Burriss: Is science catching up with Frankenstein?

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Exactly 199 years ago this Saturday, March 11, 1818 Mary Shelly published her book, "Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus." The story has been the subject of innumerable horror films, television programs, books, comic books and video game

The first film adaptation of the novel was made in 1910, but in the 16 minute film Victor Frankenstein uses chemicals to create the creature in a vat.

But here's where it gets interesting: last week scientists in New York, in what may be a prime example of life imitating art, said they have created what are being called "embryo-like structures," not from the normal process of fertilization, but from unrelated stem cells. And the embryos are said to have the beginning of a primitive spinal column.

However, the scientists also say it is a long way from the creation of an embryo by artificial means to the creation of a living person. Or have the scientists actually created a person?

It somehow seems more than coincidence the greatest developments in media have occurred at just about the same time as one of the greatest scientific developments of the ages; that is, the beginning of genetic research. Fortunately genetic research is generally carried out in full view of the public, and has focused debate around the world on the possibility of finding cures for gene-based diseases and illnesses, as well as on the possibility of creating made-to-order life-forms.

The problem Dr. Frankenstein faced 199 years ago was not in the monster he created, but in how he handled his creation.

And the problem today is not in how much we know about the research in our lives, but in what we do with that knowledge. We can use that knowledge for good or evil, but only if we have all of the information we need in order to make these critical choices.

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Larry Burriss
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