Type: Definition Essays
Sample donated: Gerald Hansen
Last updated: December 26, 2019
According to Marcia Angell, “One reason ethical codes are unequivocal about investigators’ primary obligation to care for the human subjects of their research is the strong temptation to subordinate the subjects’ welfare to the objectives of the study. That is particularly likely when the research question is extremely important and the answer would probably improve the care of future patients substantially” (Angell 1). Often times in society, it is not unusual to see that scientists have abandoned ethics, the moral principles that govern how we treat others, and instead, their research is fueled by scientists’ drive for success and monetary reward.
People involved in the research process –both scientist and their subjects– can be affected negatively. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a work of fiction that demonstrates what can often occur if ethics are ignored. The creation of Frankenstein’s monster sets off a series of unfortunate events and deaths that cause the reader to evaluate the nature of scientific advancement and the repercussions of it. Frankenstein provides a lens that helps demonstrate how scientists can affect people. As Frankenstein demonstrates, scientists’ disregard of ethics in favor of scientific advancement in society can affect the life of their subjects and the mental state of the community, and their consequent rage can negatively affect the scientist’s life in return.
In order to fully understand ethics and the effects of Frankenstein’s disregard of them, his feelings and beliefs about scientific advancement need to be established. As a young man, Frankenstein is interested in the pursuits of science, chemistry, life and death, and the creation of life. He attempts to sway the reader to follow his interest and obsession with science, explaining, “None but those who have experienced them can conceive of the enticements of science. In other studies you go as far as others have gone before you, and there is nothing more to know; but in a scientific pursuit there is continual food for discovery and wonder”(29). At the beginning of the novel, Frankenstein firmly believes that other fields are not worth studying because there is only so much to learn. The excitement of discovery is what draws him in like a moth to a flame. Additionally, In one of his letters, Frankenstein states,”One man’s life or death were but a small price to pay for the acquirement of the knowledge which I sought, for the dominion I should acquire and transmit over the elemental foes of our race” (Shelley 11).
He believes that human life is of lesser significance than the honor of scientific achievement. This led Frankenstein creating a monster out of human body parts to see if he could figure out the secrets of life and death, which could possibly lead to the elongation and betterment of human life. It’s important to note that the superficial answer to why Frankenstein created the monster could be for the betterment of humankind but the deeper answer is that it’s more likely he did so out of arrogance and his desire to play god. Mary Shelley even alludes to this point when she references John Milton’s Paradise Lost and compares Frankenstein and his monster to God and Satan. Many times, once the study is terminated, usually due to lack of funding, scientists will just leave their subject(s) to fend for themselves after there is no more data that can be extracted from them. This suggests that scientists are only interested in the possible information to be gleaned off their subjects and thus detach themselves from the subjects. Frankenstein, after the creation of his monster, is so horrified by his creation that he casts him off into exile. The result of such an act leads the monster to question: “I was dependent on none and related to none.
The path of my departure was free, and there was none to lament my annihilation. My person was hideous and my stature gigantic. What did this mean? Who was I? What was I? Whence did I come? What was my destination? These questions continually recurred, but I was unable to solve them” (91). The monster is left with no direction in his life. When the monster tells Frankenstein that he stumbled upon his diary, the monster laments, “the whole detail of that series of disgusting circumstances which produced it is set in view; the minutest description of my odious and loathsome person is given.
.. I sickened as I read. `Hateful day when I received life!’ I exclaimed in agony. `Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even YOU turned from me in disgust?” (92). The monster is left with nothing. No purpose, no goal.
Scientists should think about the patient and their comfort before, during, and after the duration of the study.It is very likely in studies that do not follow ethics that the subjects walk away from it with mental problems. The subjects need to know the purpose of the experiment. The monster shares his thoughts on being left in the dark, “Cursed, cursed creator! Why did I live? Why, in that instant, did I not extinguish the spark of existence which you had so wantonly bestowed? I know not; despair had not yet taken possession of me; my feelings were those of rage and revenge. I could with pleasure have destroyed the cottage and its inhabitants and have glutted myself with their shrieks and misery” (Shelley 97).
The monster asks for what purpose was he created if just to be hated. As a father figure, Frankenstein should have cared more about what happened to his creation. Similarly, according to Maurizio Iaccarino in his article called “Science and Ethics: As Research and Technology Are Changing Society and the Way We Live, Scientists Can No Longer Claim That Science Is Neutral but Must Consider the Ethical and Social Aspects of Their Work”, he explains that societal opposition arises from its inability to understand the purpose of research. Iaccarino refers to the ongoing debate of research on embryonic stem cells. This research could lead to new therapies and treatments that could benefit millions of patients.
The author is convinced that this topic is so sensitive because society does not have an informed opinion and therefore still has to find a consensus (Iaccarino 10). If the research is fully defined and explained, avoiding society’s outrage is achievable. If the monster had been explained the situation, or, even better, continued to be taken care of, the events that unfolded due to his rage could have been avoided.The repercussions of Frankensteins actions can reach beyond just the subject, in this case, his monster. The monster points his attention to Frankenstein’s family and vows to kill them in order to pay him back for the pain he has experienced. The monster justifies his actions, stating, “I am malicious because I am miserable. Am I not shunned and hated by all mankind?” (104). He possesses a reason for all the anger and aggression.
He abhors mankind only because they cannot accept him and turn away in disgust. This aggression can turn into physical actions against others in order to get revenge. Blinded with rage, the monster promises, “I will revenge my injuries; if I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear, and chiefly towards you my arch-enemy, because my creator, do I swear inextinguishable hatred. Have a care; I will work at your destruction, nor finish until I desolate your heart, so that you shall curse the hour of your birth” (104). The ultimate unintended consequence of the monster’s rage is the death of the rest of Frankenstein’s family. The monster firmly believes that if he can not be happy, then his creator must suffer and understand his pain.
Frankenstein never thought about how he could ever suffer from his own actions.Subjects in experiments are no different from the scientist. They are not just bodies that can be experienced on, they, like the scientist, possess human thought and emotion, and can no be treated as anything less than human. When Frankenstein is forced to create his monster a female counterpart, he realizes a few crucial facts: “They might even hate each other; the creature who already lived loathed his own deformity, and might he not conceive a greater abhorrence for it when it came before his eyes in the female form? She also might turn with disgust from him to the superior beauty of man; she might quit him, and he be again alone” (120). He understands, using his monster as an indication, that the female counterpart would be able to develop her own feelings about her situation.
With this, Frankenstein realizes the errors of his ways and he cannot force it to do anything; however, the damage of his own actions still exists and cannot be ignored. Comparable to this, in an article written by Délio José Kipper called “Ethics in Research with Children and Teens: in Search of Virtuous Standards and Guidelines” he explains that over the course of human history, children and adolescents have often been the victims of science in clinical studies because they aren’t recognized as adults because they aren’t considered as mentally developed and can’t speak up for themselves. In Frankenstein’s case, the female monster is akin to a child who can’t decide for herself. However, contrary to this belief they still have the capacity for humanistic thoughts and should not be considered as any less than other people. It is possible that Mary Shelley’s work, Frankenstein, is a criticism of scientists during her lifetime.
Throughout history, there have been many cases of scientists taking advantage of their subjects and possessing no ethics. Famous examples such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Study sponsored by the U.S Department of Health from 1932 to 1970 and U.S Government sponsored radiation studies on human beings from 1944 to the 1980’s suggest that society’s definition of ethics and morals were ambiguous. Both of these studies failed to treat the subjects well, even going as far as withholding treatment to a deadly disease in the syphilis study and experimenting on cancer patients, pregnant women and military personnel in the radiation studies.
In current times, there is no excuse for not following ethical codes. It is crucial for scientists to make decisions with ethics and moral values in mind. Certain changes such as the National Research Act of 1974 and the act of having an institutional review board mandated have allowed for the consideration of ethics and the subjects. If ethics are ignored, their actions can negatively affect the life of the community and certain individuals, and can ultimately affect the scientist negatively as well.