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Are we heading for a genetic eutopia?

In the not too distant future, a society exists in which advanced genetic engineering determines the social status of a human being.

Or so that’s what director Andrew Niccol portrayed 15 years ago in his blockbuster movie Gattaca. A play on the letters that represent the four DNA bases (G A T C), Gattaca depicts a world obsessed with genetic perfection. The key theme of this scientifically driven film is the dominance of nature over nurture. One of the very first scenes displays the birth of Vincent, a boy that was naturally conceived, not genetically engineered like the rest of his generation. Vincent’s chances of future health problems were determined at birth. Things such as percentage chance of obesity, manic depression, attention deficit disorder, heart disorder and life expectancy were defined by a simple prick of his foot.

Gattaca snapshot. Source: Google creative commons.

It did not matter how much I lied on my resume. My real resume was in my cells.

In my previous post on super-fertility, I mentioned a technique called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. This is the tool applied to embryos in Gattaca to create the most genetically dominant child. Although an important advancement in science, this near future brings up major ethical concerns.

Keep in mind, this child is still you. Simply, the best, of you. You could conceive naturally a thousand times and never get such a result.

Currently only genetic defects such as Down syndrome and cystic fibrosis can be diagnosed with PGD. An article posted in natural news last year suggests that with healthcare costs on the rise, governments may approve more conditions to be genetically tested for at the embryonic stage. By bringing in these new policies, this genetic testing could lead to greater abortion rates, and hence decrease healthcare costs associated with genetic diseases. Do we want a future like this? Where a naturally conceived child is prevented from fulfilling their dreams due to statistically determined health problems? In all our efforts to rid our societies of discrimination, there is a chance discrimination of future generations could be put down to a science.

I belonged to a new underclass, no longer determined by social status or the color of your skin. No, we now have discrimination down to a science.

This film is extremely moving as it brings to light the ethical concerns associated with human rights and how these rights can be abused by science. By referring back to this film created before many scientific technologies existed, the goals of scientists can be put into perspective. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of watching Gattaca, I would highly recommend it.

Hopefully I, or future generations to come, will never have to see anything like this.

Gattaca snapshot. Source: Google creative commons

Gattaca snapshot. Source: Google creative commons

5 thoughts on “Are we heading for a genetic eutopia?

  1. I read this story yesterday on triple donor IVF being tested in the UK for woman who pass on mitochondrial disease. Below the article was a really interesting comment from another reader, that went in summary like this: The world is over populated, there isnt enough food to feed us all, Nature finds ways to control the population, but because of human intervention, we’re finding ways to get around Nature and help people who have naturally wouldn’t be able to have children because of their genetics.

    Its also interesting when you compare it with one of the cornerstones of scientific theory which is natural selection. As scientists we have a really strong hold on the theory of evolution and natural selection. But here is a case where humans throw that theory out and say, well i can beat natural selection. And then in a way, this is kind of an unnatural selection.

    • I think people that make comments like that are severely misinformed. Should humans die of cancer because it’s natural? Should humans die of a bacterial infection and refuse antibiotics because that’s just nature?

      Medicine helps prolong life, and increases the quality of life – regardless if we are talking about three-person IVF babies, or a cure for any given disease. Ancient man used to have a life expectancy of 30 years. We need to appreciate how far medicine has come, and understand where to draw the line. I think programming a perfect aesthetic human is crossing the line, but reducing the burden of disease should always come first.

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