George Estreich's Fables and Futures: Biotechnology, Disability, and the Stories We Tell is a book I assigned for Fall 2019, though it had not been out long. My philosophy of science and technology graduate students read this book during our last week of class, where I usually have us read something about biotechnology for discussion. Next time I teach bioethics, this book will be on the syllabus too. And, as I read it again, I'm trying to figure out which parts I could assign to the regenerative medicine students I see through an interdisciplinary team. I recommend this book highly and not only understand its value as a text that could be taught, but as a book that fills an important niche for what I believe disability studies and bioethics should be teaching students. This is a work of applied disability studies that looks critically at new and developing technologies through the frameworks and narratives found in disability studies scholarship.
Estreich starts and ends and weaves through with the personal context that has led him to this work that looks at rhetoric about technology and disability. His daughter Laura has Down Syndrome. Estreich has taken a deep dive on the rhetoric about disability - especially about intellectual disability and in our collective thoughts about children - that becomes a prism to understand how these other conversations fall out. At its most basic, Estreich's work asks fundamental questions about belonging and community in the face of biotechnologies like gene editing, CRISPR-Cas9, and preimplantation genetic diagnostics. He weaves these questions together with personal reflection on being a parent, disability scholarship, popular news stories, advertisements, and the stories we are told - and may need to reconsider. In this way, I find it a difficult book to succinctly review since every chapter draws from such a wide range of historical, popular, personal, and scholarly sources.
The material Estreich curates and describes helps to show the error in conflation between different genetic disabilities - not all stories need to look alike. He adds important context of Fitter Family and Better Baby competitions that I have not seen in other texts. He also spins his own tale about the distortions, missteps, and mistaken assumptions on which the marketing and idea of the inevitability of biotechnology and genetic technologies rest upon. He manages to bring together a number of themes and topics in disability studies and in broader culture that give us a context for thinking more carefully about biotechnology. He suggests every new technology changes how we think about ourselves and the world in which we live—and he highlights some of these changes along the course of this book.
This book is important because, as Estreich himself puts it: "How we treat people depends on what we think about them, and what we think is both revealed and influenced by what we say" (p. 163). Fables and Futures provides an account of what we're thinking and what we're saying about biotechnology, and the book demonstrates the influence of rhetorics around disability that have set the mould for how we conceive (and misconceive) of new technologies. In the vein of writers like Carl Elliott in bioethics and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson in disability studies, Estreich makes his case for the importance of rhetoric about biotechnology and disability through the use of many sources. I recommend it for a wide variety of bioethics and disability studies classrooms, as well as a text to engage scientists, engineers, and a broader public in conversation about the impact of how we talk and think about biotechnology - and how we talk and think about the lives that will be most powerfully influenced by new technologies.