The science fiction film Gattaca portrays the potential consequences of genetic engineering, or the manipulation of genes to achieve a desired outcome. In the film, parents use in vitro fertilization to enhance the chromosomes of their children. Due to many advances in technology, such as stem cell research and cloning, the future shown in Gattaca is a potential reality. Whether or not these technical advances would be beneficial or detrimental to society, it is essential that these issues be logically addressed.
Gattaca describes the effects of genetic engineering from the perspective of a man named Vincent, who was born a “Faith Child,” or without any chromosomal enhancement. Because so many parents chose to alter the genes of their children, Vincent is at a distinct disadvantage. Immediately after he was born, a blood sample determined that he had a 99% chance of heart complications and dying by the time he was 30 years old. As a result, he is often faced with genoism, or the act of discrimination due to someone’s genetic code. Though he dreams of becoming an astronaut to escape his world, his reality is that he will be denied this opportunity simply because of his risk for health problems. Because of Vincent’s struggles, his parents decided to have his younger brother Anton genetically engineered.
Life changes for Vincent when he meets Gerome Morrow, a physically superior man who became paralyzed after stepping out in front of an automobile. Gerome attempted suicide after winning the silver medal because he could not accept the fact that he came in second place. Vincent is able to capitalize on Gerome’s misfortune, using his superior DNA to take on Gerome’s identity. By doing this, Vincent becomes and becomes a “degenerate,” or a person who was conceived naturally, but uses the identity of another to improve their position in life. With Gerome’s DNA, Vincent is able to fulfill his dream of becoming an astronaut.
Genetic engineering raises many moral and ethical concerns; however from a parent’s perspective, it would be difficult to witness my child being denied opportunities as other children. Though Vincent was a healthy individual, he faced constant genoism. By choosing not to genetically engineer my child, he or she would not be able to compete fairly with others and could be denied basic rights, such as healthcare and insurance.
Genetic engineering could allow parents to select certain traits which may benefit their children. On a personal level, I would want to ensure that my child had no debilitating birth defects and a healthy constitution to prevent diseases. I would also want my child to be intelligent and emotionally stable and not have to struggle with mental illnesses. Manipulation of genes could provide children with good metabolism and prevent obesity, give them good vision so they did not require glasses, and to have attractive facial features. If the child was male, it would be advantageous to be tall. Other factors to consider would be for them to be physically strong and not have an addictive personality.
Though the major concerns of genetic engineering are often addressed in the scientific and health care fields, its use in the field of agriculture often raises alarm. Genetic engineering is also used in the field of agriculture to produce more sustainable and nutritionally enhanced foods. Many worry that exposure to genetically engineered foods predisposes people to certain diseases such as cancer.
Other areas of controversial science include stem cell research and cloning. Stem cell research is the study of undifferentiated cells. Because stem cells have the potential to become any type of cell, they may offer many health benefits in the treatment and prevention of diseases. Stem cells can be obtained from either embryonic or adult tissues, though embryonic stem cells are preferred due to their greater flexibility. Many consider stem cell research to be immoral and feel that it is a violation of a fetus’s right to life because embryonic cells are preferred.
Cloning is a process which occurs when one or more genetically identical specimens are produced from another. It is often associated with technology, but occurs in nature with asexual reproduction. Cloning could be used to generate organs and could provide people with life-saving transplants. Environmentalists may favor cloning to save endangered species.
Concerns about cloning involve more than just religious protests. How would cloning affect the concept of the soul, or an individual’s personality? Critics in the scientific community are also unsure of cloning’s safety in producing healthy individuals. Further concerns would be of the clone’s personal rights. If clones were created, what would their role be? Would they be created to be organ donors and treated as slaves?
There are no easy answers in the field of biotechnology. Films such as Gattaca invite relevant discussions so these issues can be logically addressed.