The Lord of Opium, the sequel to Nancy Farmer’s House of the Scorpion, continues the story of Matteo Alacran as he takes on the role of leader of the country of Opium. This story, like the prequel, discusses many bioethical issues; some of these were carried over from the House of the Scorpion, and some were new to this story.
Matt, who becomes the leader of Opium, has an overwhelming amount of issues to deal with. He needs to deal with Opium’s role in the international drug trade; when he took over, the country was in lockdown and no goods were being exported. Besides this, he also needs to establish his leadership in the country, and he wants to try to deactivate the microchips. Meanwhile, Esperanza is trying to make deals with him so he can give her the endangered species of the world, as they exist only in Opium. He deals with these issues with the help of various people whom he is not sure he can trust, which makes the problems more difficult to solve. Perhaps the most controversial bioethical problem Matt faces is the freeing of the eejits. Matt has his reasons for freeing the eejits. First of all, he believed that the eejits could be cured, as opposed to almost everyone else, who were convinced that the effects of the microchip could not be reversed. Besides this, Matt had some personal reasons for wanting to free them. Maria influenced Matt’s need to free them; Maria lives by the philosophy of Saint Francis, who was compassionate towards every being, no matter how important it was. The quality of compassion is what Matt loves most about Maria, so the quest to free the eejits could be a way he feels he is bettering himself and becoming more compassionate, like Maria. Another reason he wants to free the eejits is because of his previous status as a clone. This quality shines through in his relationship with Mirasol.
“‘I’ll make it up to you,’ Matt said softly, watching her. ‘There has to be a way to find all those grains of sand on the beach.’” (p. 41)
Matt is drawn to Mirasol and wishes to befriend her so badly because he has something in common with her: at one point, they were both seen as something below the normal human.
He wishes to free the eejits because, in a sense, he knows what it’s like to be them.
The ethics of wanting to free them are debatable, though. First of all, the act of trying to free them is questionable; many eejits are sacrificed to go through experimental surgeries, and trying to stimulate their minds into waking up is dangerous. If exposed to too much of this stimulus, they can go “rogue”, or possible die, like in Mirasol’s case. Also, another ethical concern with freeing the eejits is their quality of life afterwards. Nobody know what they would be like after they woke up; would they remember their time as an eejit? Would they be happy to be awake? These concerns are reason to question the ethics of freeing the eejits. In the end, though, this aspect of the eejit freeing operation turned out okay.
Matt did not find out until near the end of the story that the microchips were controlled by the Scorpion Star, and that to deactivate it, the Scorpion Star would be destroyed, killing all of the people living there. It could be argued that the people they saved made it worth it to sacrifice the few on the Scorpion Star, but Matt did not think so:
“Matt tried not to think of the terrified people inside. He’d been no better than El Patron shooting down a passenger plane.” (p. 394)
He felt that he was just as bad as El Patron by sacrificing those people. He wanted to be different from El Patron, but something kept drawing him in and pushing him to be more and more like El Patron.
One of the strangest things Matt faces in this book is the El Patron’s voice in his head. Occasionally, Matt has moments where he hears El Patron telling him things; he sometimes acts like El Patron. Especially when Matt is angry, or negotiating with people, he says things that El Patron would say. People even began to comment on how much he sounded like “the old vampire.” This shows in his conversation through the holoport with Esperanza:
“Matt smiled. ‘El Patron only had a fourth-grade education, and he founded an empire.’
Perhaps the most disturbing part of El Patron’s presence in Matt’s head is that we do not know what it really is. It is left completely unknown where the voice is coming from; it could all just be in Matt’s head. But, in a more supernatural theory, El Patron’s spirit could be getting into his head and possessing him, like Celia thought. Either way, it is definitely concerning, especially because of the unknown origin of El Patron’s advice.
A character which was new to this story was Listen, the clone of Glass Eye Dabengwa’s wife. She was seven years old and raised in “paradise” by Dr. Rivas; she had Mbongeni and El Bicho, or “the bug”, for companions. This entire situation had a whole bunch of bioethical concerns surrounding it. First of all, Listen and Mbongeni existed simply for security; they were something that Dr. Rivas could hold over Glass Eye.
“‘…consider this: As long as we have Listen and Mbongeni — especially Mbongeni– Glass Eye won’t dare to attack Opium. He needs the boy for spare parts.’ The doctor smiled a friendly, all-encompassing smile. You could almost believe that he wouldn’t say boo to a baby, let alone harvest it. ‘They’re our insurance policy.’” (p.133)
This statement illustrates the precarious situation that Listen and Mbongeni are in, as well as Dr. Rivas’ potentially unstable mental state; he seems to have absolutely no remorse over the fact that children are being treated like goods to be traded between countries.
Another issue with this situation is the fact that Dr. Rivas has no problem raising these clones, one of which has been mentally stunted, even though one of his own children was turned into an eejit. It is rather concerning that even after his son was turned into an eejit, he would continue creating eejits; this action shows that Dr. Rivas must have some sort of mental issue preventing him from feeling remorse for his actions, considering his son’s state.
Overall, The Lord of Opium has fewer bioethical issues than its predecessor; House of the Scorpion showed readers the initial bioethical issues presiding in the country of Opium. The Lord of Opium went into more depth with some of these issues and even presented solutions for some of them. For example, the ethical acceptability of eejits was elaborated upon, and the eejit problem was resolved by the end of the story. Although many of the major issues in this story were the same as the previous, it offered more elaboration and some follow-up on those issues.