“The Frankenstein Thing”: the Moral Impact of Genetic Engineering of Agricultural Animals on Society and Future Science
Shortly after I had accepted the invitation to address this confer ence, I remarked to a friend of mine (a nonscientist) that I was going to address a conference on genetic engineering of animals. “Ah,” he said, “the Frankenstein thing!” I didn’t pay much mind to his remark until perhaps a week later, when, while perusing the new acquisitions in our library, I encountered an extraordinary, newly published, 500-page volume entitled The Frankenstein Catalog: Being a Comprehensive History of Novels, Translations, Adaptations, Stories, Critical Works, Popular Articles, Series, Fumetti, Verse, Stage Plays, Films, Cartoons, Puppetry, Radio and Television Programs, Comics, Satire and Humor, Spoken and Musical Recordings, Tapes and Sheet Music Featuring Frankenstein’s Monster and/or Descended from Mary Shelley’s Novel (2). The entire book is precisely a descriptive catalogue, a list and very brief description of the works mentioned in the title. Amazing though it is that anyone would publish such a book, its content is Seven more incredible, for it in fact lists 2,666 such works (including 145 editions of Shelley’s novel), the vast majority of which date from the mid-twentieth century. All of this obviously indicates that in the Frankenstein story is an archetypal myth or category which somehow speaks to or for twentieth-century concerns, and which could perhaps be used to shed light on the social and moral issues raised by genetic engineering of animals. My intuition was confirmed while visiting Australia and discussing with an Australian agricultural researcher the, to him, surprising public hostility and protest that his research into teratology in animals had provoked. “I can’t understand it,” he told me. “There was absolutely no pain or suffering endured by any of the animals.” “All I can think of,” he said, “is that it must have been the Frankenstein thing.” And in its cover story on the 40th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, Time Magazine again invoked the Frankenstein theme as a major voice in post-World War II popular culture, indicating that it was society’s way of expressing its fear and horror of a science and technology that had unleashed the atomic bomb (10).
KeywordsGenetic Engineering Moral Status Moral Issue Moral Concern Moral Thinking
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