The Morningdale scandal is fictional, but it is likely to have been inspired by actual medical events, such as the Alder Hey organs scandal. This centred around the Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, where the organs of dead children were kept for experimentation without the knowledge of their families, although they were collected from a number of hospitals. It was a significant event for medical ethics and organ donation, both of which are important themes of Never Let Me Go.
A reference to test tube babies, a term used to refer to in vitro fertilisation (IVF). This is a method for overcoming difficulties conceiving a child, in which egg and sperm are introduced to each other outside of the womb. In the same way that the clones in Never Let Me Go are thought of by some with revulsion, the intial response of many to the first test tube baby, born in 1978, was outrage.
World War Two necessitated various changes in medicine, and after the war there were many advances in almost all areas of medical science. Perhaps the most crucial of these was the discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953. In the world presented in Never Let Me Go, the advances have been even more remarkable, though they have brought with them serious moral dilemmas.
The search for a cure for cancer is one of the major areas of medical research. Never Let Me Go presents a world in which a cure has apparently been discovered, possibly involving the transplantation of healthy cells from donors like the Hailsham students.
The notion of human beings with enhanced features is known as posthumanism. It encompasses both cybernetic and philosophical ideas, and is concerned with altering the human form in order to overcome its limitations. Posthumanism can be seen in actual areas of medicine such as prosthetics and IVF. It has also become a popular and important subject area in science fiction with some particularly well-known examples being the films The Terminator and Robocop.
Such ideas have also been explored in other artforms, such as the pioneering electronic group Kraftwerk's album The Man Machine.
The idea of experimentation with humans and their body parts goes back many years; one of the best known examples is Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, Frankenstein, in which Victor Frankenstein creates a monster, constructed from dead body parts.
The novel is subtitled ‘The Modern Prometheus’. In Greek mythology, Prometheus is punished by Zeus for giving man fire; his punishment is to have his liver ripped out and then re-grown so that this torture can be re-enacted day after day. This form of eternal organ donation bears comparison with the possible fate of the clones in Never Let Me Go.