Fifteen years from now, in Kira Peikoff’s vision, the United States is under siege. Religious conservatives have banned not only stem cell testing, but the destruction of all in vitro embryos. Those embryos, the conservatives believe, are human beings who deserve the opportunity to exist, whether in continued embryonic form or not. Destroying them is akin to murder.
But what if you had a debilitating, life threatening disease, such as multiple sclerosis? What if the only path by which you could be cured was through stem cell research and testing? What happens then?
Such is the quandary in Peikoff’s Living Proof, a fairly well balanced suspense and romance focused on the battle between religion and science.
Arianna Drake is an OB-GYN with her own fertility practice. She also has MS and desperately wants a cure. Toward that end, she is cloning embryos in an attempt to outwit the DEP – Department of Embryo Preservation, a fierce watchdog organization run by Gideon Dopp, a former priest. Arianna believes that Dopp and his colleagues are religious zealots determined to shove their faith down the throats of people such as herself, those who believe that saving lives is just as important as saving embryos. Dopp is convinced that Arianna is breaking the law, so he enlists Trent Rowe to go undercover. Get to know Arianna, Dopp commands, and see if you can figure out what she’s hiding.
Trent goes undercover, all right, and the man who believes that the DEP is doing the right thing quickly has all of his beliefs questioned. Is Dopp right? Is the DEP doing God’s will? Are they on the side of righteousness and goodness? Or does Arianna have a point? Isn’t saving lives just as important?
What Peikoff gets right in Living Proof is presenting a reasonably balanced discussion of science versus faith. As Trent tries to make sense of the struggle, he goes to talk to his family priest, Father Paul:
“You’re right, the Church isn’t perfect, but that’s because it’s run by men. Remember the whole idea of faith, Trent: Let go of reason adn give in to God’s higher plan. We can’t question Him, we can only follow.”
“I guess so. It’s just hard when I’m so torn.”
“No wonder you’re miserable, Trent. If you think about yourself and your problems all the time, it only depresses you because deep down you know how selfish you’re being. Think of Jesus. You need to learn to sacrifice your own desires in order to do something that will help others. That’s the only way to come out of this. Let the Lord guide you back to grace.”
Trent remains somewhat confused. Isn’t using stem cells a way of doing something that will help others? Gideon Dopp agrees with Father Paul, and, unlike Trent, Gideon has experience with fertility clinics. A former priest himself, Gideon fell in love with his wife when she was his parishioner, and the two resorted to in vitro fertilization after four years of failed attempts. He believes that their “suffering was God’s punishment for Dopp’s abandonment of the priesthood,” and after giving up on in vitro, they were blessed with not one but two pregnancies. Dopp is self-righteous, but Peikoff does an excellent job of not making him a caricature. His motives are pure, if not narrow minded.
Arianna presents the opposing point of view, as it were. As she says to Trent:
“I believe that following your own happiness is what life is all about. What makes religion so bad is that it condemns you for caring about exactly that.”
“But they say you should devote your life to others.”
“… Why are you doubting your own doubt? When you abandon your reason for faith in God, you succumb to the notion that you’re a pawn of some higher being. But you are the only one in control of your life – of what you love and who you love.”
Arianna despises what she views as religious manipulation, and decries the fact that the faithful give good lip service to having faith over proof, yet they deny evidence of the help that stem cells provide.
The suspense comes when Arianna’s pals come oh so close to a cure. Will she be saved before she gets caught? And what about Trent? Whose side will he choose?
Living Proof will give you a lot to think about. If you believe that stem cell research is evil, you might find yourself admitting that it can lead to some good things. If you believe that fundamentalists are freaks and kooks, you may come to see that it is not so simple.
While not perfect – Living Proof has moments where it drags, and drags badly – this nonetheless is an engrossing book that is sure to stir discussion. It would be a good book club choice, because it certainly offers a lot to talk about and debate.
Published by Tor Books and available on Amazon.com.
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.