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Robin Cook’s “Seizure” Questions Ethics in Medical Research

Shroud of Turin

As though ripped directly from today’s headlines, author Robin Cook’s “Seizure” explores what might happen if man refuses to abide by his own scientific guidelines in order to make an exception for a supposed special individual. However, more than that, the story explores the role that politics plays in manipulating the system to determine if, when, and how medical research is allowed.

Dr. Daniel Lowell and his partner – – both literally and figuratively – – Dr. Stephanie D’Agostino, are desperate to keep their research funds in place. On the precipice of a major scientific break through that has powerful ramifications for debilitating disease, the pair address a committee of Congress in a last ditch effort to keep their company and cure alive.

The chairman of the committee, Senator Ashley Butler, seems determined to tank any chance that the duo has of keeping their dream going. During their meeting, he berates and belittles them; making certain that they feel not only like fools but total osers, as well. He makes it perfectly clear that without his approval, they stand no chance of retaining funding.

Angry and defeated, Dr. Lowell doesn’t want to respond to the Senator’s request for a private meeting with him. However, Stephanie’s cooler head prevails and the pair agrees to meet with their nemesis. They are surprised by the results of the tete a tete. It seems that the Senator is suffering from Parkinson’s and wants to be their human guinea pig. He promises, if they succeed, in the treatment, he will make certain they are able to retain their company and their funding.

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The intrigue, however, doesn’t end there. It seems that the treatment requires an outside infusion of DNA from another subject. However, the Senator doesn’t just want any subject. He wants the DNA located within the blood of the Shroud of Turin, for he believes it to be the blood of Jesus Christ.

Since the treatment proposed by Dr. Lowell is illegal in the U.S., the group must come up with options off shore. They make arrangements with a rather shady infertility clinic in the Bahamas, thinking that they can outsmart the doctors who run it.

They must also manipulate the Catholic Church in order to get a hold of a tiny thread of the Shroud of Turin. And when they miscalculate their handling of the situation, they must make a break for it before all of their plans are ruined.

Finally, there is the fact that Dr. D’Agostino’s family has ties with the Mafia; ties deeper than even she knew about. Her brother is being pressured to make certain that the Mafia’s money invested in the proposed cure will be returned. Something he feels he cannot do if she takes off to “vacation” in the Bahamas.

The U.S. government, a shady clinic, the Catholic Church, and the Mafia ensure that there is intrigue and mystery with every turn of the page in this fictional novel.

Cook is an excellent author, particularly with regard to medical mystery thrillers which are his forte. His characters are vivid and intelligent with layers that keep them from coming across as one dimensional heroes, heroines, or villains. Such is the case again with the multitude of characters built into this book.

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Lowell is arrogant, driven, and ambitious. Yet, below it all, is a genuine wish to help mankind. Although an obviously flawed human being, he is not a bad person; simply misdirected. Stephanie D’Agostino is a little more level headed. She is the voice of reason in the pairing. Still, she too wants to succeed; wants to leave a positive mark where her family has left nothing but negatives.

Senator Butler believes himself to be above everyone else. Because of his position and power, he feels no need to comply with the same set of standards required of other “mere mortals.” His arrogance has led him to believe that he has the right to the DNA of Christ himself and he will allow nothing and no one to stand in the way of what he wants.

There are twists and turns at every juncture of this novel. Just as soon as the reader believes he or she has it figured out, along comes something new to muddy the waters; constantly leaving not just pieces but the entire story up in the air.

I love Cook’s novels. He is one of my favorite authors. I find his work incredibly thorough and detailed. Overall, I enjoyed this particular novel. It really ties in with today’s headlines and is obviously right in line with all of the controversy regarding the use of stem cell research. However, I did feel that the conclusion to this particular book seemed a bit hurried.

Although sub-plots were set with regard to the infertility clinic, the Catholic Church and the Mafia, none of these stories were actually played out to any kind of conclusion. Instead insinuations were made regarding what the fallout might be and then everything was just dropped cold. It appears almost as if the book was regarded as too long and there was a need to suddenly cut it off. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that one or two chapters had been eliminated (which might have dealt with the tie-ups of the multitude of sub-plots).

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In this novel, Cook paints a clear picture of what can happen when politics and science try to manipulate outcomes to serve their own greedy personal interests. It is worth reading for that reason alone.