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Gattaca & Genetics

Gattaca takes a realistic look at Biotechnology and the human genome project, takes it to a negative conclusion that isn’t outlandish, and shows us the society we could be condemning our descendents to live in. We have mapped the human genome and are now in the beginning stages of curing genetic diseases. But what are all those scientists going to do after they have completed that task? With the genetic code mapped, people can have their genetic code tested for predispositions to diseases in order to receive preventative care. But what if that data wasn’t only available to the individual and one doctor sworn to confidentiality? With HMOs and their accountants, it will not take long for premiums to go up for those with more flaws in their DNA. All that is needed is one corporation to have a good reason to challenge the confidentiality of a genetic map, and for that corporation to win. This opens the floodgates of information to corporations. Just think how much corporations make by selling personal data to telemarketers. Would they really see anything different in “sharing” genetic data, for a small fee? Without the strongest of constraints we could end up in a world very much like Gattaca, where the government and corporations control our entire lives based on our genetic code. The bad eyesight issue isn’t so important with modern advances in eyesight treatments that don’t require genetic alteration to fix. But all the rest are very much an issue. Why invest in years of training for an individual that has the smallest possibility of developing a physical or mental defect? Why hire someone who is going to die when he is 40 when you can hire someone who will live to be a hundred? If those possibilities could be quantified by genetic code, why worry if it is only a possibility, and not a certainty? Why not create a concert pianist with six fingers? In a world where society has access to the most intimate of an individual’s secrets, their genetic code, what can you accomplish. How great can you be if you’re expectations are formed at birth? Vincent is born naturally and his DNA is tested immediately. He has bad eyesight, heart problems and a life expectancy of about 30 years. That is according to his genes. Of course, when we meet him he is already over the age of 30. Genetics do not tell us what will happen, simply what we are more susceptible and resistant to. This is why some people can smoke for sixty years and never get lung cancer or emphysema, but others can get it from second hand smoke or pollution in the air. No genetic test can tell you what will actually happen in life, just what your genes will contribute to that life. And if life is only what is in your genes, why live it? What is the point of living out a life already written for you? The positive point in Gattaca is that there is a resistance movement, a group that gives the natural born new identities as “bioformed”. The society is made three-dimensional and realistic (and therefore more frighteningly believable) by the fringe that resists the injustice they see around them, hopefully a fringe element that will prevail. Society looks to science and technology for solutions and reasons for everything. And in that pursuit it reminds me of a previous reading for this class. The story where society believes every life is precious, but the more we live like that is true, the less true it becomes. The world in Gattaca is like that, where every flaw is under a microscope and perfection attainable. How can we rejoice at our accomplishments when they are to be expected? After all, we would just be doing what we were programmed to do. It isn’t us that is striving or accomplishing great things. It is just our genetics. Our flaws give us lessons in life and compassion, but also in perseverance and accomplishments in overcoming those flaws. Our accomplishments are now credited to our breeders, our geneticists, not us. It is our flaws that make who we are, our flaws that teach us empathy and compassion. Without compassion, who would we be? How many more Hitler’s would we create, a society that has eliminated so many flaws before, why wouldn’t they continue to look for more flaws to conquer? As it is, even Jerome, the genetically superior genius that can work anywhere, has a flaw. Jerome is paralyzed, and therefore flawed, and therefore useless to the society obsessed with perfection. Forget racial discrimination, it is all about the code now, all about the basic components that make up who we are. We have graduated from skin to nucleotides in our quest for the Aryan race, changed the goal from skin color to genetic sequences. People strive to live longer, healthier lives. It is too bad they don’t stop and think about the quality of those lives and all that we lose each time we take a step closer to our idea of what perfection is. Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Napoleon and countless others had their idea of perfection. The perfection they envisioned has emptied homes and filled mass graves. Eugenics has led to forced sterilizations and mass murder, and yet we still pursue it. In modern times, sperm and egg banks we think are mild and safe forms of Eugenics, nothing like the old Eugenics. While we strive for human perfection, we endanger the continuation of humanity. This is shown in plants and animals, where biodiversity has been eliminated. The more we strive for perfection in our genetics, the more variation we eliminate. Sickle cell anemia is a disease, unless you live in an area overrun by malaria. In that instance sickle cell anemia is your salvation. Genetic engineering would remove that gene from us and leave us vulnerable to unforeseen dangers and consequences. Mutations in genes are a natural occurrence that genetically “bioformed” babies would attempt to eliminate. It is those mutations that allow us to find adaptations we didn’t know would help us in situations we didn’t know we would encounter. When you limit the adaptability of the human race, and choose one characteristic over another, you limit the survivability fitness of the human race. With the human mapping of genes and future genetic engineering advances, Gattaca is simply a possible future continuation of society, science and technologies shared obsession with the perfect human being.

Random mumblings of the Scorpion Fire Dragon

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