Well this got out of hand and way longer than anyone could ever be interested in reading. That’s more or less fine since the primary goal of these is as an exercise and to force me to think about the things I read more deliberately, but of course ideally I’d still like people to read these things so in the interest of not scaring people away, I’ve divided this into 3 sections. I’ll also take this opportunity to to warn you that in order to talk about the things I want to talk about, I’ll have to spoil pretty much everything, so reader beware. Literally the first sentence is going to spoil the entire book.
Does it matter? In the book, the advent of cloning effectively becomes the panacea of most fatal illness and injury. Major and vital organs become widely available to the population at large. They specifically mention that cancer is essentially no longer an issue. So knowing how high the bar for quality of life is raised, and how many lives can be saved, do you even ask the question? The society in Never Let Me Go answers the question by basically ignoring it. They recognized the value of cloning so strongly that they can’t even bring themselves to really consider that these people might have souls. The protagonists are actually unwittingly taking part in a sort of experiment to see if maybe they do have souls, and should be treated differently. The organization running the experiment eventually falls apart and things carry on as they had been.
I can’t see it actually happening this way in the real world. There’s so much baggage around allowing cloning to happen as it is, that even breaking the seal is hard to imagine. But even if we do cross that bridge, I just can’t fathom us turning cloned humans into organ farms. The human rights implications are enormous. I suppose it’s worth mentioning that in the story, the cloning breakthrough happens in the 40s or 50s, and I don’t have a real historical context for what human rights were like at that time, but maybe it seems more believable through that lens.
Oh I guess I haven’t said where I stand. The specific question of souls is a little off base for me, as I've said, but I do think that a cloned person is as much a person as you or I, and thus farming out people for their organs is not ok. Yes it could be of invaluable use and save many lives, but so could harvesting peoples organs now. If you just sectioned of a segment of the population and reserved them for organ donations, then you would get the same result. Obviously that sounds awful, but it’s no different than doing the same thing to clones. Cloned people are still people and people are people too.
To return to the book itself briefly, the presentation of all of this is smooth and light handed. You've been following these characters and identifying with them for a while before they drop that they are clones. Which means you already see them as people by default, you’re already on their side. So once the line is drawn, you immediately put them on your side, our side. It’s like when your mom makes you eat something without telling you what’s in it, and then once you say that you really like it: “Surprise, it was vegetables!” It’s an interesting way to make you answer the question before they ask it. Of course, since it’s a book, it’s really the author answering the question and then asking it, because in the world of the book, the clones very clearly do have souls.