Controversy Over The Ethics of Experimental Research

In the ever-progressing scientific age, controversy has arisen surrounding the ethics of experimental research and whether it should be considered acceptable in today’s world. From beginning to end, Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood questions current scientific research and the ethics, if any, implored behind them. The novel takes place in a dystopia that seems to be in the near future through the eyes of the main character Jimmy, or Snowman, which he is named after the apocalypse-like plague. Atwood is able to demonstrate two ghastly worlds which seemingly arose because technology and science advanced faster than human obligation and ethics.

These two worlds show one before it was destroyed through Jimmy’s flashbacks, and the other post-human, where “Crakers”—comparable to humans but deficient of human flaws—are the only beings left on earth, in addition to genetically modified animals like pigoons, wolvogs, and rakhunks.

Jimmy’s crooked ethically controversial adolescent friend Crake is the sole reason for the destruction of humanity and through this, can be seen as a symbol of the adverse possibilities that can occur as a result of scientific research lacking ethics.

In this advanced society Margaret Atwood creates, the theme that recurs the most is science without ethics and the people in the society are captivated by its potential benefits. Religion and morality have seemingly been sidetracked as the only community who still has these ideals are seen as a threat to a society and are part of the poorest class. Their society is lacking a sense of morality and as a result, paves the way for unethical decisions through genetic engineering.

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Progression in genetic modification has only enabled their society to create things for fun, rather than for the betterment of society: “there’d been a lot of fooling around in those days: create-an-animal was so much fun; it made you feel like God”.

Throughout the book, there is a general absence of people recognizing the ethical and moral concerns with what their society has developed into. Rather than trying to prevent diseases, or assist those in need, they are using their scientific advancements to create artificial animals, destroying the organic nature of society. There are mainly two people throughout the novel that still have a sense of morality: one being Jimmy, and the other his mother. However, his mother’s only concern has to due with money and the fact that desperate people will be manipulated. In “The theological ethics of human enhancement: Genetic engineering, robotics and nanotechnology” by Manitza Kotze, the point is made that with enhancements to scientific engineering similar to the ones made in Oryx and Crake, only the truly wealthy and in high social standing are available to enjoy the progressions. The farther sciences develop, the more “societies could become socially disordered by an increase in socioeconomic discrepancy… social disruption would cause such enhancements to be deemed impermissible.

Although there was no social disruption to what was taking place in Oryx and Crake, the classes of society were completely isolated from one another. The rich and wealthy were in upscale communities where they could all take part in the genetic modifications while the lesser were stuck in a district filled with disease and filth. Not only is the growth in genetic engineering ethically unconscionable but also has created a major divide in society that displays the lack of integrity and value that they posses towards one another. Although Crake plays a major role in the destruction of humanity, it is also the biotechnology corporations that control society by creating products that is said to expand life expectancy but additionally construct diseases that force people to keep consuming their commodities. These massive biotechnology organizations are completely deficient of any ethics which forces the reader to question the importance of humanity. Besides from reshaping different species only to benefit themselves, they are also making their fellow species sick purposively for capital gain.

If anyone were to even speak about these evil projects, they would be discarded like Jimmy’s mother and Crake’s father, simply for showing ethics and morality. As Jimmy grew older, he started to realize what was happening behind closed doors, and “thought of pigoons as creatures much like himself. Neither he nor they had a lot of say in what was going on” (Atwood 24). Jimmy knew what these corporations were doing and clearly felt powerless to them, and simply had no choice but to join. A good point made in Jay Sanderson’s article, “Pigoons, Rakunks and Crakers: Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake and Genetically Engineered Animals in a (Latourian) Hybrid World,” states that the citizens of this dystopia are so obsessed with the biotechnology that regardless of knowing nothing about the pill, they are willing to trust Crake, only paying attention to the promised benefits. Their ignorance lead them to their death, and resulted in human extinction (Sanderson 2). Some could argue that Crake was not as evil a person as he was portrayed, and that he instead ended human existence because he felt they were already slowly killing themselves and the planet.

So Crake created a better species than humans, one that had all of our negative traits taken out, and “each [Craker] was exquisite” (Atwood 302). Crake believes that humanity is past being saved, so he instead creates a new, better species to replace humanity. Towards the end of the novel, Jimmy is introduced by Crake for the first time to his life work, the Crakers. From the beginning of the book, it was clear that Crake was an emotionless being, from saying that “God is a cluster of neurons”  to watching a “little girl on a porno site”, Crake’s basic human traits had been made into a man whose merely focused only on the idea of science without ethics. Crake, like much of the population, sees their scientific advances as constructive, yet Crake resorts to do the most unethical thing one could do humanity, annihilating all of mankind.

During the entire duration of Crake’s life, Atwood subtly puts hidden meaning in the refrigerator magnets Crake uses. They start off good-natured but as the novel progresses, they turn into darker messages about creation, like “Where god is, Man is not… To stay human is to break a limitation”. This message hints to the fact that Crake is neglecting all existence by playing God. His life work was creating excessively genetically modified humans. Constructing the Crakers shows the disregard for the well-being and prosperity of other creatures. In the scholarly article, “Genetic engineering of animals: Ethical issues, including welfare concerns” by Elisabeth Ormandy, Julie Dale, and Gilly Griffin, discusses the ethical dilemmas that various industries face when genetically modifying animals and other beings.

They stated that with a few exceptions, the engineering industry hasn’t moved forward, yet. However, “it remains feasible that genetically engineered pets could become part of day-to-day life for practicing veterinarians, and there is evidence clients have enquired about genetic engineering services” (Ormandy 3). Although it may not in the immediate future, progressions in scientific technology like those made in Oryx and Crake are not as far out as we might think, and before any genetically engineered being is modified or created, one should reflect on the book and the consequences that arose as a result. By displaying the two worlds manifested by Margaret Atwood and examined through Jimmy/Snowman’s eyes, an alarming picture is painted of what our future could look like if we reach state where scientific advancements become more important than ethics. The biggest takeaway is to leave creation to nature, acting as god can and will only bring contradiction into society. Oryx and Crake can be seen as a warning sign to consider what implications can result from modifying other species for human benefit without looking at the moral principles.

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Controversy Over The Ethics of Experimental Research. (2022, Feb 27). Retrieved from

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