Lessons from Frankenstein: Narrative Myth as Ethical Model

by Yvette Koepke

In the past year, scientific breakthroughs have shown both how relevant the questions raised by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein remain, and how commonly the novel gets used as a reference point in ethical debate. A YouTube comment on a news clip reporting the first successful cloning of monkeys in a Chinese lab insisted, “Curiosity and a quest for personal glory are NOT sufficient reasons to allow scientists to play Frankenstein.” Another Chinese scientist’s claim to have created the first gene-edited babies was denounced as “monstrous” by an ethicist. Who should decide what scientific research is “allowed,” based on what “reasons”? While the term “Frankenstein” gets used precisely because it seems to offer a clear instance of something “monstrous,” the novel itself challenges that reading as well as commonplace models of ethical decision-making in medical science. As our society is increasingly called upon to make such decisions, the insights offered by Frankenstein become ever more vital.

Read the full article on the Medical Humanities Journal website.

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