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The dystopian sci-fi thriller is fast becoming our reality.
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Down the road, disability is likely to have more stigma, because people will ask this question: “Why did you choose to have a kid with a disability if you could have tested and avoided that? It’s your fault.” At some point the government might come along and say “It’s so expensive to have disability, here’s our policy: You can’t make a baby unless you have genetic testing. That is to say, we think it’s a cost containment feature in the year 2030 for everyone to have genetic testing.”
If you don’t think that’s going to happen here, start looking at what genetic testing looks like in Singapore, start thinking about what genetic testing looks like in China. Start thinking about cultures where people are saying, “Hey, we’d like to build better babies. It’ll make us more competitive. We’ve had a one-baby rule. Now we’re going to have a mandatory genetic testing rule.”
Philosopher Jeremy Rifkin predicts the formation of an “informal genetic caste system,” which harkens to Gattaca, a world where “a minute drop of blood determines where you can work, who you should marry, what you’re capable of achieving.” Indeed as an “invalid,” Vincent must work as a janitor and can only fantasize about becoming an astronaut.
Some bioethicists make the moral case for genetic enhancements. Ethicists like Peter Singer have called for government subsidies to parents to “genetically improve their offspring.” In his 2010 book Enhancing Evolution: The Ethical Case for Making Better People, John Harris argues that genetic enhancement is not only morally defensible but morally obligatory.
Bioethicist Julian Savulescu agrees and has developed a philosophy called “procreative beneficence.” He argues that “Parents should use technology to manipulate their children’s memory, temperament, patience, empathy, sense of humor, optimism and other characteristics in order to give them the best opportunity of the best life.”
The use of genetic technology raises many questions. Most of us are troubled by the idea of “playing God.” Many people believe that children are gifts to be appreciated as they come to us, not as instruments of our ambition or as objects to be manufactured and commoditized.
A fundamental misconception at the root of the Gattaca mindset is that persons with disabilities inevitably lead unhappy lives and overburden their families and society.
But that’s demonstrably untrue. To take just one example, a 2011 survey found that 99 percent of adults with Down syndrome report being happy with their lives. Another study found that 79 percent of parents of people with Down syndrome reported their outlook on life was more positive because of their child. Also, 97 percent of siblings of people with DS expressed feelings of pride and 88 percent were convinced they were better people because of their sibling with DS.
In Gattaca, Vincent assumes the identity of Jerome, a former swimming star with a near perfect genetic profile who was injured in a car accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Vincent pays Jerome for his identity, using his valid DNA in blood, hair, tissue, and urine samples to pass the constant screenings as he attempts to become an astronaut (which he ultimately does).
But Jerome feels marginalized in a society obsessed with perfection. He becomes an alcoholic and ends up killing himself by climbing inside his home incinerator and lighting a fire.
The eugenic mentality behind Gattaca fails to appreciate the value of human difference. Gattaca tries to eradicate human weakness but can’t because weakness and disability are natural and essential parts of the human experience. They are part of what it means to be human.
Whenever I re-watch Gattaca, and as I observe the quickly developing culture of genetic perfection around me, I think about questions posed by Melinda Tankard Reist in her book Defiant Birth. Her simple questions get to the heart of what’s wrong with the Gattaca mentality.
She asks: “Who is disabled? The person who through no fault of his own lives a more difficult life? Or is it the society which cannot tolerate or accept this person among them?”
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?