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Monsters Ink

A new art show explores the ethics of Frankenstein.

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When 18-year-old Mary Shelley penned her tale about an ambitious doctor who abused the power of science, medical ethicists around the world knew she had written a watershed story. Nearly 200 years later, the controversy behind cloning, human genomes, and genetic stem-cell research is tackled in Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature, an art exhibit opening Wednesday at the Parma branch of the Cuyahoga County Library.

The show traces the fact and fiction behind Shelley's 1818 novel via its film and theatrical adaptations through the years. "[Shelley] used the scientific advances of her day to make her point," explains Susan Blaskevica, the library's medical and health specialist. "[The creature] goes from being a nice guy to being angry and hating people. He becomes very bitter."

Penetrating the Secrets of Nature surveys issues of bioethics with a series of reproduced oil prints, etchings, illustrations, and woodcuts. The 1969 lithograph reproduction "There Stalked a Multitude of Dreams" uses a heap of bodies to symbolize Frankenstein's yen to restore life. A 1996 photograph shows Jeff Getty, an HIV-positive Californian, leaving the hospital after receiving bone marrow from a baboon.

On August 15 at Parma Community General Hospital, local surgeon Robert White -- a self-proclaimed Frankenstein scholar -- will moderate a panel discussion on medical ethics, based on the Frankenstein myth. In 1974, White performed the first successful brain transplant on a primate, surgically attaching one monkey's head to another monkey's body.

There's never been a better time to confront the medical ethics behind surgical breakthroughs, Blaskevica says. "Bioethics is certainly in the forefront, with regard to cloning and stem cells. And what's so neat about the novel is that it talks about reanimation, transplantation, and artificial resuscitation. It all seems to fit so well."

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