Bioengagement - Summer 2012

No items found.
No items found.
Back to Dignitas Issue

The promise and perils of advances in technology, science, and medicine have long been the fodder of literary and cinematic creative reflection. This column identifies the contemporary expression of bioethical issues in the popular media (fiction, film, and television). A variety of resources exist exploring the realm of medical humanities and in-depth analysis of a given cultural medium or particular artifacts. This column seeks to offer a more expansive listing—with minimal commentary—to encompass a wider spectrum of popular culture. It will be of value to educators and others having conversations in the classroom, over a cup of coffee, at a book club, or around the dinner table. Readers are cautioned that these resources represent a wide spectrum of genres and content, and thus may not be appropriate for all audiences. For more comprehensive databases of the various cultural media, please visit our website at If you have a suggestion for us to include in the future, send us a note at


Poul Anderson, Genesis

(Tor, 2001).

Artificial Intelligence, Cognitive Upload, Digital Immortality, Human-Computer Interface, Posthumanism/Transhumanism.

A sci-fi exploration of a posthuman future when cognitive uploading and digital immortality have made way for interstellar travel and the obsolescence of human life. The fate of Earth and the few remaining primitive humans are held by a collective of artificial intelligences deliberating over the appropriateness of intervening to save the relics of the human species.

Max Berry, Machine Man

(Vintage, 2011).

Artificial Intelligence, Cyborg, Human-Computer Interface, Human Enhancement, Research Ethics, Transhumanism.

When a scientist becomes the victim of an industrial accident, he reasons that improved prosthetics can free him from the limitations of his physical body. Transhuman science fiction exploring the implications of the human body as the original prosthetic.

Ben Bova, The Immortality Factor

(Tor, 2009).

Regenerative Medicine, Stem Cell Research, Research Ethics, Global Healthcare Access and Disparities, Biotechnology and Politics.

Researcher Arthur Marshak has developed a potential means to cure spinal cord injuries and regenerate limbs and organs. The novel follows the personal and public firestorm that erupts when Marshak submits his ideas for scrutiny before a court of science.

Orson Scott Card, Shadows in Flight

(Tor, 2012).

Artificial Womb, Genetic Engineering/Gene Therapy, Human Enhancement.

The latest addition in Orson Scott Card’s Ender corpus. This contribution to Shadow series finds genetically engineered “Bean” in space flight with his enhanced progeny, as they struggle to find a way to reverse the unintended consequences of their genetic enhancements.

China Mieville, Perdido Street Station

(Del Ray, 2001).

Artificial Intelligence, Chimeras, Human Enhancement, Remaking Humanity.

Mieville, the master of “weird fiction,” creates a scintillating world melding science-fiction and fantasy where human enhancement and remaking have become common-place, and technological alchemy blurs with mystical powers alongside the spontaneous emergence of artificial intelligence.

Hannu Rajaniemi, The Quantum Thief

(Tor, 2011).

Artificial Intelligence, Cognitive Upload, Digital Immortality, Human Enhancement, Posthumanism, Virtual Reality.

This posthuman crime mystery delves into a world where virtuality and real life have ceased to be distinct. A world in which privacy is determined by electronic permissions and access to shared memories, and warfare is reduced to the best enhancements.

Bioethics at the Box Office:


(2012, NR).

End of Life


(2011, PG-13 for disturbing content and some language).

Public Health

Griffin and Phoenix

(2006, PG-13 for sexual content, some thematic elements, and brief strong language).

End of Life


(2011, R for language throughout, sexual content and some drug use).

End of Life, Physician-Patient Relationship

Primetime Bioethics:

Battlestar Galactica


Artificial Intelligence, Human-Machine Relations.

This Sci Fi Channel remake has inspired a series of scholarly monographs carried by such publishers as Wiley-Blackwell, Continuum, I. B. Tauris, McFarland, and Open Court.



Neuroethics, Human Enhancement



Biotechnology, Cloning, Cybrid/Animal-Human Hybrid, Human Enhancement, Nanotechnology, Radical Life Extension, Synthetic Biology, Transhumanism.

Beginning with Season 2 FOX included a short discussion of the Science of Fringe that educators may find particularly helpful (

House, M.D.


Clinical Ethics, End of Life, Informed Consent, Physician-Patient Relationship.

This provocative medical drama has inspired a number of books exploring the intersection of philosophy and pop culture with particular emphasis on bioethics. Publishers include Berkley Trade, Routledge, Smart Pop, and Wiley.