Historical Context

The prolific author Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) wrote essays, novels, short stories, poetry, and screenplays. While Brave New World is his best-known novel, others such as Point Counter Point (1928) were successful as well. As is the case with every author, Huxley's background shaped his work. He was born in Surrey, England, on July 26, 1894, the third of four children. His father, Dr. Leonard Huxley, was an author, and his mother, Julia Arnold Huxley, was a girls' school founder. Tragedy befell the household when his mother died ofcancer. Later the 16-year-old Aldous attended Eton but left a year later with the serious eye disease keratitis punctata. He was blind for more than a year, which prevented him from finishing rigorous science training and ended his dream of becoming a medical doctor like his famous grandfather T. H. Huxley. Instead, he received a degree in English literature from Oxford. He married his first wife, Maria, in college, and they had a son. After Maria died in 1955, he married another writer, Laura Archera Huxley. Huxley's literary ancestors include a novelist aunt and great-uncle Matthew Arnold who wrote the famous poem "Dover Beach." Aldous's brother Julian was a respected biologist. An element clearly present in Huxley's novels is the indomitable human spirit, an ideal that tested the family when one of Aldous's brothers committed suicide. Huxley moved to the United States in 1937, and in 1959 the American Academy of Arts and Letters gave him the Award ofMerit for the Novel. He died ofcancer on November 22,1963.

Brave New World, written in the post-World War I period of industrialization and the rise of fascism, derived from Huxley's fascination with science, medicine, and technology as well as from his concern for problems arising from their unchecked advances. Huxley drew from several past influences and projected them into an imagined totalitarian World State. First, he drew on the work of his outspoken grandfather, T. H. Huxley (1825-95), a biologist, educator, and medical doctor, who was called Darwin's Bulldog because his work Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) dared to embrace Charles Darwin's unpopular theory of natural selection. T. H. Huxley inspired his grandson to courageously assert within the theme of Brave New World that our individual freedoms must be carefully guarded, even if the stance we take is unpopular. A second influence on Aldous Huxley was geneticist-psychologist Francis Galton (1822-1911), the father of eugenics and Darwin's cousin, who believed science could increase human happiness through improving breeding patterns. He favored genetic determination over environmental influences (i.e., nature over nurture). Galton's influence is clear in Aldous Huxley's genetically determined caste system. The third to influence Huxley was political economist Thomas Malthus (1766-1834), whose work fueled Darwin's theory and influenced Huxley's economy-driven, population-controlled brave new world by describing how plants and animals naturally produce more offspring than can possibly survive. Malthus blamed nineteenth-century England's decline on too few resources for the increasing population and on an irresponsible lower class. He believed that only curtailing reproduction would prevent a global famine, a natural phenomenon he thought God created to keep man from being lazy. Lastly, Aldous Huxley's concept of lifelong neo-Pavlovian conditioning in Brave New World stems from behavior scientist Ivan Pavlov's 1880s work in human behavior. Russian chemist and physiologist Pavlov studied the digestive system, drawing a link between salivation and the stomach's action in his stimulus-response theory. He rang a bell at the same time he offered food to dogs; then, even when no food was present, the bell's ring caused the dogs to salivate. He called his result a conditioned reflex.

Drawing from his forbearers T. H. Huxley, Francis Galton, Thomas Malthus, and Ivan Pavlov, Huxley created ways in his future world to artificially reproduce humans and to condition them to be content with their predetermined lots. Writing Brave New World was his way to address a fear that the world was becoming spiritually bankrupt and settling into an abhorrent conformity. A similar theme is reflected in 1984, the work of his contemporary George Orwell. Huxley's novel describes an economy-driven population in which physical and psychological control is essential. How we choose to advance humanity through breeding techniques is the novel's main concern, casting a cautionary eye on eugenics, the term Francis Galton coined in 1883.

While Galton's pioneering scientific study of twins helped advance knowledge of inborn and learned characteristics, in 1953 James Watson and Francis Crick gave deeper access to life's secrets. They fueled contemporary genetic engineering by deciphering the structure of DNA and by identifying the basic inherited molecular characteristics of life. This event and the plant and animal biotechnical advances since that time are fully described in Bernice Schacter's Issues and Dilemmas of Biotechnology (1999). Since Brave New Worlds 1932 publication, cautionary lessons have been evoked by moralists who fear each significant leap in understanding the biotechnology of creating life. For instance, although the general population took little notice in 1952 when Robert Briggs and Thomas King cloned tadpoles from cells, much later in 1978 there was considerable concern as the first testtube human baby was born through in vitro fertilization, or combining eggs with sperm in a dish, then implanting the fertilized eggs into a human womb. In 1990 the U.S. Human Genome Project extended Watson's and Crick's work, setting a 15-year goal to fully map and sequence human DNA. Encrypting DNA's 100,000 gene pairs is to discover "the language in which God created life," President Bill Clinton asserted.

Brave New World was evoked again in 1996 when Dr. Ian Wilmut of the Roslin Institute in Scotland cloned Dolly the sheep through somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). The public and press, scientists and clerics raised the dreaded specter of Frankenscience. As an embryologist, Dr. Wilmut said his primary objective was therapeutic (to help mankind); subsequently, he produced a human protein in Dolly's milk, creating transgenic or cross-species organisms from cloned genes. In 2005, the British government granted Wilmut a license to clone human embryonic skin cells for therapeutic use in research on motorneuron diseases like Lou Gehrig's disease. In December 2000, Texas A&M University advanced the science and presented its transgenic bull, 86 Squared, cloned from donor cells frozen 15 years before and naturally resistant to tuberculosis, salmonellosis, and brucellosis, making the species more fertile and better milk producers. Although 90 percent of the attempts have failed, researchers see great potential for saving endangered species. With a somewhat eerie result, in October 2001, the University of Oregon cloned the monkey ANDi (ANDi stands for "inserted DNA" spelled backward). Differing from Dolly and 86 Squared, ANDi's DNA contained a jellyfish gene inserted into the egg. Genes, segments of DNA, contain the "recipes" for making biological molecules, usually protein. When ANDi is stimulated, he glows a fluorescent green. The therapeutic goal is to create transgenic research monkeys containing genes for human diseases such as Alzheimer's, AIDS, or breast cancer. Because monkeys are close genetic cousins to humans, there is concern the same method soon will be applied to humans. Signaling the continued meteoric advance in biotechnology, in 2002 the University of Missouri cloned piglets modified to yield transgenic transplants to humans. Although better breeding techniques have been used in cattle for decades, many scientists fear the unforeseen consequences of the leap to transgenic cloning. With the science already in place for cloning mammals, these techniques can be applied readily to humans. Lay, religious, legal, and science communities are urgently posing specific questions about what some consider the horrific cloning of human beings:

• Is it morally justifiable to clone a dead child to fulfill his or her lost destiny?

• Couples using in vitro fertilization can choose the desired sex from their collection of eight-cell embryos and then discard the rest. Is this preimplantation genetic diagnosis sex selection sex discrimination when sperm-sorting effects the same result? During the embryo selection method horrendous diseases are genetically screened, but how does it affect humanity when other characteristics such as eye color and intelligence are isolated?

• Parents have procreated a child to provide tissues, organs, and bone marrow for another child. Is there anything wrong with cloning a donor child for a perfect match?

• If you cloned yourself, who would that be?

Incredible advances in genetic engineering help infertile couples and eliminate inherited disorders such as Tay-Sach's disease, sickle-cell anemia, and Down syndrome. The ability to clone, or to duplicate, humans, almost as described in Brave New World, is here. With bio-technological advances begun when Watson and Crick identified the molecular code of DNA and continued with the Human Genome Project, ethical challenges follow. Some twenty-first-century bioethicists are asking the question, how soon we will forget World War II and the Nazi's eugenics-driven genocide?

The Embryonic Stem Cell Controversy (Therapeutic versus Reproductive Use)

While Brave New World was published in 1932, the themes in Huxley's novel clearly take us into the debate over human cloning, with the technical ability to create and genetically manipulate human life running well ahead of public policy. Stem cells are found in human embryos, umbilical cords, and placentas and, when divided, can become any kind of body cell. When terminated at the five-day stage, the in vitro fertilization process yields embryonic stem cell lines that can grow into 200 cell types, potentially repairing or even replacing damaged body parts. Proponents argue the value of therapeutic cloning, including finding missing clotting factors in hemophilia, benefiting cystic fibrosis, and creating new antirejection factors, far outweighs the fact that the so-called activated cells are terminated. Opponents of therapeutic cloning fear the precedent set for experimenting on life, born or unborn, and believe no way exists to bar reproductive cloning once therapeutic cloning is legal and government-funded. The National Academy of Sciences opposes reproductive cloning. Other private and governmental bodies concur, asserting that once we have designer children and clones, the brave new world will have arrived.

In 2002, after President Bush announced he favored using existing stem cells lines for therapeutic research but banned federal money for creating new stem cell lines, the U.S. Congress debated the issue, and Bush appointed a national Council on Bioethics to deliberate on research ethics and to make policy recommendations. In July the council, which seems representative of the nation as a whole, was sharply divided on creating new stem cell lines for therapeutic research, but in the end, calling cloned cells "nascent human life," favored a four-year moratorium on attempts to create cloned cells for medical research. They needed time for studying moral and scientific issues and to make policy recommendations. The council was at odds with President Bush, who favored a permanent ban. The dissenting members saw this as failing to be patient advocates and feared a delay would block development of important medical therapies. At the same time, the U.S. Senate stalemated on the issue. Nonetheless, the privately funded cloning of cells for reproduction and therapeutic research is very much underway. Since the council's debate, scientists have announced promising work on adult stem cells that prove more versatile than formerly believed. The University of Minnesota Medical School used a specific bone marrow cell in mice to grow in the laboratory into a variety of cell types, including blood, bone, fat, brain, and liver cells. With more positive research on humans—which is years away—these findings might soften the ethical debate over creating and disposing of embryonic stem cells. Nonetheless, noting that existing stem cell lines are limited, in poor condition, or useless for research, in September 2002,

California passed its own legislation to fund state-wide embryonic stem cell research, attracting world-wide talent to what has been termed the skin cell gold rush.

The New Debate (Groopman versus Kass)

The bioethical debate on how far we should take cloning is focused in the essays of Leon R. Kass, bioethicist and chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics, and Jerome Groopman, Harvard professor and science correspondent for The New Yorker. In the 1960s Kass opposed the now common practice of in vitro fertilization, saying it would erode family values, stigmatize the children, and create a baby market. Follow-up studies proved otherwise. He now opposes creating new embryos for reproductive research but approves using existing stem cell lines in therapeutic research. In his highly publicized "wisdom of repugnance" test, he states that if it feels wrong, it must be wrong. In his May 21, 2001, essay in The New Republic, "Why We Should Ban Human Cloning Now: Preventing a Brave New World," Kass argues that there is a danger in creating a utopia that tries to conquer disease and even death through psychopharmacology, artificial organs, and computer chips. He is concerned about what new scientific technology will do to our humanity. Huxley's World State eliminated disease, aggression, and grief, and in the process ofcreating prosperity and stability, it achieved a conformity that tried to homogenize humanity. Art, science, and religion were banned; immediate gratification was compulsory. Prozac may not be soma, and somatic cell nuclear transference cloning may not be the Bokanovsky Process, but, looking at our society now, Huxley saw it coming, Kass says. We were rescued from Nazi and Soviet tyranny, but ifwe remain uncritical, biotechnical hubris and profit motive will undermine "genuine contributions to human welfare." Although there is a considerable difference in intent, human reproductive cloning is just a small step away from unrestricted therapeutic cloning, he avers.

Jerome Groopman, responding to Kass's views, wrote in his January 28,2002, New Yorker essay that President Bush had asked the Council on Bioethics to be "the conscience of our country," and Kass, as its chairman, had considerable influence on the future of American life science. Groopman criticized Kass for asking the council to read Hawthorne and Huxley to illustrate the consequences of scientific hubris and the dangerous quest for perfection, instead of using hard facts. But the facts are, Groopman states, that in the two types of cloning a cell's nucleus is inserted into an unfertilized egg that takes on that cell's genetic characteristics. In reproductive cloning the manipulated egg grows into a baby genetically duplicating the donor; while in therapeutic cloning, the manipulated egg grows into a microscopic clump that provides stem cells, at which point the process is terminated. Cloning stem cells for research promises cures for millions ofpeople suffering from spinal-cord paralysis, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and juvenile diabetes. Kass fears that cloning will raise the specter of Nazi war experiments by creating "genetically identical humans suitable for research" or by fostering a desire to replicate beauty, talent, and genius. Groop-man worries that Kass will encourage the council to write a guideline based on his "wisdom of repugnance." The "it must be wrong if it feels wrong" argument, according to Groopman, "is impervious to reason and severely constrained by time and place." Historically, the church once deemed autopsy, important for diagnosis, as repugnant and sacrilegious. To further Groopman's argument, in 1976 the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, home to Harvard Medical School, tried to make "repugnant" recombinant DNA research illegal. Now its NIH-regulated biotechnology treats heart disease, cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis. Groopman, in a summary response to Kass, states that he wants our national bioethical guidelines to be "based on fact, not on literature or aesthetics—one that distinguishes real science from science fiction."

Biotechnology continues to promise dazzling changes in modern society. But some fear its power to lead the human race down a slippery slope, making it vitally important for everyone—not just scientists and the clergy—to understand and to deliberate on the Groopman-Kass debate.

All About Alzheimers

All About Alzheimers

The comprehensive new ebook All About Alzheimers puts everything into perspective. Youll gain insight and awareness into the disease. Learn how to maintain the patients emotional health. Discover tactics you can use to deal with constant life changes. Find out how counselors can help, and when they should intervene. Learn safety precautions that can protect you, your family and your loved one. All About Alzheimers will truly empower you.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment