Scientific Knowledge & Responsibility
In Mary Shelley’s classic horror story Frankenstein, we meet an ambitious scientist who is fascinated by the creation of life. In his studies, he discovers “the secret of life.” Dr. Frankenstein makes a scientific breakthrough in his creation of the monster, but at what cost? He conducts this gruesome experiment in secrecy without consulting others, and with no consideration of the possible consequences. Dr. Frankenstein creates the monster simply because he can. This turns out to be a mistake for him since his creation goes on a vengeful murder spree over the course of the next few years.
Though Frankenstein is a work of fiction, it brings up very real, crucial questions about ethical responsibility in scientific study. Are potentially harmful scientific experiments ever justified for the sake of new knowledge and discovery? How big of a role should ethics play in the decisions made by scientists? The following lesson addresses these questions, and requires students to examine the role of ethics in modern science.
Ethics of Science Lesson Plan
Objective: Students will demonstrate their understanding of ethics to identify ethical issues and conflicts in the novel Frankenstein and in modern science.
1. Have students listen to Flocabulary’s Frankenstein song and click on info boxes to learn more.
2. Define the term ethics for students: the determination of right from wrong in a society or individual’s actions.
3. Have students discuss if they’ve ever encountered an ethical issue before in their lives. How did they react/What did they do? Why did they react that way/Why did they do it? Lead your students to recognize that ethics is also a sense of responsibility.
4. Re-listen to the Frankenstein song, this time focusing on possible ethical issues. Have students take note of any ethical issues they encounter in the storyline. Afterwards, have students share. As a class, discuss each issue and how it should’ve been handled. For example:
- Dr. Frankenstein created the monster because he knew he could, but didn’t consider the consequences.
- Dr. Frankenstein didn’t provide a loving home to his creation.
- The monster kills Frankenstein’s brother and frames someone else for the crime.
- Dr. Frankenstein kept secrets.
5. Students might find ethical issues with the monster’s actions. In this case, ask the students: Who is ultimately responsible for these violent actions – Dr. Frankenstein or the monster? Does Dr. Frankenstein bear any responsibility for the violent actions of his creation? Do parents bear any ethical responsibility for the actions of their children?
6. If you’d like to take the lesson further, ask students to shift their focus to real-life scientific scenarios: Can they think of any scientific discoveries that have very serious ethical implications? Some examples include:
– stem cell research
– laboratory tests on animals
– the creation of the atomic bomb
– genetic engineering of animals and plants
7. In closing, ask students to discuss: How is Frankenstein a cautionary tale for modern day scientific study? How should we, as a society, weigh ethical concerns with scientific advancement?