MERCHANTS OF IMMORTALITY: Chasing the Dream of Human Life Extension

Stephen S. Hall, Author . Houghton Mifflin $25 (448p) ISBN 978-0-618-09524-7

Drawing on scores of original interviews and contemporary source material, Hall, a contributing writer and editor at the New York Times Magazine (Invisible Frontiers: The Race to Synthesize a Human Gene), gives a timely and engrossing account of the high-stakes science of life extension. The author kicks off with the éminence grise of the field, Leonard Hayflick, and his human cell line called WI-38, which opened the gates for biotech research and showed that our cells may have built-in limitations on longevity. His WI-38 strain, taken from aborted fetus cells used to develop a polio vaccine, also became an ethical flash point that, as the author shows, has steered the course of biomedical research in aging, cancer, stem cells and cloning. Here, too, are the repeated rise and fall of entrepreneur Michael West, the idiosyncratic "lapsed creationist, born-again Darwinist," who merges his spiritual belief in immortality with big money science. Hall aims to show how the Clinton administration's decision not to support therapeutic cloning and regenerative medicine represented government held hostage by "heavy-handed, ideological fundamentalism, enforced by anonymous thuggery." The book wraps with President George W. Bush's decision in 2001 to allow stem-cell research to proceed, but only using already existing cell lines. Among Hall's conclusions: distrust of science is the subtext of the debate over embryonic stem cells and research cloning, and regenerative medicine is inevitably yoked to health-care limitations in access, affordability, timeliness and, Hall writes, "simply, good medicine." He says the notion of "victory over mortality" is a canard, but we may be able to slow the aging process. This is top-drawer journalism. Agent, Melanie Jackson. (June 18)

Reviewed on: 05/05/2003
Release date: 06/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 439 pages - 978-0-618-49221-3
Open Ebook - 452 pages - 978-0-618-51073-3
Open Ebook - 448 pages - 978-0-547-56157-8
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