Genetic engineering is one of the evolutionary branches of biology that deals with genes and it is the most recent which is growing rapidly. Genetic Engineering has the potential to revolutionize the entire mankind with the help of gene therapy. It can cure incurable diseases, repair genetic defects, increase resistance to diseases, produce human insulin for diabetics, etc. It can work wonders in plants to help feed the hungry and it can even make our mother earth clean and safe for us to live. Ethics is applicable in all walks of life and it has a very comprehensive meaning.
Ethics as far as genetic engineering is concerned, has many things that people care about but about which not everyone agree. A constructive interrelationship between genetics and the environment is possible by the way humans behave because genetic engineering is very ambitious. It changes species that provide us with food. It can create microorganisms, plants and animals that can produce human products such as insulin. It can completely change the genetic make-up of humans. In the movie Gattaca directed by Andrew Niccol, Vincent is born with genetic problems.
His parents go for another child, Anton, through natural selection of genes. One could observe a great sigh of relief on the parents’ face as the doctor comforts them saying: “You could conceive thousand times but never get a better result. ” This is basically an extension of what breeders of plants and animals had been doing for hundreds of years and what nature did through evolution and natural selection. Many people disagree with the natural way of selecting their own children saying it as meddling with nature and playing God.
One might comment on choosing traits such as intelligence, height and even eye color as if buying a car but only those practically suffer realize the importance of genetic engineering. For example, the Elshtan (2000) conveys her excruciating experience of having a mentally retarded daughter. From the year of release, Gattaca is gradually becoming less fictional as we grow of age. This is true considering the fact that genetic engineering is growing at a faster pace. Constant monitoring is required to decide the right course for genetic engineering.
The safety and effectiveness of gene therapy without side effects is a bone of contention in the growing world of genetic engineering. The high price for eggs and sperm from individuals with the desired traits has a potential market for enhancement via gene splicing. Looking at the pace with which genetic engineering is developing, what is the guarantee that market forces and technological development in gene mapping and artificial reproduction will not lead to eugenic practices that once prevailed in 1930s? (Donovan & Ronald, 2008). Germiline gene therapy has good as well as bad implications on humans.
The right way to choose depends on using ethical connotations rather than by any other means. Cloning is a method that helps reproduce identical humans. This technology brought fear and excitement into the world and is not approved for fear of confusion and panic in the real world. One way of preventing diseases in human being is to make use of gene therapy to give perfection before the baby is born into the world. Well, assuming that it works fine, the next biggest challenge lies in how the existing humans with defects will be treated and what future is in store for them?
The movie Gattaca, certainly cautions everyone about how the living world in the near future could be looking at people as genetically ‘Valid’ or ‘Invalid’ by instantly testing samples of urine, blood, saliva and fingerprints. In other words, it is discrimination on the basis of genetics. In this typical environment, the director by Andrew Niccol introduces Vincent (Nathan Hawke) as a genetically flawed character who has little hope of success. But he with enthusiasm looks forward to a manned mission to Saturn’s planet.
Because of his invalid status he is not eligible for health insurance, not allowed to go beyond pre-schooling and he ends up getting only a menial job serving white-collar employees. The system disfavors living of minimally decent people on the planet. Giving legal rights to gene therapy might widen the gap between rich and poor as shown in Gattaca by the standard of living Vincent could afford when he is an astronaut as different from being a blue-collar worker. There will be a genetic divide between those who have been perfected and those who have not (Donovan & Ronald, 2008).
In the world of genetic engineering, the advantage is the ability to eradicate genetic predispositions for diseases (Stephen, 2005). But the disadvantage is that the children with poor parents will remain as invalids. They will remain as unskilled labor, regardless of their skills and intelligence. (Harper, Moor & Calm, 2005). The genetically hapless Vincent finally achieves success. The usual loser Vincent not only wins over his brother in swimming, but rescues Anton from life. Anton is robotic but lacks emotion.
His ruthless investigation of his brother Vincent tells us that genetics does not necessarily accommodate humanity. Once again when they are grown up, Anton challenges Vincent and losses to him again. This makes Vincent’s perceptions about him and his brother agreeable: “He is not as strong as he believed, or I am not as weak. It was the moment that made everything possible. ” The human spirit has no genes is what Gattaca implies through the lead character Vincent. Considering his invalid status, Vincent is denied an opportunity to pursue his interests in the field of astronomy.
Vincent contrived a way to fool the system by faking urine, blood, saliva and fingerprints with that of Jerome Moral. He narrates his entry into the space mission as below: “Selection was virtually guaranteed. He is blessed with ……. except that I am not Jerome Moral. ” His drive and passion would not stop him achieving his goal. Is there ethics in the helpless system that Vincent faced? Paradoxically on the other side, the system depends upon the continuing reproduction of invalids to do the menial work of servicing their superiors. The words of Vincent “One man’s loss is another man’s gain” has clear answer to it.
Once a system is accepted as way of the world, people do not incline to raise against it. In Gattaca, Vincent does not talk against genetically engineered humans. Nor has he tries to defend himself by blaming the system for he understands that it is way of the world. That’s the reason he chooses to contrive his way through. There has always been a strong dissent over ‘making death happen’ which is clearly a violation of religious faith that goes with ‘letting death happen’. The practices in genetic engineering are opposed to the Catholic teaching on the nature and value of the person.
The strong feeling in Jerome that he is useless conveys the society’s standards that have no value for cripples (Elshtain, 2000). It’s an irony on the other hand to see the perfect Jerome ending his life in a blazing furnace while Vincent in spite of having difficulties succeeds out of his will and spirit. Irene (Uma Thurman) and Vincent spend their time together in the backdrop of seashore which provides ample evidence that masculinity, superior physical and intellectual capacity evinced by sheer determination and will power are no match to the genetically organized human (Stephen, 2005).
The film clearly suggests that there is no predictable link between genes and moral character. Good and bad are subjectively ambiguous (Elshtain, 2000). The killer in the movie is in fact a member of the elite who was genetically programmed for non-violence. So undoubtedly, the genetically enhanced character in the film exhibits moral defects. A holistic approach to treating a person via physiological, social and spiritual methods are far from the cure attempted by genetic engineering.
For good or bad, the 21st century is going to witness more activities on genetics resulting in the growth of the field, having far reaching implications and calling for more debates. The outcomes – side effects – of gene therapy has to be thoroughly screened to inform people about the positive and negative sides of technology. In Gattaca, the flaws in the genetically perfected characters make us think how gene therapy may be used to cure, heal or subjectively enhance future generations of people with cent percent results.
Many critiques are raising concerns about the possibility of marketing taking over genetics. This will pose a real threat to the human race. Things are moving so rapidly in genetic engineering that we need a fruitful and practical approach to keep technology always as man’s servant rather than the other way round. References Armitage, J. & Roberts, J. (2002). Living with cyberspace: technology & society in the 21st century. Continuum International Publishing Group: Continuum International Publishing Group. 203pp. Donovan, A. & Ronald, M. G. (2008).
The human genome project in college curriculum: ethical issues and practical strategies. Lebanon, NH: UPNE. 188pp. Elshtain, J. B. (2000). Who are we? : Critical reflections and hopeful possibilities. Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. 196 pp. Harper, G. , Moor, A. & Calm, K. (2005). Signs of life: cinema and medicine. London: Wallflower Press. 165pp. Stephen, K. G. (2005). Ethics, literature, and theory: an introductory reader. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. 401pp. Wertz, D. C. Fletcher, J. C. (2004). Genetics and ethics in global perspective. New York: Springer. 474 pp.