In the novel Clay’s Ark, Octavia Butler challenges readers by presenting them with conflicts that are of serious magnitude to the human species existence. In particular, the conflict at the center of the story is the extra-terrestrial disease, which infected Eli who returned to earth from the space mission to Proxi Two. The existence of humans is at risk if the infected go around others because an epidemic would be inevitable with the disease symptoms not presenting themselves in the early stages (Butler 497). The first part of the book makes it difficult not to blame the infected for this life or death conflict, yet as the book gets near the ending, a reader’s perspective is liable to change to the opposite view. The diseased individuals refusal to seek treatment is rationalized by iatrophobia because the medical system fails to care for black individuals health needs in a safe and informed consensual environment. Therefore, the blames shifts from the diseased to the medical institutions.
Race Relations and tensions are at the heart of the novel, even if the author is not being explicit and overt about the intensity of race issues in the story. For example, Meda’s interest in Eli is perceived by some characters to be complicated because the two are of different races. On page 505 in Clay’s Ark, Meda’s brother, Christian, makes a snide remark about her becoming involved with Eli romantically, for he interjects, “if that guy were white, I’d tell you to marry him”. Another instance of race relations present in the novel is on page 522, in which Lupe responds to Rane with humor that “nobody with young kids went. No white guy married to a black woman went either. Things never got that loose”. Lupe is informing Rane of the race disparity that is present in their failing society; specifically, the influence race had in being a determinate in the draftees assigned for the space mission to Proxi Two. She even remarks how despite the earth and everyone seemingly going to hell, race is still a persistent problem. Race is undeniably central to the novel and to characters fates.
The potentiality for a reader’s perspective to change through the course of the book relies upon the slow revealing of information. Information that is pertinent to taking into account who should be held responsible for this dilemma are those who approved of the space mission of Clay’s Ark. The approving vote that decided the fate of the earth was conducted by a group. This group should be held accountable for the conflict that is a result of the disastrous suffering of the drafted space crew and the impending epidemic. Given that the space mission involved drafting qualified applicants, it can be assumed that the board that made the approval vote was the government.
Misconceptions on what may be within a science fiction novel, as in race issues, may lead one to overlook the central conflict of the story. Underlying the main story is an inner story on the failure of medical institutions to serve black individuals in a reliable and trustworthy setting. Harriet A. Washington in Medical Apartheid gives a word of the phenomenon explored in Clay’s Ark as iatrophobia, or African American “fear of medicine”. Government officials, as noted earlier, would need to become involved in the matter of Eli’s infection because it is a public health concern. Responsibility is upon these officials’ shoulders, yet they do not know he survived. Eli refuses to report of his survival to the space mission officials because “considering the loss of the ship, its wealth of data, its frozen, dead crew, and its diseased, living crew, debriefing was a laughably mild name for what he would have gone through” (Butler 493). In this passage, Eli alludes to the overriding of informed consent in research experimentation that would inevitably be conducted on him. The iatrophobia he presents is mirrored by Lorene’s motive to become a midwife, as being such to care for “women too poor to go to the better hospitals and too frightened to go to the others” (Butler 584). Lorene acknowledges the dark history of medical institutions conducting harmful operations or experiments against a patient’s knowledge. The dominant fear of Eli is that his free will may be compromised because the extraterrestrial organisms “get into the brain cells”, thus providing a loophole for researchers to justify not needing consensual patients (Butler 498). The fear of medical experimentation and the epidemic risk of seeking treatment prevents the diseased from getting treatment. It is the prospect of what they may endure to obtain treatment initiatives that scares some of the diseased from seeking help.
Accountability comes in forms of various shapes and sizes, and in Clay’s Ark Butler challenges the notion of accountability by stimulating readers to account for placement of blame. The voting group is likened to the institutional review board committees. Institutional review boards oversee research endeavors to ensure that ethics are being followed by the researchers for the sake of their credibility and the safety of the participants. Informed consent is covered in IRB meetings to ensure that patients receive the information they need to approve of procedures or experiments conducted on them. In Washington’s book Medical Apartheid, informed consent of HIV positive orphans is questionable. The Incarnation Children’s Center is responsible for the care of orphan children with HIV who, under their supervision and guardianship, have the children undergo experimental drug trials. Washington’s research reveals that these experimental trials are not for the benefit of the children’s health, rather they are benefiting the researchers aims to find the best drugs. For example, a select few of the children in these experimental drug trials were forced to take “AIDS medications [that were] being tested to determine their toxicity”, medications that are not needed for HIV infected individuals (Washington 334). The drug experimentation of the HIV positive orphaned children shows the fears of the infected in Clay’s Ark, because with the nature of their disease, informed consent, like the children’s, could be disregarded.
Disease treatments are important to be devised, so that options of treatment are available to the sick. However, researchers may go to extreme lengths that pose risks to a participant’s health in order to devise the best drug protocols out of greed. In instances like these, one would easily view the researcher as exploitative of the sick to meet their selfish career or monetary goals of advancement. Experimental drug trials are usually a last resort for people. Participants in medical research trials are vulnerable to experimentation exploitation if IRB’s do not oversee the patient’s welfare.