Executive Times






2007 Book Reviews


Next by Michael Crichton








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Following his lackluster novel State of Fear, Michael Crichton has bounced back with a genetic engineering novel titled, Next. As he’s become wont to do, Crichton is calling attention through fiction to the ways in which public policy needs to change. In this case, he’s concerned about the gene patents that are being granted. In Next, he carries the current momentum to a point that will give pause to most readers. Here’s an excerpt, all of “CH002,” pp. 24-29:


Alex had been watching the jury all during the latest testimony. Their faces were impassive, but nobody moved, nobody shifted. The gasps were involuntary, evidence of how deeply engaged they were with what they were hearing. And the jury remained transfixed as the questions continued:

“Mr. Burnet, did Dr. Gross ever apologize to you for misleading you?”


“Did he ever offer to share his profit with you?”


“Did you ask him to?”

“Eventually I did, yes. When I realized what he had already done. They were my cells, from my body. I thought I should have something to say about what was done with them.”

“But he refused?”

“Yes. He said it was none of my business what he did with my cells.”

The jury reacted to that. Several turned and looked at Dr. Gross. That was a good sign, too, Alex thought.

“One final question, Mr. Burnet. Did you ever sign an authorization for Dr. Gross to use your cells for any commercial purposes?”


“You never authorized their sale?”

“Never. But he did it anyway.”

“No further questions.”

The judge called a fifteen-minute recess, and when the court recon­vened, the UCLA attorneys began the cross-examination. For this trial, UCLA had hired Raeper and Cross, a downtown firm that specialized in high-stakes corporate litigation. Raeper represented oil companies and major defense contractors. Clearly, UCLA did not regard this trial as a defense of medical research. Three billion dollars were at stake; it was big business, and they hired a big-business firm.

The lead attorney for UCLA was Albert Rodriguez. He had a youth­ful, easy appearance, a friendly smile, and a disarming sense of seeming new at the job. Actually, Rodriguez was forty-five and had been a suc­cessful litigator for twenty years, but he somehow managed to give the impression that this was his first trial, and he subtly appealed to the jury to cut him some slack.

“Now, Mr. Burnet, I imagine it has been taxing for you to go over the emotionally draining experiences of the last few years. I appreci­ate your telling the jury your experiences, and I won’t keep you long. I believe you told the jury that you were very frightened, as anyone would naturally be. By the way, how much weight had you lost, when you first came to Dr. Gross?”

Alex thought, Uh-oh. She knew where this was going. They were going to emphasize the dramatic nature of the cure. She glanced at the attorney sitting beside her, who was clearly trying to think of a strategy. She leaned over and whispered, “Stop it.”

The attorney shook his head, confused.

Her father was saying, “I don’t know how much I lost. About forty or fifty pounds.”

“So your clothes didn’t fit well?”

“Not at all.”

“And what was your energy like at that time? Could you climb a flight of stairs?”

“No. I’d go two or three steps, and I’d have to stop.”

“From exhaustion?”

Alex nudged the attorney at her side, whispered, “Asked and answered.” The attorney immediately stood up.

“Objection. Your Honor, Mr. Burnet has already stated he was diag­nosed with a terminal condition.”

“Yes,” Rodriguez said, “and he has said he was frightened. But I think the jury should know just how desperate his condition really was.”

“I’ll allow it.”

“Thank you. Now then, Mr. Burnet. You had lost a quarter of your body weight, you were so weak you couldn’t climb more than a couple of stairs, and you had a deadly serious form of leukemia. Is that right?”


Alex gritted her teeth. She wanted desperately to stop this line of questioning, which was clearly prejudicial, and irrelevant to the ques­tion of whether her father’s doctor had acted improperly after curing him. But the judge had decided to allow it to continue, and there was nothing she could do. And it wasn’t egregious enough to provide grounds for appeal.

“And for help in your time of need,” Rodriguez said, “you came to the best physician on the West Coast to treat this disease?”


“And he treated you.”


“And he cured you. This expert and caring doctor cured you.”

“Objection! Your Honor, Dr. Gross is a physician, not a saint.”


“All right,” Rodriguez said. “Let me put it this way: Mr. Burnet, how long has it been since you were diagnosed with leukemia?”

“Six years.”

“Is it not true that a five-year survival in cancer is considered a cure?”

“Objection, calls for expert conclusion.” “Sustained.”

Your Honor,” Rodriguez said, turning to the judge, “I don’t know why this is so difficult for Mr. Burnet’s attorneys. I am merely trying to establish that Dr. Gross did, in fact, cure the plaintiff of a deadly cancer.”

“And I,” the judge replied, “don’t know why it is so difficult for the defense to ask that question plainly, without objectionable phrasing.”

“Yes, Your Honor. Thank you. Mr. Burnet, do you consider yourself cured of leukemia?”


“You are completely healthy at this time?”


“Who in your opinion cured you?”

“Dr. Gross.”

“Thank you. Now, I believe you told the court that when Dr. Gross asked you to return for further testing, you thought that meant you were still ill.”


“Did Dr. Gross ever tell you that you still had leukemia?”


“Did anyone in his office, or did any of his staff, ever tell you that?”


“Then,” Rodriguez said, “if I understand your testimony, at no time did you have any specific information that you were still ill?”


“All right. Now let’s turn to your treatment. You received surgery and chemotherapy. Do you know if you were given the standard treat­ment for T-cell leukemia?”

“No, my treatment was not standard.”

“It was new?”


“Were you the first patient to receive this treatment protocol?”

“Yes. I was.”

“Dr. Gross told you that?”


“And did he tell you how this new treatment protocol was developed?”

“He said it was part of a research program.”

“And you agreed to participate in this research program?”


“Along with other patients with the disease?” “I believe there were others, yes.”

“And the research protocol worked in your case?”


“You were cured.”


“Thank you. Now, Mr. Burnet, you are aware that in medical re­search, new drugs to help fight disease are often derived from, or tested on, patient tissues?”


“You knew your tissues would be used in that fashion?”

“Yes, but not for commercial—”

“I’m sorry, just answer yes or no. When you agreed to allow your tissues to be used for research, did you know they might be used to derive or test new drugs?”


“And if a new drug was found, did you expect the drug to be made available to other patients?”


“Did you sign an authorization for that to happen?” A long pause. Then: “Yes.”

“Thank you, Mr. Burnet. I have no further questions.”



“How do you think it went?” her father asked as they left the courthouse. Closing arguments were the following day. They walked toward the parking lot in the hazy sunshine of downtown Los Angeles.

“Hard to say,” Alex said. “They confused the facts very successfully. We know there’s no new drug that emerged from this program, but I doubt the jury understands what really happened. We’ll bring in more expert witnesses to explain that UCLA just made a cell line from your tissues and used it to manufacture a cytokine, the way it is manufac­tured naturally inside your body. There’s no ‘new drug’ here, but that’ll probably be lost on the jury. And there’s also the fact that Rodriguez is explicitly shaping this case to look exactly like the Moore case, a couple of decades back. Moore was a case very much like yours. Tissues were taken under false pretenses and sold. UCLA won that one easily, though they shouldn’t have.”

“So, counselor, how does our case stand?”

She smiled at her father, threw her arm around his shoulder, and kissed him on the cheek.

“Truth? It’s uphill,” she said.


Crichton deftly presents ways to help readers think about the exploitation of human genes. If you want to be entertained while thinking about genes, Next will bring you pleasure. The author’s note and bibliography can tend to make some readers think that this fiction is full of facts. Perhaps it is. It’s also entertaining.


Steve Hopkins, January 25, 2007



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the February 2007 issue of Executive Times


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