Feb 13, 2020 in Literature

A Moral Dilemma in The Girl with all the Gifts

The Girl with all the Gifts is a dystopian novel exploring such ominous topics as the survival of humanity and scientists’ responsibility for making ethical decisions. The author of this work is Mike Carey, a prominent novel writer who is primarily known for science fiction writings. The main topic of this book is the spread of a disease making people lose mental capabilities and turning them into creatures that focus solely on satisfying their hunger. The Girl with all the Gifts explores the conflict between ethics and science regarding vivisection of children and its impact on characters. Furthermore, the author offers a critique of the use of animals and humans in researches telling about the destiny of a girl forced to live in a cell.

The protagonist is an infected little girl named Melanie that has an impressive intellect as for her age and attracts the attention of scientists because of the way her body reacts to the infection. Caroline Caldwell, a doctor, and Helen Justineau, a behavioral psychologist, argue about the role of the girl in a research on the disease. Both sides of the argument may be right proving that it is unreasonable to vivisect Melanie but the group still has to make a decision that goes against the principles of scientific ethics. The novel ends with a conclusion that there is no cure for a disease.

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The author uses a disagreement between a doctor and a psychologist as an embodiment of the conflict between science and morality regarding the use of children in scientific experiments. The first character wants to help the society performing a vivisection on a girl, and a second one questions the morality of such actions. One may argue that a scientist should have the right to do anything regardless the need to respect human rights if such actions would be beneficial for the society as a whole. Supporters of utilitarianism suggest that particular actions produce the most benefit from the perspective of ethics. Hence, the central goal of this theory is to maximize utility. Obviously, Caldwell wanted to get an opportunity to dissect Melanie because she believed that the destiny of the whole humanity was at risk. Furthermore, she thought that she could prevent the disaster if she understood why an infection did not affect Melanie’s mental capabilities. The scientist did not acknowledge the possibility that such examination may produce controversial results insisting that it was the only chance to save the population. Caldwell criticized the way Justineau treated infected children: "I’m concerned about your objectivity". The issue is that she does not realize that she is the one who is biased and fails to accept alternative solutions. The story proves that it is not a correct choice to dissect Melanie because she was the only one who has managed to find a solution to the problem. Moreover, she suggested that it is appropriate to spread the infection all over the globe to stop the conflict between humans and infected individuals. Undoubtedly, it is unethical to infect people without their agreement. However, Melanie understood that it would be impossible to convince other people that such measures are necessary. Nevertheless, this approach has proven to be effective in the end, and the Earth was no longer in chaos. Science “won the battle” in this novel, but the author does not suggest that it is superior. A continuation of a conflict between humans and infected individuals would destroy the society. Therefore, it was important to make a prompt decision before it was too late.

The writer suggests that people can change when they explore contradictions between science and ethics. Caldwell treated Melanie much better at the end of the novel because she had an opportunity to learn more about a girl. One may object saying that the doctor changed the way she treated Melanie because she realized that the girl could be useful. The argument is quite reasonable but it is necessary to consider the context of their relationship. They became much closer when the scientist was dying. "Caldwell is full of gratitude, because she knows what this lethargy that’s flooding through her means". The narrator suggests that the scientist was thankful to Melanie because she wanted to share her discoveries when a little girl showed her interest. Additionally, a woman admitted that she was wrong about the need to perform a vivisection, and the solution was much easier. This situation indicates that ability to admit mistakes is critical for researchers. They must understand that they cannot solve everything themselves, and some issues require a unique approach and cooperation. The doctor was no longer extremely arrogant and did not intend to harm Melanie when she learned the truth. Although her attitude towards infected children changed, the scientist struggled to admit the reality of the situation. Carey suggests that people are less likely to support the use of animals in experiments if they interacted with these creatures before conducting studies and understood adverse consequences of their actions. The lack of empathy in a scientific research is a tremendous problem. Thereby, the author shows the importance of respectful treatment of research subjects.

A discussion on contradictions between science and morality is necessary because there is a possibility that both sides may be right. Carey consistently supports the idea that it is appropriate to consider all available options before a person makes a decision to act unethically or provide the most benefit to the society. The writer uses a character of Justineau as a voice of reason. A behavioral psychologist was against vivisection of children because she understood that it was not the only option. The author wanted to explain that it is appropriate to consider all available solutions before the participation in the studies. Caldwell wanted to convince Justineau saying that "you think you’re talking to children. But you’re not, Helen. You’re talking to the thing that killed the children" during one of the scenes. Furthermore, scientists often try to abuse their authoritative position to spread their ideas. The author of the novel asserts that it is paramount to consider all the perspectives to make any reasonable conclusions when there is a conflict between science and morality. Therefore, this story shows that disagreements are not always counterproductive, instead, they often reveal the truth.

The use of a girl’s cell as a symbol proves that the subject matter of this novel is an analogy to the use of animals in scientific experiments. For instance, at the beginning of the novel, Caldwell perceived Melanie and other children as beasts and did not recognize girl’s mental capabilities. As a scientist, she learned to be cold towards her subjects. However, this behavior shows the limitation of the approach. The cell where they keep the girl is symbolic supporting the assumption that the author wants to explore the treatment of animals. Melanie had to spend her whole life in a cell, so she knows nothing about the outside world. "She’s lived in Plato’s cave, staring at the shadows on the wall". The author suggests that it was difficult for a girl to accept the outside world because she had a distorted perspective on it as the result of imprisonment. Such conditions had an adverse impact on her because she does not understand many “rules” of the world. Moreover, she had no control of the situation, and nobody asked about her opinions on this subject matter. Nevertheless, she managed to stay naive and optimistic. Similarly, scientists forced animals to participate in researches against their will conducting procedures and operations without any consideration of the needs of small creatures. Although humans and animals are different because of their mental capabilities, the author wants to draw attention to the fact that such aspects are insignificant. A doctor did not recognize mental capabilities of Melanie. Similarly, scientists may be wrong when discussing the intellect of small creatures. Therefore, Caldwell represents a scientist that supports the use of animals in experiments, and Justineau is a person that opposes such approaches. The author of this novel describes a psychologist as a much more rational individual compared to the head of scientific the team and shows personal qualities of these characters to influence the opinion of readers regarding this topic.

The Girl with all the Gifts reveals a dangerous truth about the use of animals and humans in experiments. Scientists may believe that it is appropriate to dissect living humans if there is an illness that affects their brains and prevents them from acting like people. The fungus infection has erased the distinction between humans and animals. Thus, infected individuals started to act according to their instincts without an ability to think rationally. Therefore, a doctor believed that they have the right to use infected individuals for a research because she thought that they do not have a mental capability to understand anything. The reasoning behind such actions is quite dangerous. Scientists use the difference in intelligence as the primary factor that justifies their decisions. Melanie said that "she did not think it was right to blame Pandora for what happened, because it was a trap that Zeus had set for mortals and her made her be that way on purpose" during one of the lessons. This quote suggested that it is inappropriate to punish anyone because of the aspects they cannot control. Although nature has created humans to be smarter than animals, it does not mean that they deserve special treatment because everything was predetermined. Scientists like Caldwell treat infected individuals as savage beasts and dissect them without any remorse. Therefore, the society has to worry about the power given to the scientific community, people must voice their opinions when they believe that researchers cross the line. Overall, Carey highlights that there is a very thin line between ethical and unethical decisions in a research, and it is important to protect it.

To conclude, analysis of this work supports the assumption that the author utilizes Caldwell and Justineau to establish a conflict between science and ethics and portrays a little girl kept in a cell to criticize the use of living beings in a scientific research. A significant portion of this book focuses on the disagreement between a psychologist and a doctor representing opposite sides of the argument. The author asserts that it is possible to justify unethical actions only after an exploration of all possible alternatives. The topic of the novel is quite controversial but thought-provoking. Therefore, the novel helps readers to get better understanding of the perspective of opposing ideas presented by the author and a subject in such situations.


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