I am the author of the newly released novel LIVING PROOF, which centers around the issue of embryonic stem cell research in the year 2027, when destroying an embryo has become first-degree murder.
The story is about a young doctor who has a thriving medical career – and a huge secret – and a government investigator who finds himself caught between human life, a scientific breakthrough and the law.
As readers of this blog will be interested to know, the science in the book is technically accurate. I toured the stem cell labs at the University of California-Irvine and got a crash course from a couple of scientists, so I could paint a true picture of the nitty-gritty details. While I do take the field’s advancements one step further than in reality, the theories are correct.
Part of what drew me to this topic was my fascination with the tricky intersection of where the law meets science. Throw religion into the mix, and you’ve got a recipe for conflict, ripe to explore in fiction.
As readers who are familiar with this hot-button topic know, the law is constantly changing. Threats to the research’s legality constantly undermine its cutting-edge progress, as scientists sometimes don’t know whether their grants will remain intact, or even if their own states will shut them down. A case in point is Oklahoma, which is moving closer to becoming the first state in the country to pass a personhood bill that bans the destruction of embryos for research. Also, just last week, the state Senate of Virginia tabled a similar amendment, which would have had devastating effects for science in that state. From a news article dated Feb. 23, 2012:
In this twisted new world, Virginia researchers deriving embryonic stem cells from donated embryos might be charged with capital crimes, even murder. Couples donating embryos to research might be designated as accessories to these crimes. Microscopic embryos, consisting of a few cells in lab dishes or frozen in IVF clinics might be designated as wards of the state and by mandate have legal guardians appointed on their behalf.
I hate to say that this is exactly the case in the near-future society of LIVING PROOF; when I envisioned the world of the book, I imagined it was at least fifteen years off, but now it seems scarily prophetic. At the same time that these legal challenges are being mounted, the field is experiencing a major moment of excitement. Just about six weeks ago, on January 24th, researchers at UCLA announced that retinal cells derived from embryonic stem cells have helped restore vision to two legally blind women. It is the first breakthrough of its kind, and a testament to the very real power of this research to transform our lives—a power I sought to make real in LIVING PROOF.
The book is a thriller that’s meant first and foremost as entertainment, with characters who carry life-and-death secrets, risk dangerous betrayals, and embark on forbidden love. But it’s a thinking person’s thriller, as one critic has called it. I hope readers will agree that it’s a thought-provoking journey through one of the defining cultural debates of our time.