This year marks the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s classic, macabre tale "Frankenstein." Two centuries later, this harrowing story of science, morality, and death continues to haunt our imaginations. Like many millenials, I’ve been whiling away these wintry nights and my maternity leave by binge watching Netflix. From series and films like "Stranger Things" to "Okja" and "Altered Carbon," it seems our appetites for stories marked by bioethical dilemmas has only grown since the birth of Frankenstein’s monster.
You may be wondering what bioethics is and what it has to do with preteens riding bikes and playing Dungeons and Dragons. (Watch "Stranger Things," you can thank me later.) Simply put, ethics is a field of knowledge focused on what a community or society thinks is good, bad, right, or wrong. Bioethics applies this idea of ethics to science, medicine, and healthcare. It poses critical questions about the moral implications of things like scientific research, medical practice, and technological advancements on our lives and environment.
Mayo Clinichas an entire department dedicated to bioethics research. This month the Biomedical Ethics Research Programin collaboration with the Rochester Public Library, will be launching their Bioethics at the Cinema series. Its aim is to use pop culture to raise awareness and engage the community in dialogue about bioethical issues.
Dr. Richard Sharp, director of the research program, says, "Through film, we hope to explore ethical concerns that might be difficult, if not impossible, to describe fully in words. Film is also a great way to raise awareness of these issues among younger people. … Our hope is that this series will cultivate that wonder in a new generation."
Grab some popcorn and check out these five reasons to catch Bioethics at the Cinema.
1) Because androids have feelings, too:The series kicks off with a screening of "Ex Machina." The suspenseful and meditative film poses sobering questions about what sentient artificial intelligence might look like and whether or not the world is ready for it.
2) Because it’s personal: Critically acclaimed films like "The Danish Girl" and "Wonder" make us consider how our identities, family, community, and intimate relationships are marked by discrimination, stigma, and inequality.
3) Because the future is now:Choices we make as a society today will certainly shape our future. But bioethics isn’t only about what might go wrong in some distant future. It asks us to consider what technology and medical advancements might help us cure disease or offer scientific breakthroughs that could save our planet. Bioethics coordinator Kylie Osterhus says, "Movies frequently depict a dystopian future. … This can spread misunderstandings about real-world science, leading us to treat revolutionary technology or artificial intelligence only as things to fear."
4) Because culture and race matter:Medicine and science don’t exist in a vacuum. They are linked to cultural difference and societal values, norms, and even biases. The Oscar-nominated horror film "Get Out" is part social commentary and part sci-fi thriller rooted in the history of racial injustice in the United States.
5) Because the more you know...:As the old adage goes, knowledge is power. The film series is a way to participate in community conversations about what can often be very abstract and heady topics. Each film will be followed by a panel discussion to help keep us well-informed and engaged on issues that, ultimately, affect us all.