Maybe it’s ten months worth of enforced indoctrination, but since I’ve studied Frankenstein and read Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go as an afterthought, the effects of unethical science (particularly in a distorted, dystopian, futuristic setting filtered through the eyes of Kathy H.) have sort of played on my mind.
With its being a gothic Romance/social commentary which endorses her father’s views, Frankenstein is, in some ways, a bit OTT. The principles are there: crazed, power-hungry narcissist wants to have a stab at making “a being like myself” supposedly for the good of humankind but really just to get a glittering reputation as a fabby scientist, but, of course, completely disregards any sense of duty towards his would-be child and rejects him purely on the basis that he is a bit of an ugly duckling. Obviously our Creature is denied everything that is core to a fulfilling human existence: conventional beauty, companionship and “the possibility of love”, forever associated with monstrosity since, like in classic mythology, he is composed of an assortment of ill-fitting body parts; think of your Centaur and your Minotaur. This leaves him lacking a secure position within a cruel, scrutinising and narrow-minded society, which is destructive to anyone. This is where the wordy, dramatic duologues in which quotations from Paradise Lost are chucked haphazardly into what appears to be some kind of oxymoronic battle of eloquent chaos happen a bit, and so does the Creature’s inevitable lust for revenge. Not saying that Shelley thinks it’s fine for the oppressed to pursue a bloodthirsty form of justice, but it does reflect the way the working classes, the proletariat, the “body politic” were treated unethically, were perceived as abortive or monstrous, simply because they didn’t have a residence in town, or a hat for every day of the week, or didn’t take afternoon tea with Lady Catherine de Bourgh twice a week. So perhaps Frankenstein is more centred on society’s defects rather than practising science without ethical bounds, however it could have been a wake up call to contemporary scientists like Galvani (the guy who made dead frog’s legs jump with electrodes), whose scientific advances were more sensationalist than beneficial.
Although you could probably say the example of unethical science in Never Let Me Go might just benefit humankind, the very fact that a large group of human being is cloned, grown and harvested purely to prolong the lives of the “normal”, sexually-reproduced people seems to me like another quest for glory. The glory of long life. Long live the human race! (But only the right ones). The cloned kids are chucked into boarding schools, given manky hand-me-down playthings and clothes to cherish, not taught an awful lot about their future as involuntary vital organ donors (except that they are obligated to take great care of themselves) and are considered to by the wider world to be lacking a soul – unless they can make pretty artwork. Either way, they are forced to carry out the formulaic life that was mapped out for them years before their asexual conception; care for their dying peers, begin dying themselves. The most terrifying thing about the novel is that there is no rebellion. The victims of the so-called ‘National Donor Programme’ DO NOT march up to the besuited figures of authority, look them in the eyes and say “this is wrong”, no matter how much the reader wishes s/he could her/himself. They sit back and accept that they have no rights, no ownership of their bodies, that fellow humans are prepared to cut them open, dig around in there for a kidney, a lung, a heart – and leave them to die. It’s this acceptance of their lot, and perhaps the 90s setting that, for me, makes the novel more terrifying than Shelley’s classic.
When something like the narrative of Never Let Me Go seems to manifest proximity to our own lives, it’s bound to unsettle us. And it barely takes a second to find comparable prospective projects which have been considered in the real world. One of the least ethical experiments I’ve heard of is the idea of separating twins at birth, placing them in two different environments and observing their entire lives. However, the pursuit of a “regular” life would be impossible since every part of their existence would be strictly controlled, from diet to climate. It’s the only way you could do it without all the stigma of cloning people in order to experiment on them, but essentially, the principles are the same. And all this, because we’re not quite sure about the concept of “nature vs nurture” yet. It’s a gap in psychology which we NEED to fill for some reason. And then you’d probably find people wondering “wouldn’t this make simply WONDERFUL television? Think of ALL THE PEOPLE who would get viewing pleasure out of such an idea?”. Then we’d find ourselves with a real life Truman Show. Then there’d be such a motive for the press to tip the experimentees off about their staged existence just for the scandal and the money – these two lives would become pawns in the game of money, fame and morality. Or lack of morality.
I just think that as a race, we’ve shown that we have the capacity to switch off our consciences sometimes, even in day to day matters. These authors, they have a point. We should listen.