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Television news reporter Harry Walsh is at the accident scene shortly after a car collision critically injures Senator Zachary Wheeler, a junior senator known as a strong leader and potential future president. Walsh has his photographer, Jake, shoot footage of the accident and, after filming his report, rides in the ambulance with Wheeler to Bethesda Naval Hospital, where he waits outside the emergency room. The physician on duty, Dr. Keating, is diagnosing Wheeler's extensive injuries, when he receives a call from an admiral ordering him to keep the near-dead senator on life support until medics arrive to pick him up. The admiral emphasizes that the incident is to be considered top secret and all records about it destroyed. Meanwhile, the waiting room nurse tells Walsh that Wheeler was never admitted into the hospital and, after Walsh's pre-recorded report is aired on the news, his boss, Dwight Childs, receives a phone call, telling him that Wheeler is on a fishing trip and ordering him to retract the report. Refusing to accept that the person he escorted to the hospital was not Wheeler, Walsh enters the restricted area of the hospital and sees Wheeler being placed in a van, but is forced away from the scene by military police. When he refuses personally to make the retraction, he is fired. As Wheeler is taken by jet to a secret medical facility in a remote part of New Mexico, his DNA is analyzed. Later, at the complex, Wheeler undergoes an extensive surgery, including several organ transplants while under the care of the altruistic head physician, Dr. Redding, who has developed a way to resusitate the critically ill. Redding refuses to share his knowledge with other physicians, as he fears it will be misused, and answers only to Hugh Fielding, a high-ranking government official. Fielding is in charge of a committee of eight key leaders in various fields, who decide before a crisis occurs which people are important enough to be kept alive, if their mortality becomes jeapardized. The committee members are not above rejecting American subjects who do not comply with their own political beliefs and also wield their power by offering the procedure to political and military leaders of other countries, who can then be blackmailed into cooperating with the U.S. With his reputation now tarnished, Walsh doggedly investigates and traces Wheeler to New Mexico, while eluding two thugs sent to stop him. When Wheeler regains consciousness and begins to make a rapid recovery, he is upset that he is not allowed to make contact with the outside world. However, he soon befriends Dr. Johnson, a female physician and key member of Redding's team, to whom he confesses his reputation as a playboy and his desire to marry for love rather than career. Johnson and Redding explain to Wheeler that they have imprinted his DNA molecular structure onto a compatible life form, called a "soma," the Greek word for body. Within twelve hours, the soma matures into an identical twin of the DNA donor, but with only rudimentary instincts, it is used only to harvest healthy organs, then destroyed. When the horrified Wheeler asks why the process is kept secret, Redding explains that the world cannot survive if everyone is able to live forever and therefore only people considered vital to the country's welfare receive the benefit. Later, Fielding visits Wheeler to demand that, in exchange for his second chance at life, he change his political direction. Refusing, Wheeler vows to put a stop to the laboratory, which he feels destroys the balance of nature. Fielding warns him to keep the lab and his treatment secret for his own sake, because no one will nominate for president a man with a heart transplant. Afterward, the thoughtful Redding suggests to Fielding that he is an example of power corrupting and says that no matter how they justify what they do, it is still blackmail. Meanwhile, Walsh, who barely escaped capture by the two thugs, determines that Wheeler has been taken to a restricted Air Force Base in the middle of the desert and takes into his confidence a local reporter. The reporter, who has an airplane, flies Walsh there and secretly lets him out, then, when confronted by the military police, pretends that a mechanical malfunction forced him to make an emergency landing. On foot, Walsh finds the medical facility and, although he sets off alarms, comes face to face with an extra soma developed in case Wheeler has a relapse. Seeing the soma, which can barely walk and grunt, Wheeler assumes that it is the senator and tries to rescue him. He hijacks Johnson's car when she is about to leave, and tries to evade the several military vehicles in pursuit. However, to avoid hitting pedestrians, he swerves and crashes. The soma is killed, and although Walsh has only minor wounds, Johnson appears to be critically injured. Although Redding immediately operates on Johnson, Fielding, who realizes that Wheeler has come to love her, tries to manipulate the senator into doing his bidding in exchange for her life. Although greatly shaken and nearly convinced, Wheeler says that if she dies when she could have been saved, Fielding will be guilty of murder. After being treated, Walsh encounters Wheeler, who agrees to disclose what he has learned and confirm his findings about the laboratory, but Fielding threatens to discredit both of them. As they are arguing, Redding receives a call that an important leader who had been pre-approved by the committee has suffered a second coronary and needs their services to survive. Pleased, Fielding says, "I knew we'd get to him," as he and Redding leave to prepare for his arrival.