“The Frankenstein Thing”: the Moral Impact of Genetic Engineering of Agricultural Animals on Society and Future Science

  • B. E. Rollin
Part of the Basic Life Sciences book series


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).


Genetic Engineering Moral Status Moral Issue Moral Concern Moral Thinking 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Baker, J.R. (1984) Race, Oxford University Press, London, pp. 65ff (see the discussion and references thereto).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Glut, D.F. (1984) The Frankenstein Catalog, McFarland, Jefferson, North Carolina, p. 525.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Rollin, B.E. (1979) On the nature of illness. Man and Medicine 4(3): 157ff.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Rollin, B.E. (1981) Animal Rights and Human Morality, Prometheus, Buf falo, 185 pp.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Rollin, B.E. (1981) Nature, convention, and genre theory. Poetics 10: 127–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Rollin, B.E. (1985) The moral status of research animals in psychology. Am. Psychologist 40(8):920–926.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 6a.
    See also B.E. Rollin (1983) The Teaching of Responsibility, Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, England, 30 pp.Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    Rollin, B.E. (in press) Animal consciousness and scientific change. In New Ideas in Psychology, R. Kitchener, P. Moessinger, and J. Broughton, eds. Elsevier, Amsterdam. .Google Scholar
  9. 7.
    See also B.E. Rollin (in press) Animal pain. In Advances in Animal Welfare Science. 1985/1986, M. Fox and L. Mickley, eds. Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague.Google Scholar
  10. 8.
    Rolston, H. (1984) Duties to endangered species. A version of this paper is forthcoming in BioScience, November or December, 1985.Google Scholar
  11. 9.
    Ruse, M. (1973) The Philosophy of Biology, Hutchinson, London, 127 pp. 10. Time, July 29, 1985, pp. 54–59.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • B. E. Rollin
    • 1
  1. 1.Departments of Philosophy and Physiology and BiophysicsColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA

Personalised recommendations