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The subtitle to the novel Frankenstein is The Modern Prometheus. This gives a clear suggestion that scientific discoveries and implementations are double-edged swords; Prometheus gave mankind fire, which can light, cook, and heat or melt, burn and destroy. In creating the monster, Dr. Frankenstein gives mankind the power of life over death -- both boon and curse. So it remains with any scientific discovery. The parallel between the monster and cloning is a good one -- guidelines will be in place as the technology advances, not to limit scientific inquiry but to help avoid the monsters that can be created. Even so, undoubtedly mistakes will be made. Although the Greek Prometheus myth touched on the relationship of man, god, and nature, the brilliance of Shelley's work was its insight into the characteristics of scientific inquiry, something becoming just apparent in her time, and clearly apparent in ours.
I think there are many ideas that are in Shelley's work that can have modern applications in terms of the ethical responsibility of scientists. One of the strongest elements of Shelley's work is the idea that science has some natural limits. Arising from the Enlightenment Era, where the faith in science was boundless, Shelley's work brings light to the idea that anything, including science, which is left unchecked can result in disastrous consequences. Pay special attention to how Shelley describes Victor's lack of moral responsibility when is confronted the hideous appearance of the monster. One of the points about genetic engineering and cloning is that there has to be an ethical line of responsibility that can be agreed upon and adhered to be individuals committed to science, something demonstrated through Shelley's characterization of Victor.
Frankenstein is the first science fiction novel; it both praises and denounces science and the scientist. In addition, it presages the cloning and genetic engineering realities of modern science. As is the nature of most science fiction, Frankenstein urges mankind to proceed with caution in developing such technologies; the novel calls for scientific communities instead of isolated experimentation; and, above all, the novel illustrates the existential and identity problems of clones.
More, the novel calls for guidelines of rogue science. Mary Shelly implies that the rogue scientist must denounce the following oaths of hubris:
So much has been done, exclaimed the soul of Frankenstein - more, far more, will I achieve; treading in the steps already marked, I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation.
Although he exhibited the Romantic spirit, the rogue scientist seeks personal fame, not collaboration. Instead, I think the novel implicitly calls for the modern set of guidelines (oaths created by Sir David King, 2007). Notice the words "others" or "scientists," even "animal" rights, are to respected. Victor anticipates no such effects on others.
The seven principles of the code, intended to guide scientist's actions, are:
- Act with skill and care in all scientific work. Maintain up to date skills and assist their development in others.
- Take steps to prevent corrupt practices and professional misconduct. Declare conflicts of interest.
- Be alert to the ways in which research derives from and affects the work of other people, and respect the rights and reputations of others.
- Ensure that your work is lawful and justified.
- Minimise and justify any adverse effect your work may have on people, animals and the natural environment.
- Seek to discuss the issues that science raises for society. Listen to the aspirations and concerns of others.
- Do not knowingly mislead, or allow others to be misled, about scientific matters. Present and review scientific evidence, theory or interpretation honestly and accurately.
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