Bioethics in Frankenstein Essay
The existence of humankind is inseparable from the idea of development and progressive evolution. In comparison to other biological species, humans developed rapidly, especially when speaking of social and technological aspects, which led to the relevant globalized environment and the frequent interconnections between people around the world. Such cooperation enhances further development because information circulates instantly, contributing to the quick decision-making processes, which is critical for changes and improvements. The only aspect of human existence that has not been exposed to the changes so far is biological. While people adjusted some plants and animals to the needs related to food or aesthetics, the intrusion to the human body has been perceived as unacceptable and unlawful. In particular, such an attitude towards biological human modification violates the principles of bioethics, including autonomy, justice, beneficence, and non-maleficence. Even though nowadays these principles are pursued, some fictional stories suggest a vision of possibilities that science and technology can provide for the improvement of a human being. A classic example is Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, in which the central character breaks the principles of bioethics when creates a life in an unethical way and leaves his creation to fend for himself, which eventually raises numerous issues.
First of all, it is critical to discuss the principles of bioethics and their relation to the time of Frankenstein’s appearance. The first principle is autonomy meaning the respect of individual choice. In the nineteenth century, the ideas of slavery or gender equality were not broadly debated. The attitudes towards such issues might be illustrative in terms of autonomy perception. Even though the individual choice was respected, primarily it related to the higher class of citizens while lower classes were limited in their choice of lifestyle. The second principle is probably the central one when speaking of ethics in general – it is justice. The principle of justice means that some resources accessible to all people should be distributed among them fairly. Again, the idea of justice has been relative since its invention because the perception of justice is often subjective. In the times of Mary Shelley, resources were not always justly distributed because the family background and economic status often played a significant role. Nonetheless, the development of philosophy and humanities of that time allows assuming that the idea of justice existed in society in the form similar to modern understanding.
The third principle of bioethics and ethics, in general, is beneficence. The principle of benefit is primarily associated with the philosophy of utilitarianism, which states that a particular action might be considered ethical if it brings benefit to a significant number of people (or at least that it suggests more benefit than disadvantage). However, some practices might be misunderstood in terms of their benefits. For instance, in the nineteenth century, the use of electricity and galvanism was widespread in the field of medicine because many doctors believed in a great power of electricity and its impact on human bodies. Nowadays, galvanism is not considered acceptable because scientists have learned about numerous side effects that this practice has. However, at that time, health care providers did not obtain sufficient information and based their actions on wrongful assumptions. The fourth principle is non-maleficence, which derived from medical ethics as doctors had to follow this principle in their practice in any conditions. The idea of non-maleficence has been recognized long before the times of Mary Shelley. In such a way, the context of Frankenstein represents sufficiently developed ethics; however, there are some gaps, which nowadays appear debateful from the perspective of the value of an individual and the medical procedures.
Hence, it is critical to specify the definition of bioethics to understand the issues represented in Frankenstein. The term bioethics consists of two parts – biology and ethics. The ethical principles of autonomy, justice, beneficence, and non-maleficence are universal for any field related to human well-being. However, the biological part of this term serves to narrow the principles of ethics to their implementation in the biological part of human lives. Bioethics usually means the implication of ethics in health care and life sciences. As people experience the imperfections related to their genetic heritage or individual biological specifics, it is expectable that using science and technology they will seek for the ways of erasing the naturally existing limitations.
People have significantly advanced in experiments with various species making their attributes more appealing to particular needs. For instance, the development of genetically modified crops allowed growing plants more efficiently increasing the quality and taste of such crops. Speaking of animals, the existence of various breeds of dogs, cats, horses, and others serve a great example of artificial selection and the possibilities of modern science. Nonetheless, such examples also raise the question of a human’s role in intruding nature. While any species evolve due to internal and external environmental factors, the experiments with an existing sophisticated balance appear similar to the idea of playing god. Obtaining profound knowledge and well-developed technology allows conducting the activities, which used to be impossible. Speaking of Frankenstein, Victor used the advancements of the science for his personal interest and aspired to appear in the role of god. In one of the passages, Victor thinks: “One of the phenomena which had peculiarly attracted my attention was the structure of the human frame, and, indeed, any animal endued with life. Whence, I often asked myself, did the principle of life proceed?” (Shelley 50). Therefore, the creation of the Monster derives from Victor’s scientific interest and his ambitions.
However, when Victor succeeds in the creation of the Monster, he experiences ambiguous feelings. On the one hand, he understands the power of his intellect because he is the first to resurrect a dead body and make it alive. On the other hand, he feels that he cannot achieve recognition and the Monster should remain a secret: “I avoided explanation and maintained a continual silence concerning the wretch I had created. I had a persuasion that I should be supposed mad, and this in itself would forever have chained my tongue” (Shelley 228). The issue is that Victor expected the creature to be something outstanding and sophisticated, but eventually, he becomes disappointed in the Monster. The abandonment of the Monster might be related to Victor’s disappointment in himself as a god as well.
Victor violated the principles of bioethics because he did not respect the peace of the dead, thus affecting the principle of autonomy. He behaved unjustly considering that the Monster does not deserve his attention and care. Victor did not consider the purpose of beneficence because the appearance of the creature did not lead to any advantages. Also, he neglected the principle of non-maleficence because he did not think about the consequences that the creation of the Monster might have for the surroundings and for himself. Even though the creature served the evidence of the power of science, he did not meet the expectations of his creator, and therefore, felt rage against the person who brought him to an unfriendly and complicated world.
Mary Shelley describes the devastating consequences of the Monster’s creation to demonstrate that violation of the natural balance might lead to unpredictable catastrophe. Victor neglected the principle of autonomy for the sake of his scientific ambitions, and therefore, he had to come across the intense feeling of rage and vengeance directed against him. The Monster had to find his own life path, but eventually, his central aim was to defeat his creator. In one of the passages, the Monster describes his feelings of loneliness and abandonment: “When I looked around, I saw and heard of none like me. Was I, then, a monster, a blot upon the earth, from which all men fled and whom all men disowned?” (Shelley 141). It is apparent that his critical problem is self-identification in the world where he cannot relate himself to any human. It is no surprise that his feelings reduced to the fury because any sort of good feelings was neglected by Victor and depreciated by other humans. As he could not release his right for happiness (the principle of autonomy), he strives to release his right for revenge (restore the principle of justice). However, it seems that the vicious circle started with Victor; therefore, he might be the one to blame because he violated ethics, which then the Monster continued.
Even though such literary pieces provide the example of the dark side regarding the idea of playing god with life and the human body, modern scientists also work on possible solutions, which might make human beings less dependent of the biological limitations. Recently, the information regarding genetically modified babies in China was revealed. Genetic modifications can serve the principle of beneficence, for instance, making human bodies unresponsive to HIV/AIDS. However, other principles remain questioned. First, the modification of a baby means the violation of the autonomy principle because a baby cannot decide for itself. Secondly, the non-maleficence cannot be guaranteed because the intrusion to one part of the DNA might affect some other parts. Finally, the principle of justice is ambiguous because some groups of people might have sufficient resources to conduct modifications while the non-modified babies of lower-income families may have less competitive biological attributes and therefore, their opportunities will be limited.
In conclusion, Frankenstein suggests an interesting case of bioethical dilemmas that can appear on the path to the decreasing biological weaknesses of human beings. The novel depicts the situation in which all of the ethical principles were violated, leading to the catastrophe of both the creator and the creature. Nowadays, it is possible to observe scientists playing god with the human genome, and therefore, it is critical to be aware of the possible consequences of such intrusion. To ensure that technological and scientific progress serve the development of humankind, it is vital to consider the principles of bioethics and prevent them from ignorance and violation.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein.