An educated, thoughtful discussion of the ethics of the new medical techniques concerned with conception. Australians Singer and Wells—philosopher (Practical Ethics, The Expanding Circle) and Member of Parliament respectively—gathered the latest on scientific research, medical practice, government recommendations, and popular polls from Australia, Britain, and the US. (Public opinion does not define right, the authors acknowledge; but it is nevertheless important to know what the majority is thinking.) Five practices are systematically examined: in vitro fertilization, surrogate motherhood, ectogenesis ("growth and development of a being outside its mother's womb during a period when it would normally be inside the womb"—as in care of premature babies), cloning and sex selection, and genetic engineering. Singer and Wells pronounce definitely on each practice, at its current level of development. On IVF, for instance, they find that most current objections—charges of "unnaturalness," the 'rupture of sex and procreation," the risk of abnormal children—can be dismissed on medical or philosophical/ethical/ moral grounds. Legally, embryos can be viewed either as property or as potential children, subject to child custody laws; in either case, the authors stress, care must be taken beforehand: "If a couple has been well counselled and has signed statements covering the most likely eventualities, few of these disputes should need to go to court." Though the other techniques are not yet as prevalent, Singer and Wells maintain that we can be comfortable with surrogate motherhood supervised by a "Surrogate Board," with guidelines for use; and that while ectogenesis is best considered on an individual basis, we must reject the desire to save all babies ("the proposal to grow nonsentient embryos beyond the point at which they would normally have become sentient"). On overall recommendations, Singer and Wells founder with the rest of us: their basic proposal is for expert national bioethics committees to address these issues—however difficult it would be to decide the power of such groups or their membership. In spite of its final uncertainty: a serious, practiced addition to current discussion.

Pub Date: May 1, 1985

ISBN: 0684188155

Page Count: -

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1985



Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010


An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

A study of swimming as sport, survival method, basis for community, and route to physical and mental well-being.

For Bay Area writer Tsui (American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, 2009), swimming is in her blood. As she recounts, her parents met in a Hong Kong swimming pool, and she often visited the beach as a child and competed on a swim team in high school. Midway through the engaging narrative, the author explains how she rejoined the team at age 40, just as her 6-year-old was signing up for the first time. Chronicling her interviews with scientists and swimmers alike, Tsui notes the many health benefits of swimming, some of which are mental. Swimmers often achieve the “flow” state and get their best ideas while in the water. Her travels took her from the California coast, where she dove for abalone and swam from Alcatraz back to San Francisco, to Tokyo, where she heard about the “samurai swimming” martial arts tradition. In Iceland, she met Guðlaugur Friðþórsson, a local celebrity who, in 1984, survived six hours in a winter sea after his fishing vessel capsized, earning him the nickname “the human seal.” Although humans are generally adapted to life on land, the author discovered that some have extra advantages in the water. The Bajau people of Indonesia, for instance, can do 10-minute free dives while hunting because their spleens are 50% larger than average. For most, though, it’s simply a matter of practice. Tsui discussed swimming with Dara Torres, who became the oldest Olympic swimmer at age 41, and swam with Kim Chambers, one of the few people to complete the daunting Oceans Seven marathon swim challenge. Drawing on personal experience, history, biology, and social science, the author conveys the appeal of “an unflinching giving-over to an element” and makes a convincing case for broader access to swimming education (372,000 people still drown annually).

An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61620-786-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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