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  • Writer's pictureMaya Sissoko: Blog Editor

A Literary Analysis of Medical Ethics in The Death Cure by Nick Age 10

Medical research has a price, whether it’s dead rats when trying out a new drug,  the cost of Research and Development, or even paying for people to be tested on. Sometimes, however, it is not worth it. In The Death Cure by James Dashner, the people at Wicked, a medical research facility, who are experimenting on immunes, certainly believe that there is a high price to find a cure to the Flare, which has a mortality rate of 100%. Although human testing is sometimes necessary, violating the rights of subjects is unethical. In an article from the National Institute of Health, entitled Saving Lives, Not Sacrificing Them: The Inevitable Clash Between Medical Research And The Protection Of Medical Subjects, Allen B. Weisse writes, “...(there is) the need to have patients participate in studies in order to evaluate the validity of new treatments. With this came the responsibility to ensure the protection and rights of the patients and normal volunteers involved.” Thus, Wicked is unethical, believing that violating subjects for a gamble at the cure is for the greater good, which leads to many deaths without a strong chance of finding a cure. 

Wicked attempts to sacrifice Thomas, an unwilling participant, which is unethical according to Weisse’s definition. Just before he tries to kill him, Dr. Janson reveals to Thomas, “We will do whatever it takes to find a cure...” (264, Death Cure)  They are willing to sacrifice Thomas, their trainer, for the greater good of humankind to analyze his brain, which demonstrates a serious commitment to their warped version of “the greater good.” It is not for the greater good, and thus unethical, because they should test on animals or willing participants instead of random children who are ripped from their families.  Overall, Wicked is unethical because they take subjects and kill them without their consent. Wicked doesn’t stop at Thomas, though.

The researchers are even willing to sacrifice hundreds of immune children in the harsh desert and the dangerous glade to help find a cure. In the book, the Gladers and Group B spend two weeks in the stormy desert and two years in the Glade with Grievers. Both events diminish the population by more than 90%, from 400 to about 20 (10, Death Cure). This shows that Wicked is capable of not only mass murder but also of tearing hundreds of children from their families, which is horrendous, without even considering the odds of success.

Whether the participants are willing or unwilling, Wicked’s trials involve far too much risk to be deemed a safe or worthwhile experiment. In the previous two books, Wicked revealed that they did not get as much data as they expected and needed to “up the ante” to make the trials harsher, which they believed would help them collect more data. (40, Scorch Trials) For context, these kids are specifically chosen because they are the smartest immunes and would give them the best shot at getting a cure. The fact that most of the kids are dying is extremely concerning because if they kill them off now, then they will only have worse quality immunes to work with. These actions are unethical, as these children might have died for nothing.

Wicked is extremely unethical as they attempt to kill an unwilling participant, they leave hundreds to die in the trials, and they risk failure without due cause. This book raises many complex questions about the ethics of medicine and the larger topic of human experimentation. What is the cost of a human life versus an elixir that could save lives? Is there a price for human life? 


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