Bioethics of Medical Advances and Genetic Manipulation is an odd book in this part of the world. Odd because it is brazenly honest in tackling issues that the society here has for long buried its head in the sand about. The book addresses issues of infertility and Assisted Reproductive Technology, sex orientation, sex selection, human reproduction and the beginning and end of life among many other topical issues that have mainly been hush discussions in bars, social media and other informal meetings; not so much discussed by distinguished authorities of such caliber as the Honorable Judge of the Supreme Court of Kenya, Justice Isaac Lenaola and a geneticist, Prof. Marion Mutugi.

What stands out for example is how the authors manage to challenge one’s beliefs in issues that may seem to be either black or white, with no gray areas. A good example is the issue of life and death, where the authors probe the reader to think about when life begins, and when it does end.

When does life actually end? Is it when a person stops breathing; when the heart stops beating; when vital signs such as blood pressure and pulse cease; when organs such as the heart, liver and kidneys cease or when the brain activity has ceased?” Reads an excerpt from the book.

The authors bring in very real examples not just from around the globe, but also from Kenya. The debate on when life begins is a controversial topic in Kenya, one that formed a major divide in the 2010 referendum for the current Kenyan constitution. From the authors and evidence laid therein, the question on when life begins and when it does end is not as straightforward as we may think.

“…”life begins at conception.” However, this statement is vague since conception can either refer to fertilization or implantation.”

The authors have managed to challenge beliefs by going back to the history of medicine and bioethics, walking the reader through how the current advancements that we have in this fields cost humanity, some people paying the ultimate price for the modernity that we see. One gets to appreciate the thinking behind some experiments that were carried out and the potential benefit or harm, to the people at the time. This historical perspectives paint a picture of how thin and fragile the moral fabric is. This navigation through history makes this book unique to the reader, as one gets to appreciate the context in which this book is authored.

The extensive search in literature, previous court cases and rulings within Kenya and beyond to bring the Kenyan perspective and narrative into the discussion makes one appreciate the passion of the authors in “personalizing” the discussions and bringing them closer home to one’s doorsteps. A look at a picture of Juliana and Esther Soi in the book makes the discussion all too real.

The authors to me seem to have addressed openly the issues that women bare the brunt of most of the times. If you look at issues of infertility, women are often to blame even when they are not the infertile partner. Disputes are often related to paternity more than it is to maternity, and this is where DNA analysis comes in, although this is not the only reason for DNA analysis as you will find out in the book. The detailed look at issues of human reproduction and fertility makes one appreciate the struggle that women go through just to ‘fit’ in society, and the burden that they carry should they be deemed ‘unfit’.

This book is an example of what a collaboration of top scholars and experts in their fields can do to a society by simply coming together to share their knowledge and experiences in literature that is authentic and quotable by anyone. This is evidence that the truly learned in Kenya should be vocal in conversations, without fear or prejudice, no matter how controversial the discourse may be deemed.

This book should form part of literature in medical schools, law schools and in humanities. The young generation needs to appreciate the genesis of some of the rights we enjoy, and what their role can be in shaping future narratives in medicine and law. Doctors in particular should pick this book and devour it like they would a medical text. By bringing culture, beliefs and a society’s perception on medicine, this book “humanizes” the patient for the doctor, and they stop being just another case to treat and discharge.

Churches and believers in religion of whatever nature need to acquaint themselves with the contents of this book. They may need to revisit some of their hard stance on matters of health that they base on religious beliefs and morals. They ought to question whether their beliefs can still stand amidst modern advancements in medicine.

Finally, Policy makers, and especially parliamentarians charged with formulating the laws of the land need to read this book if we are to move in tandem with the rest of the world. This book, without blatantly saying it, paints a picture of a country where laws and guidelines in the medical aspects discussed, are long overdue.

Dr. Mercy Korir is a Kenyan Medical Journalist.

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The PLATFORM for Law, Justice and Society is a monthly publication by Gitobu Imanyara & Company that was established in 2014 to provide a platform where Kenyans can share their opinions on current issues of concerns in the country, Africa, and beyond.