The story of Frankenstein, first published in 1818, was fully correspondent to its time characterized by significant scientific rise and numerous experiments (Davies 2004). It was the time of great scholars and inventors, such as Newton, Boyle, etc. The period of 17th-18th centuries basically created the foundation for further medical experimentation because experimental observation was beginning to be recognized as a reliable scientific tool (Davies 2004). Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a story of the human’s endless pursuit of knowledge, disastrous desire of power over the nature and scientific thirst without any moral against the background of industrial age. The author tried to reveal the boundaries to which science can exceed ethics. This essay proves that the novel Frankenstein has a tremendous meaning in assessing a contemporary medical research. It also investigates forbidden borders, which shall never be crossed by science: creation of life, birth and death.
Mary Shelley depicts the main hero, Victor Frankenstein, as an explorer, who, being seduced by scientific discoveries, reaches a taboo sphere of playing God and creating new life. His primary aim was not to construct a monster, but to disclose a secret of life. However, scientists frequently forget that they are just spectators and try to draw the curtain and disclose the secrets of nature. Victor’s mind was blinded by a contemplation of an outstanding scientific quest, thus he was not able to estimate potential consequences and the responsibility he was about to take. Even his “child” Being says, “Oh, Frankenstein, be not equitable to every other and trample upon me alone, to whom thy justice, and even thy clemency and affection, is most due. Remember that I am thy creature” (Shelley 114). As any creator, Victor feels the power and is eager to continue playing the dangerous game. He is ready to create a bride for Being, “A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs” (Shelley 54). Luckily, when the female creature was half ready, the scientist recognized one of the possible courses of events. He destroys the female creature as he sees the potential danger in enabling a new form of life to multiply.
This first attempt to rectify his deeds can be considered as the opposite side of the medal – Victor creates the life and takes the life away. One may argue that he had the right to “kill” the female creature as he was the creator of it, moreover, it was not finished, “alive”. At the same time this small scene by Shelley reminds of a similar problem in the contemporary medicine – abortions, now a legal procedure in almost any country, once a severely prosecuted act. All arguments in favor of abortions will never answer the main question: do people have the right to break the life they did not start? Can science or medicine be used for killing humans since they were created to save lives? People can never know what price they will pay for intervention in the nature’s plans. As Shelly allegorically reminds the reader about the consequences – Being was eager to revenge for his lost bride.
Another possibility to draw line between Frankenstein and modern world is cloning. This essay is not focused on discussing the pros and cons of it. It just outlines that even scientists find it necessary to impose certain limitations to this sphere of research, “If cloning is undertaken, rigid controls will be mandatory. The only valid use for such work is to accumulate basic knowledge about the development of a human being” (Hudock 1973). It may seem that by saying so the scientist wishes to tie the hands of science and avoid the risks. However, what he means is that such artificial limitations will practically excuse the immoral side of such research, “Such a limitation avoids many of the legal, if not moral and religious, objections to cloning” (Hudock 1973). George A. Hudock states that in the question of genetic engineering the scientific goal to find the answer outweighs presumable objections, “I base this conclusion, as well as my reservations concerning any artificial reproductive technology, not on any moral, ethical, religious or legal considerations, but rather on the necessity of solving the greatest problem of genetic engineering of all – the size of the human population” (Hudock 1973). Besides providing vast information on the human development, cloning gives a tool to tailor humans to one’s parameters. On one hand, if medicine is able to help cure a lethal defect of a newborn baby, it definitely must do so (Calverley 2001). However, there should be strict regulations and an authority control over the process to avoid research and experiments in the sphere of genetic engineering. Without rough control and organizations, such as the Recombinant Advisory Committee, which “reviews research proposals for ethical considerations” (Calverley 2001), the humanity may eventually slide down to a world where babies are ordered and created upon a designer’s sketch. With scientific development ethics suffer, which is leading to alterations in beliefs and standards. W. French Anderson, professor of biochemistry, molecular biology and pediatrics, says, “If you let the standards gradually erode, good people can do evil things” (Celverley 2001).
Frankenstein started realizing that implications of his investigations might be unpredictable. By this Shelley warns that the ongoing chase for scientific discovery may lead to an unexpected destination point if not being controlled and judged by morality. Victor says, “Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge” (Shelley 53). The fact that Frankenstein finally acknowledged the fatal mistake he had made being driven by quenchless scientific starvation, shows the author’s attempt to warn the reader that if science is done without ethical approach, if responsibility is ignored and careful forecasting is neglected nobody knows what kind of monsters will be brought to life to start their hunting. Shelley shows the reader that even the brightest scientific query may have dark side, which becomes visible after crossing the line. As Victor says, “None but those who have experienced them can conceive the enticements of science” (Shelley 50). “In modern times, we have learnt that in the quest for knowledge, experiments can seriously harm subjects. The novel Frankenstein provides insight as to how and why some scientists, enticed by scientific endeavors and their successes, can lose their moral perspective” (Davies 2004).
The summary is rather obvious though frustrating. People are weak by their nature. Science offers brilliant gifts to the seeking. And being seduced by unknown horizons scientists may lose the sense of reality and step too far in their desire to learn. One way to avoid this is strict control over scientific research, while another one is informing the population of the aim, the possibilities and the potential threats of such research. Such stories as Frankenstein help to show the picture of scientific research in a simple yet entertaining form. Thus, “an educated and informed public” (Calverley 2001) will not allow science to go too far and help shape “the moral issues of human genetic engineering” (Calverley 2001). The more people know and understand about the consequences of what is done in secret laboratories, the more protected and able to make decisions they become to build future world based on scientific achievements with high moral standards.