Unfortunately 'Unwind' Isn’t Really So Far-Fetched

My niece introduced me to the Unwind series of books last year after she had to read the first book in school. I found them so engaging and wonderfully written that I have since gone on to read them all.

Imagine that abortion was outlawed. There was a huge war (seemingly a sort of civil war). The flip side, according to the storyline, is that between the ages of 13 and 18, parents and guardians can have teens “unwound,” which is a sort of deconstruction of their body, though all the parts are have to be 90% or more repurposed, such as in transplants for others. 

This solved two problems, according to the book’s government: that of the “feral” teens who were causing problems and wreaking havoc. So everyone’s supposed to be happy: There’s no abortion and all those problem teens are living a life of fulfilled purpose.

After reading the first three books, I thought that, yes, they were creepy, but they were also pretty unlikely to happen in real life. I can’t help but see parallels, of course, because suddenly there’s a “need” for unwinding, because of the demand for harvested organs and body parts, and there’s a black market and a culture of death that’s trumped up and no longer thinly veiled. (Unwinding, however, isn’t death. It’s billed as making your life matter and keeping people safe from troublemakers.)


Maybe NOT Unlikely After All

And then I come across something in my news-feed like this, from the Boston Globe:

Fertility medicine made a leap forward 10 days ago when a Swedish obstetrician announced the first birth of a baby from a transplanted womb, but specialists in Boston say such operations are unlikely to become commonplace anytime soon.

On Tuesday, Adelaide Mena covered it for the the Catholic News Agency, interviewing Father Tad Pacholczyk from the National Catholic Bioethics Center.

As I read this, I couldn’t help but think of the links included within the books of the Unwind series. They’re links to real news stories. One I clicked on yesterday referred to a black market for organs and child trafficking related to smuggling for organs:

Bharti Patel, the chief executive of Ecpat UK, the child protection charity, said: "Traffickers are exploiting the demand for organs and the vulnerability of children. It's unlikely that a trafficker is going to take this risk and bring just one child into the UK. It is likely there was a group."

According to the World Health Organisation as many as 7,000 kidneys are illegally obtained by traffickers each year around the world.

While there is a black market for organs such as hearts, lungs and livers, kidneys are the most sought after organs because one can be removed from a patient without any ill effects.

So while I entertain myself with a theoretical universe where teens are victimized for their parts, there are people dismantling themselves already and a black market that already exists for organs.


Cutting Edge?

Some would consider that Facebook and Apple are on the cutting edge of benefits. Look at this, from TechCrunch:

Facebook and Apple are making it easier for female employees to delay having kids and focus on their careers instead. Both companies have now offered to pay to freeze their eggs.

Many tech companies offer wild perks such as unlimited vacation, a casual work environment, and meals from five-star chefs. Google even offers massage and on-site laundry services to keep employees working. This appears to be the first time any major tech company has offered freezing a woman’s eggs as a perk.

The procedure can cost up to $10,000 plus the $500 per year to store the eggs. Facebook already offers up to $20,000 in coverage for an egg freezing procedure as a perk to all female employees and Apple will offer to cover the cost starting in January.

Blogger Kathy Schiffer outlines the reasons this is immoral and usually not accepted by the Catholic Church, citing Dignitas Personae, published in 2008 by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. She also raises the other moral questions of delaying childbearing, which are largely ignored in any discussion of this type.

Then, just a day later, I read this, from Mashable:

When stem cells were first culled from human embryos sixteen years ago, scientists imagined they would soon be treating diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and many other diseases with cells manufactured in the lab.

It's all taken longer than they thought. But now, a Massachusetts biotech firm has reported results from the largest, and longest, human test of a treatment based on embryonic stem cells, saying it appears safe and may have partly restored vision to patients going blind from degenerative diseases.

Think Again

But successful pregnancies from transplanted wombs and stem cells for blindness make me think again, just as a black market for kidneys that relies on smuggled children makes me shudder.

Our technology is a tool, one that can help build great good in the world. But I can’t help but think that, with all the advances, that we’re missing the big picture.

In the article at TechCrunch, the discussion continues beyond the perks offered by Apple and Google:

Offering a way for women to ‘delay’ having children while advancing their monetary position definitely adds options, which is a good thing. But there is the question of what kind of precedents that this enforces. Is it the employee’s responsibility to make every concession for the company — or does a company bear a responsibility to commit to an employee, even if that means letting them take some time off to give birth.

When we objectify our bodies — which includes using them as a way to advance technology — we don’t really fulfill our human dignity. If anything, we deny that there is such a thing as human dignity. We become, in the words of Shusterman’s government in Unwind, worth more as parts than we are as a whole.

Is that really what we want?