Many of the characters in Mary Shelley’s novels are motivated by power and ambition. Her infamous character, Victor Frankenstein, is an example of someone who takes hubris to a whole new level by surpassing God’s abilities and creating a live human being. The concept of creating new life through modern chemistry fascinates Victor. In response, Frankenstein creates his own eight-foot being out of body parts he collects from a graveyard. Disgusted by what he creates, Victor goes mad, sails to Geneva, and takes comfort in the beauty and serenity of the ocean, until he encounters his creation once again. When Frankenstein refuses to create a companion for his monster, the monster seeks revenge by killing Frankenstein’s fiancée as well as Frankenstein himself. This illustrates one of the messages of the novel, that one should not try to “play God” even in pursuit of knowledge. In this way, Mary Shelley’s work depicts the conflict between Frankenstein’s ambition and his concern for the common good.
Victor Frankenstein’s creation is one giant transplant. Creating a human being out of sheer curiosity about human life raises ethical questions on its own. Similarly, the same year that Shelley wrote Frankenstein, James Blundell performed the first human-to-human blood transfusion. But, as the procedure was practiced from the seventeenth century and onward, observers raised ethical questions about the safety of the patients. These emerging questions led to improvements in blood transfusions, cures to diseases, screenings for diseases like malaria and AIDS, and the eventual use of embryonic cells and stem cells for research purposes ranging from cloning to cancer cures. Although blood transfusions improved in their safety and efficiency throughout the twentieth century, critics still raised questions about patient safety and issues of morality. In the twenty-first century, President Bush demonstrated his ethical concerns about these scientific developments by prohibiting the use of scientist James Thomson’s family of embryonic stem cells, or any family of stem cells for that matter, in research.
Major Works Consulted
Jonsen, Albert R. A Short History of Medical Ethics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Page, Jake. Blood: The River of Life. New York: Torstar Books, 1985.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: Dover, 1994.
--. Valperga. New York: University of Oxford, 2000.
"Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley | Biography - British Author." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 30 March 2015.