booklady's Reviews > Double Helix

Double Helix by Nancy Werlin
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Dec 09, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: 2008, mystery, youth, fiction, historical-fiction, education, crime, health
Recommended for: anyone interested in bioethics
Read in December, 2008

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 Huntington's disease. He can't afford college but his father vehemently opposes a lucrative job offer with prestigious Wyatt Transgenics by its founder, a legendary molecular biologist. And yet Eli's father won't give a reason as to why he shouldn't 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 we're 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 wasn't 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 Parkinson's, and Lou Gehrig's disease, and on and on. We'd 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 don't understand. We don't make trouble. We don't steal things or kill people. We don't 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...There's 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 hasn't--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 didn't 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 doctor's 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 Carmichael's article "New Era, New Worry," in this week's 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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Comments (showing 1-13 of 13) (13 new)

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message 1: by Homeschoolmama (new)

Homeschoolmama oooo. Isn't that sad? I have my tentacles up whenever I hear of such tests.. When I was pregnant w/my daughter I was pressured to have an amnio.. For what purpose, I asked? It would make no difference for us. What God gives us, God gives us!

I have a special place in my heart for those with special needs. I used to work with them. Many were Down's. I cannot imagine life without these folks!

booklady Yes, it's sad and scary. People with Down syndrome are some of the sweetest and most gentle people God has made. Everyone who knows one speaks of the loving kindness which pours out of them. And we, in our great 'wisdom' want to eradicate them. God forgive us, for we know not what we do...

message 3: by Bear (new)

Bear Interesting review. I'm next on the read list, Correcto?

booklady Yes, Meg is getting it for you!

message 5: by Wanda (new)

Wanda Sounds like an interesting book! I am also a "fan" of people with Down's syndrome. They are sweet and hardworking. And incredibly honest. We all need to remember that God created each individual because he wanted to, because he knows their value. Who are we to question that?? Many people with Down's have a faith and relationship with God that I can only hope to attain.

message 6: by Debi (new)

Debi Thanks for the review, sounds like a great book to elicit conversation with your teens. I've put myself on the library waiting list.

booklady Thank you all for the nice comments. It is certainly a book which will make you think and hopefully raise the level of awareness that we do not have all the answers, no matter how smart we think we have become with all of our new technological innovations. Even so, it is a hopeful story as you will see if you read it...

message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

My son Teddy (13) and I read your review. I think he'll be reading the book. Thanks.

booklady I look forward to reading his - and your - impressions! Hope you'll read it too, dear friend!

ღ Carol jinx~☆~ My son had a boy in his class with Down's syndrome. He went to the regular school and graduated. He worked hard. At Graduation, they read his name and as he walked across the stage it was perfectly still and silent. When he took his diploma and turned and smiled, everyone in the audience stood up and all the graduates clapped. He was well-loved by everyone.

booklady Thank you Carol telling me that! What a beautiful testimony to his courage and perseverance and the love 'n' support of his family, friends, fellow students and the school administration.

ღ Carol jinx~☆~ Your welcome. It was an inspiration to me.

message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

Carol wrote: "My son had a boy in his class with Down's syndrome. He went to the regular school and graduated. He worked hard. At Graduation, they read his name and as he walked across the stage it was perfectly..."

Incredible! The only Downs I ever saw that I knew for sure was one at the State Hospital who came to shake hands with me. You could tell he was very nice but very unclean as no one was bothering to take care of him. He was just forgotten. He was not alone either.

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