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Literature and Medicine 20.1 (2001) vii-xi

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Editor's Column

In early 1979, not long after I had joined the faculty of the Institute for the Medical Humanities of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, I was invited to give a seminar presentation about cloning in science fiction for one of the basic-science departments at the university. Eager to oblige my new colleagues, I gave the presentation, only to be taken by surprise by their disdainful responses. Why, they asked me, would anyone waste time writing a story or novel about human cloning when it could never happen? They assured me emphatically that the scientific and technical problems inherent in cloning a mammal were so great that no mammal would ever be cloned.

On the morning in 1997 when I heard the news that Scottish researchers had cloned a sheep named Dolly, I immediately thought back to that day eighteen years before when those scientists were so certain that a mammal would never be cloned. It was in reflecting on this experience that I developed the Call for Papers for this thematic issue of Literature and Medicine, which focuses on Science Fiction and the Future of Medicine. Since the mid-1980s, the editorial board had from time to time discussed the possibility of a thematic issue on medicine in science fiction; however, for one reason or another, the possibility was set aside in favor of other themes. When the idea came up in discussion again for the theme of the first issue of 2001, the time seemed right.

Throughout the twentieth century, writers of science fiction have helped prepare us for the extraordinary advances in medicine and biomedical technology--such as organ transplantation, cybernetic organisms (cyborgs), and cloning--by imagining what those technologies would be like and by speculating about the ethical issues and social changes they would evoke. As we begin the twenty-first century, however, the time lag between the speculations of science fiction and the reality of biomedical technology has shrunk dramatically. Thus, one of the questions we hoped that the essays in this issue might attempt to answer is, What next? Can science-fiction authors continue to help prepare us for the future of medicine by extending their imaginations beyond the quickened pace of real technological change? If the human imagination can no longer "go before" and speculate about potential [End Page vii] scientific, human, and moral terrain, then we've lost an important cultural resource. No single contributor answers this question, but readers are invited to form their own answers from the array of provocative essays collected here.

This issue comes at a pivotal time for the journal, as it moves between editors. Suzanne Poirier stepped down from the editorship effective with our last issue; Rita Charon and Maura Spiegel will begin their coeditorship with the next issue. In between, in this first issue of our twentieth volume, the journal is poised like Janus, looking toward both the past and the future. We dedicate this issue in memoriam to two of our founding Contributing Editors, Samuel Alston Banks and Elizabeth Sewell, who have died in the past year. In memorial tributes, Ronald A. Carson and Rita Charon remind us of Banks's and Sewell's fierce support of this once fledgling field and journal. It seems to me fitting that we honor Banks and Sewell for their imagination and vision in an issue that looks to the future.

As sometimes happens when putting together such an issue, I found that the essays seem to cohere in certain patterns of their own. They fall naturally into two groups of three. Essays in the first group consider the moral guidance that literature in general and science fiction in particular offer in regard to biomedical ethics. Those in the second group examine particular biomedical technologies in science fiction. There is a steady chronological progression from the first essay, which looks back at centuries of Western literature, to the final essay, which looks forward to the future evolution of the human species. Yet many themes and values remain constant throughout...


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