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An Analysis of Ethical Issues in the Film “Jurassic Park” (2004) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

An Analysis of Ethical Issues in the Film “Jurassic Park” (2004) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
July 26, 2014
Note from the Author: This essay was originally written in 2004 and published on Associated Content (subsequently, Yahoo! Voices) in 2007.  The essay earned over 18,000 page views on Associated Content/Yahoo! Voices, and I seek to preserve it as a valuable resource for readers, subsequent to the imminent closure of Yahoo! Voices. Therefore, this essay is being published directly on The Rational Argumentator for the first time.  ***
~ G. Stolyarov II, July 26, 2014
The central ethical dilemma of the 1993 Steven Spielberg film, Jurassic Park, hinges on the question of whether man should employ his knowledge of genetics to revive a species that had become extinct as a result of natural processes. The scenario presented by the film is one of utter pandemonium and devastation after carnivorous dinosaurs, such as velociraptors and Tyrannosaurus rex defy security measures and trample on the human-built infrastructure of Jurassic Park. From this arises a more complex series of questions: to what extent should man manipulate genetic information? Which species can he legitimately revive, and which must he refrain from reanimating? At which point is it proper to state that one has taken sufficient precautions against potential threats and proceed with a given project?

John Hammond is the founder of Jurassic Park, an entrepreneur who wants to give his visitors an absolutely genuine experience in observing revived dinosaurs and omit no element of the Mesozoic era, even the carnivorous dinosaurs that view humans as prey. Hammond introduces a group of scientists to Jurassic Park and seeks to convince them to give their professional endorsement to the endeavor as a means of mollifying his investors. He repeatedly ignores warnings from Dr. Malcolm and others that the situation is likely to go awry and arranges the tour to take place when there is a high likelihood of a storm occurring. In the meantime, Dennis Nedry, who programs the security systems in Jurassic Park, seeks to steal valuable dinosaur embryos and sell them on the black market. In order to escape and cause havoc in Jurassic Park, he disables the security systems and lets the dinosaurs loose during the storm. By the time the security systems are reestablished, the dinosaurs have already penetrated the main compound.

Dr. Ian Malcolm is a chaos theorist who constantly warns that Hammond’s seeming control over the course Jurassic Park will follow is a mere illusion, that there are numerous factors that cannot be foreseen when two species separated by 65 million years of evolutionary history collide. His prediction is realized, as the all-female contingent of dinosaurs finds a way to reproduce by spontaneously changing sex, as their frog DNA permits. Drs. Grant and Sappler, specialists in the fauna and flora of the Mesozoic, display concern about Hammond’s introduction of certain species into the park which would not be able to adapt to an age in which they do not belong and behave as if they were still in the Mesozoic.

In order to protect visitors from the dinosaurs, Jurassic Park possesses a system of security fences and remote feeding, which allows goats and other medium-sized mammals to be airlifted into the dinosaur cages while keeping humans out of harm’s way. Unfortunately, this does not take into account the fact that carnivorous dinosaurs are instructed by their instincts to hunt their prey, not ingest passive critters that are delivered to them. When Nedry disables the security systems, the dinosaurs have their chance to lunge at the tour vans in search of more active, human prey. They have also begun to feed on one another, the velociraptors consuming small dinosaurs and being in turn hunted by T. rex. The velociraptors are the most agile, coordinated, and intelligent of the dinosaurs, and have even learned to open door handles, surprising even the initial skeptics of the Jurassic Park endeavor. During the course of the dinosaurs’ siege of the Jurassic Park compound, Hammond’s hopes to revive Jurassic Park with enhanced security measures are shattered, and the objective of the humans becomes, as Dr. Sappler suggested, to save the lives of those endangered by the catastrophe. Hammond is not thrilled with the destruction of his most ambitious dream, and regretfully eyes the fossilized mosquito at the tip of his cane, but he must eventually come to terms with the reality of his experiment’s failure.

Jurassic Park’s failure results in numerous fatalities, including that of the visiting lawyer, the chief programmer, and the man in charge of feeding and containing the dinosaurs. Other lives are placed on the line, including those of Dr. Grant, Dr. Malcolm, and Hammond’s own grandchildren. Even after security is established, no place on the island is safe, as the velociraptors penetrate into the main compound and a helicopter is summoned to evacuate the survivors. Aside from the human toll, the consequences of leaving an unmonitored dinosaur ecosystem in place are problematic, to say the least. The dinosaurs are able to breed and entrench themselves on the island. The films which follow Jurassic Park explore the situation on the island after humans return to it to face a far stronger and more aggressive dinosaur population. Moreover, The Lost World depicts a threat to the mainland human population as a T. rex is illegally imported into the United States. These problems were, obviously, not foreseen by Hammond and other creators of Jurassic Park.

The creation of Jurassic Park was an attempt at beneficence, intended to grant visitors of all economic standings an experience hitherto closed to them, a glimpse at an era 65 million years in the past. Moreover, Hammond sought to exercise his autonomy in employing scientific knowledge of genetics to engineer new species in order to earn profit and personal satisfaction. However, the principle of nonmaleficence was neglected in this process, since, though Hammond did take security precautions intended to avoid harm to visitors, he did not fully consider other potential threats and carried the project forward without analyzing possible implications of blending dinosaur DNA with that of frogs or subjecting the park’s security to the control of the unstable and unreliable Dennis Nedry.

An alternate course of action to the swift establishment of Jurassic Park would have been to proceed at a more cautious pace and be more discriminatory as to the features included in the park. Herbivorous dinosaurs alone would not have posed a dramatic threat to human lives, and would likely have been docile enough to be contained by the security measures that the park possessed. This is supported by the fact that Dr. Grant and Hammond’s grandchildren were able to pet a gigantic herbivore and only received a burst of mucus in the face.

Moreover, a more selective process for employment at Jurassic Park might have been able to weed out individuals like Nedry, who was principally responsible for security failures. Every field of human existence has its blackguards and deceivers. This does not justify curtailing endeavors in those fields, but it does warrant a more stringent approach toward keeping those individuals out of positions of power.

As for employing the DNA of frogs, it might have been possible to locate a species that does not spontaneously change sex and use its genes to fill the “gaps” in dinosaur DNA. Dr. Malcolm’s ideas of a complex interplay of factors determining the outcome of a given event should not deter individuals from undertaking endeavors as novel and ambitious as Jurassic Park, but the complexity, which I think is perfectly within the grasp of human cognition, does need to be taken into account. This would fit the ethics of principlism, as Jurassic Park already fulfills the standards of beneficence and autonomy, and nonmaleficence can be achieved by taking stricter precautions to control the dinosaurs and the security measures of the park. The principle of justice would necessitate that individuals like Hammond have the right, like all others living in a free country, to use their property and create a profit-making venture (this can be termed comparative justice in a paradigm where the right to free enterprise exists in a majority of cases).