the tightly constructed plot, however, are perceptive questions about life, death, souls, suffering and the modern responses of technology, such as genetic manipulation (transgenics), cloning, and artificial methods of reproduction. As these are questions were all going to be facing in the years to come, I highly recommend this book despite the implied acceptability of premarital sex by the main character, Eli Samuels, with his long-time girlfriend. Therefore I do advise parental discretion in recommending this book to young people. However, mature young people and most adults should find this book very enlightening in terms of examining and discussing ethics in the field of transgenic biology.Double Helix is the kind of book I wish I could read in/with group because of all the issues it touches on. I also would like to quote several sections which are especially appropriate for moral reflection and/or debate, but I will limit myself to the following selection between Eli and his bioethics professor:Many years ago, I was at a national conference on biogenetics. It wasnt purely a scientific conference; it was open to the public. The idea was that people from all walks of life--intelligent, thoughtful people--would discuss our dreams about what this technology might do for us. There were panel discussions on the eradication of MS, and Parkinsons, and Lou Gehrigs disease, and on and on. Wed identify the genetic flaws, and no one would suffer from them ever again...It was electrifying, Mr. Samuels. I was as exhilarated as anyone. But then on the last day of the conference, a young man stood up in the audience. We had been listening to a speech about how prenatal testing was showing promising signs of making it possible to eliminate Down syndrome. And . . . Dr. Fukuyama leans across the desk her eyes intent on mine. Mr. Samuels, the young man who stood up in the audience to talk had Down syndrome himself. He was the head of a self-advocacy group of adults with Down syndrome. I nod. We were all a little taken aback, says Dr. Fukuyama. But this young man stood up, Mr. Samuels, and he said the following. I have never forgotten it.I dont understand. We dont make trouble. We dont steal things or kill people. We dont take the good jobs. Why do you want to kill us?For a few seconds I cannot breathe. I stare at Dr. Fukuyama. She stares back at me. Then she smiles, a little sadly. That moment changed everything for me. My excitement disappeared. I got a glimpse of the world we might create, with our high-flying ideas about the eradication of suffering...Theres a difference between using our gene therapy for the treatment of existing medical conditions, and using our growing, but far from perfect knowledge of genes--or of humanity--to declare that we absolutely know who has--and hasnt--a right to life at all. (pp. 244-245)As an interesting personal side note, my oldest daughter was the one who gave me the book. She thought to shock me with me it--that I would dislike it and find it so much worse than Twilight series because the young people actually engaged in premarital sex. So the comparison between the two books provided for some excellent discussion. I was able to show her the redeeming value in this book despite the parts in it which are clearly immoral.Recommended, with reservations.10 December 2008 Update: When I wrote this review a few days ago and included the above example about the dangers facing those with Down syndrome, I was thinking future; I didnt expect to encounter concrete evidence that as a class of people, those with the Down gene are already being targeted for extinction. And with new, noninvasive genetic screens that are due to arrive in doctors offices next year as pos[ing:] no harm to fetuses or mothers, there is virtually no speed bump on the road from pregnancy test to abortion. Read Mary Carmichaels article New Era, New Worry, in this weeks issue of Newsweek. Interestingly the article has a subhead that says, New tests for Down syndrome could lead to more abortions and less support for families.

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