Biology is the science of life. Technology uses science to solve problems. Our society has progressed in its understanding of life to the point that we are able to manipulate it on a fundamental level through technology. This has led to profound ethical dilemmas. The movie Gattaca explores some important bioethical issues that are currently the focus of much dispute.
The underlying thematic issue presented is the question of the extent to which biologically inherent human potential determines the true potential of a person. Perhaps the most controversial issue in Gattaca is the use of genetic engineering technology in humans to create a more perfect society; this is, essentially, a new method of Eugenics. Another related issue seen in the movie is that of pre-natal selection. Through the use of the same or similar technologies, parents are able to choose the characteristics with which their children will be born.
The controversy of these issues stems from the immense potential in genetic sciences for both positive use and harmful misuse. Though the questions and fears of critics reflect the wisdom of caution, the potentially unlimited benefits mandate that we pursue these technologies.
The central subject of Gattacas plot is human potential. This is an important bioethical issue and is basically an example of the classic argument: Nature v. Nurture. The debate is of the role of nature compared to the role of environment in the shaping of personalities and other mental and physical characteristics. Psychologists have argued on this issue extensively. In the context of genetics and the movie Gattaca, the debate is of the respective roles of original genetic makeup and environment in determining the true potential of a person.
The movies theme is There is no gene for the human spirit. The main point asserted by the movie is that determination, human spirit, and other factors not genetically inherited substantially affect a persons abilities and potential for excellence. This is shown through the accomplishments of the genetically inferior main character, Vincent. Vincent was naturally conceived and born, leaving flaws in his genetic code that could have been eliminated through engineering. Notwithstanding, he is able to outperform his genetically engineered colleagues in the Gattaca space program. The movie is primarily about the difficulties he faces because of discrimination that results from judging a persons worth based only on their genetic profiles.
Many fear that this sort of discrimination could become a reality in our future. Legislation has already been passed to prevent discrimination based on genetic testing. In the movie this sort of legislation existed but was ignored. Obviously, the plot would have been much different if such legislation were adequately enforced.
Eugenics is the name given by Francis Galton to a theory for improving humanity through “judicious matings..
. to give the more suitable races or strains of blood a better chance of prevailing speedily over the less suitable”. However, this process for bettering society through biological improvement is an indirect method. Through advanced technology, the step of selective breeding could possibly be bypassed. With these technologies it may be possible to directly and dynamically manipulate genetic code. The change of this code is the direct cause of change in the genetic product: people.
But what is the desired product? What kind of people do we want, and with what characteristics? These questions exemplify the ethical quandaries raised by these procedures. Worried critics point to the extreme application of eugenic ideas in Nazi Germany. Others are simply opposed to any tampering with nature by the inadequate hands of humankind.
In the movies time period of the not too distant future, genetic engineering technology is far progressed from todays capabilities. The predicted abilities to eliminate genetic propensity for disease and instill high intellectual faculties are presented as routine for the characters in Gattaca. Still, many experts believe that those days and procedures are near indeed.
Many would call the technological predictions expressed by the movie conservative. No one knows what unimaginable feats these technologies may enable in the future. For many people, though, this only compounds the moral concerns involved with these studies. Obviously, these developments need to be pursued in a prudent manner.
In Gattaca, pre-natal .