For our upcoming research paper, I choose to pick the film Gattaca, which was written and directed by Andrew Niccol. Gattaca is a film made in 1997 in which a “not-too-distant-future”, scientists are able to manipulate and predetermine a child’s genome before actual implantation of the embryo, bringing about a unique form of eugenics. While researching Gattaca’s particular depiction of artificial selection and the effects behind it for this project, I came across the Forbes article linked above.
The article, “Gattaca Alert? Or Should We Welcome the New Age of Eugenics?”, is written by Jon Entine in which he talks about the attempt to rebrand the eugenics movement of the past into something new. As some might remember, eugenics in the past has been used both to promote the reproduction among among certain groups of people, while in contrast also attempting to restrict the same reproductive rights of others, such as certain ethnic groups. As Entine points out and is quite obvious to most of us, sentiments of the past behind eugenics tended to lean towards the latter rather than the former. Recently though, there has been a push to rebrand eugenics towards the goal of gradually eliminating disease and helping all people live longer and healthier lives.
This new movement in eugenics is already here though, as we already ruitenely screen for mutations in embryos and abort certain embryos in the process. What has been going on is a push to increase acceptance of the practice. This has alerted both groups on the right and the left who argue for the rights of everyone. Both sides, for essentially different reasons, attack this new brand of eugenics, considering it ethically wrong to carry out.
This new movement brings about many, and not completely undeserved comparisons to Gattaca. The main argument is that like in Gattaca, these genetic improvements leads to genetically altering or assisting a child something everyone will strive for. For example, in Gattaca, the main character Vincent is born without any genetic assistance and is born with a high probability of developing heart issues, and an estimated lifetime of only 30 years. The results of Vincent being born a “God Child” and being faced with such harrowing circumstances leads his parents to choose to conceive their second child, Anton, with assistance. In a world with such contrasting results in the aftermath of choosing to genetically assist your children or not, is it possible to say no? That is what Hank Campbell argues, saying that “once it becomes possible to engineer “superior” qualities in human beings, then a parent’s only moral choice will be to have genetically “improved” children.”
The last point that Entine chooses to include is that while this genetic improvement may come eventually possible, it is inevitable that the government will make restrictions on it. It is interesting Entine chooses to include this, as in Gattaca, there are restrictions on discrimination against Invalids. Desipite this, many people ignore these restrictions and discriminate anyway. Given our history as not only a species but also as a country brazen with discrimination, isn’t it highly likely that any government restrictions on a new brand of eugenics that seeks to better individuals, will also be ignored? I believe so.
In the end, will it be possible to rebrand eugenics after all of the negative connotations surrounding it for decades now? Even though Gattaca is presented as a “Sci-Fi” movie, it has some real life implications. Although Gattaca is set in an unknown future, it shows that the ethical connotations behind eugenics are completely ignored.
If this brand of eugenics is meant to better human as a species, it will be interesting to see how it plays out, especially with new scientific innovations in the future.