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Frankenstein and Bill Nye

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Grades 9-12 | Analysis | Source Text

 

Learning Standards

 

Literary Analysis

Prompt: Today you will read an excerpt from the novel, Frankenstein, and read a video transcript from Bill Nye’s “The Eyes of Nye- Cloning.”  Consider the points made by each source about the issues surrounding genetic engineering. Write an essay analyzing the arguments of those who believe the process of genetic engineering should be explored and those who believe the opposite. Base the analysis on the specifics of both sources and the arguments they present. The essay should consider the content in both sources.

 

Passage from Frankenstein

Frankenstein is a novel written by English author Mary Shelley about the young student of science Victor Frankenstein, who dabbles in genetic engineering when creating a grotesque but emotional creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment.

 

  1. Remember, I am not recording the vision of a madman. The sun does not more certainly shine in the heavens than that which I now affirm is true. Some miracle might have produced it, yet the stages of the discovery were distinct and probable. After days and nights of incredible labour and fatigue, I succeeded in discovering the cause of generation and life; nay, more, I became myself capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter.

 

  1. The astonishment which I had at first experienced on this discovery soon gave place to delight and rapture. After so much time spent in painful labour, to arrive at once at the summit of my desires was the most gratifying consummation of my toils. But this discovery was so great and overwhelming that all the steps by which I had been progressively led to it were obliterated, and I beheld only the result. What had been the study and desire of the wisest men since the creation of the world was now within my grasp. Not that, like a magic scene, it all opened upon me at once: the information I had obtained was of a nature rather to direct my endeavors so soon as I should point them towards the object of my search than to exhibit that object already accomplished. I was like the Arabian who had been buried with the dead and found a passage to life, aided only by one glimmering and seemingly ineffectual light.

 

  1. I see by your eagerness and the wonder and hope which your eyes express, my friend, that you expect to be informed of the secret with which I am acquainted; that cannot be; listen patiently until the end of my story, and you will easily perceive why I am reserved upon that subject. I will not lead you on, unguarded and ardent as I then was, to your destruction and infallible misery. Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow.

 

  1. When I found so astonishing a power placed within my hands, I hesitated a long time concerning the manner in which I should employ it. Although I possessed the capacity of bestowing animation, yet to prepare a frame for the reception of it, with all its intricacies of fibers, muscles, and veins, still remained a work of inconceivable difficulty and labour. I doubted at first whether I should attempt the creation of a being like myself, or one of simpler organization; but my imagination was too much exalted by my first success to permit me to doubt of my ability to give life to an animal as complex and wonderful as man. The materials at present within my command hardly appeared adequate to so arduous an undertaking, but I doubted not that I should ultimately succeed. I prepared myself for a multitude of reverses; my operations might be incessantly baffled, and at last my work be imperfect, yet when I considered the improvement which every day takes place in science and mechanics, I was encouraged to hope my present attempts would at least lay the foundations of future success. Nor could I consider the magnitude and complexity of my plan as any argument of its impracticability. It was with these feelings that I began the creation of a human being. As the minuteness of the parts formed a great hindrance to my speed, I resolved, contrary to my first intention, to make the being of a gigantic stature, that is to say, about eight feet in height, and proportionally large. After having formed this determination and having spent some months in successfully collecting and arranging my materials, I began.

 

  1. No one can conceive the variety of feelings which bore me onwards, like a hurricane, in the first enthusiasm of success. Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world. A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs. Pursuing these reflections, I thought that if I could bestow animation upon lifeless matter, I might in process of time (although I now found it impossible) renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption.

 

  1. These thoughts supported my spirits, while I pursued my undertaking with unremitting ardor. My cheek had grown pale with study, and my person had become emaciated with confinement. Sometimes, on the very brink of certainty, I failed; yet still I clung to the hope which the next day or the next hour might realize. One secret which I alone possessed was the hope to which I had dedicated myself; and the moon gazed on my midnight labours, while, with unrelaxed and breathless eagerness, I pursued nature to her hiding-places. Who shall conceive the horrors of my secret toil as I dabbled among the unhallowed damps of the grave or tortured the living animal to animate the lifeless clay? My limbs now tremble, and my eyes swim with the remembrance; but then a resistless and almost frantic impulse urged me forward; I seemed to have lost all soul or sensation but for this one pursuit. It was indeed but a passing trance, that only made me feel with renewed acuteness so soon as, the unnatural stimulus ceasing to operate, I had returned to my old habits. I collected bones from charnel-houses and disturbed, with profane fingers, the tremendous secrets of the human frame. In a solitary chamber, or rather cell, at the top of the house, and separated from all the other apartments by a gallery and staircase, I kept my workshop of filthy creation; my eyeballs were starting from their sockets in attending to the details of my employment. The dissecting room and the slaughter-house furnished many of my materials; and often did my human nature turn with loathing from my occupation, whilst, still urged on by an eagerness which perpetually increased, I brought my work near to a conclusion.

 

 

“The Eyes of Nye- Cloning” Video Clip

Members of the scientific community are engaged in an emotional debate on a highly contentious, but personal genetic engineering issue: whether to allow further research on human cloning. “The Eyes of Nye” was a science program airing on public television in the United States in 2005 and featuring Bill Nye. The passage below is a transcript of five minutes from Season 1, Episode 4, 2005, featuring Bill Nye, a scientist, interviewing and researching varying perceptions of cloning. This episode was rated TV-G. The program was based in Seattle, Washington, produced by Buena Vista Television and broadcast during primetime by KCTS, the local PBS affiliate.

 

Bill Nye: The debate about embryonic stem cell research rages on; it is a debate about life. One side asks should we use this technology that can improve the lives of millions of people who are already here - people who have been struck with disease or injury? On the other side, the question is when does life begin? Some believe life begins the moment the first cell divides, so if the petri dish holds living cells, is it morally acceptable to redirect those cells and transform them into something they wouldn't otherwise become? Then there are concerns about the industrialization of life. Should human embryos be declared inventions that you could patent?  That’s what we have to figure out.  But how do we pursue a thoughtful discussion about stem cell research? Can we find a way to make our trains meet?

 

Bioethicist Dr. Jeffrey Kahn: Overall, we are all ethics experts because we'll have to make decisions about what's right and wrong. It's not fair to ask me or any one person what's the right place where we draw the line. It's a question that we all have to answer collectively and socially because it's an issue of social policy. We have to decide at what point do we think it's acceptable to use human embryos, a potentially past human embryo, and we have to answer - is an embryo, a human embryo (in terms of its moral status) more like the cells that are scraped out of your cheek, or more like the person who is sitting before you today?  I think it's in between; the question is, I think, not whether there is some moral status of human embryos, because I think most people think there is some moral status, but it's not full human being personhood status, and it's not mere tissue – it’s in between those two; the question is what's the moral benefit we can get from doing this? It's really a balance – there needs to be a concrete reason that it's worth doing research on human embryos that causes their destruction. There's a real cost doing this research, but the benefits are great enough to outweigh those costs.

 

Nye: What do you think would be the tipping point for therapeutic cloning, moral rethinking? 

 

Kahn: The first kind of therapeutic benefit will not be for building new hearts, that's too complicated. It will be for taking cells and turning them on in ways that will treat disease like diabetes. I think it will likely be the first case. How many tens of millions of people in the U.S.  have diabetes of some form or another, from kids through elder adults? We would have a huge impact on people's lives and health, and so then you say, “Wow!” -  there's a real benefit to a lot of people, not just a few people, a lot of people. How can we hold them hostage, hold their welfare hostage, hold their health hostage, because we think that these tiny cluster of cells have somehow more moral status than they do? That's the argument.

Nye: Are we going to pass laws to regulate cloning? Right now if I understand it -  it's illegal for any kind of cloning in the U.S.

 

Kahn: Actually there is no law against cloning in the U.S. That’s what is sort of amazing about the current stalemate in Congress. The House of Representatives has passed two cloning bans in the last two sessions, but the Senate has not acted either time, and so we have no law. And so it's actually perfectly permissible to do cloning in the U.S. now.

 

Nye: So what's your strong feeling, what's your view, and if I understand it, where is this line drawn?

 

Kahn: I think we ought to allow human embryos, certainly those that are leftover from reproductive purposes; they're not going to be used for reproduction anymore; they will be discarded anyway to be used in stem cell research with federal money so that would be an expansion of what the current policy allows.

    The video stated the following items on several slides:

  • President Bush was the first U.S. President to allocate federal funds for human embryonic stem cell research, limited to embryonic stem cell lines derived before August 9, 2001.
  • Policies on state funding of this research vary widely. As of November, 2004 –
    • Two states allowed nuclear transfer research
    • Twelve states prohibited various forms of stem cell research
    • One state allowed embryonic cell research under special permission of a local review board and a local attorney
    • 35 states have no legislation at all
  • In 2004, there were no restrictions on privately funded stem cell research in the United States

 

Nye: We've come to a threshold in human history - stem cells could improve or save millions of lives, so I'm in favor of therapeutic cloning; growing embryos just for their cells is unnatural, but so is my appendectomy and polio vaccines. This is different because we're talking about embryos, but we each have to decide - is a microscopic ball of undifferentiated cells where the fertilizer clones -  a person? See there are people and institutes full of people called bioethicists and they study the ethics of life. But when it comes time to vote, what's the difference between them and you and me -  nothing! That’s why we have to think about cloning; you have to think about stem cell research so we can all make good decisions as citizens and for our society.

 

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21:43, 9 Dec 2016

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