'Next' and Michael Crichton's Five-Step Program for Biotechnology Law Reform

Document Type


Publication Date



Like Mary Shelley’s classic tale of science gone astray, Frankenstein, Michael Crichton’s latest techno-thriller, Next, portrays the harm that can occur when science collides with Nature. In Crichton’s novel, however, the villain is not a lone scientist who seeks to master the secrets of life, but the entire biotechnology industry. Here, avaricious companies, universities, and venture capitalists create increasingly bizarre genetic variants for profit and pervert the legal system to their own ends in the process. The reader confronts new plot twists supporting this dire message at every turn, and is ultimately subjected to a “nonfiction” postscript, in which Crichton sets forth five policy recommendations that, if implemented, would presumably prevent the depredations described in the novel. They are: (1) Stop patenting genes, (2) Establish clear guidelines for the use of human tissues, (3) Pass laws to ensure that data about gene testing is made public, (4) Avoid bans on research, and (5) Rescind the Bayh-Dole Act. While some of these recommendations echo the views of mainstream legal scholars, others are either too vague or too broad to provide useful guidance to policy makers. But whatever their merits, Crichton’s use of the farfetched scenarios in his novel to support these policy recommendations both undercuts the force of otherwise reasonable arguments and, more insidiously, overstates (or misstates) the actual threats that his recommendations seek to address.