(SCIENCE) -- On 1 August 1790, a precocious student named Victor Frankenstein submitted a radical proposal to an ethical panel at the University of Ingolstadt in Bavaria. Under the title "Electro-chemical Mechanisms of Animation," Frankenstein explained how he wanted to "reverse the processes of death" by collecting "a large variety of human anatomical specimens" and putting them together to try and "restore life where it has been lost."
Frankenstein assured the institutional review board (IRB) that he had the highest ethical standards. "If I do succeed in fully animating a human or human-like creature, I will provide the creature with information about the study and allow it, if it is capable, to choose whether or not to participate further in continued observation and study," noted the budding scientist. If the creature had "diminished capacity," Frankenstein promised to bring in a third party to act in its interest and treat "the being" in accordance with recognized standards.
Of course no such proposal ever went to bioethicists at the University of Ingolstadt, where the fictional Frankenstein created his monster. In 1790, even a real Frankenstein would have faced no ethical reviews. But the proposal does exist in a 2014 paper, which speculates about whether the Frankenstein story would have had a happier ending if 21st century safeguards had existed 2 centuries ago. It is one of many riffs on the novel to be found in biomedical literature. In conceiving her story, Mary Shelley was influenced by the nascent medical science of the day and by early experiments on electricity. In return, Frankenstein has haunted science ever since.
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