Analysis Of The Bioethical Issues In Gattaca.

Essay, Research Paper

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 Gattaca’s 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 movie’s 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 person’s 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 person’s 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 movie’s time period of “the not too distant future,” genetic engineering technology is far progressed from today’s 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 selection is an advanced and common practice, giving parents the ability to choose almost any characteristics of their child. The current use of the phrase “pre-natal selection” generally refers to the choice of sex of an unborn fetus. However, it is believed that the “selection” will eventually encompass many more features, as was displayed in the movie. Lee M. Silver, a biologist and author who lectures widely on the social impact of biotechnology, predicts that production of children according to preferred genetic profiles will be an available technology by the middle of the this century. Many use the term “designer babies” when speaking of this issue because of the extent to which future children’s features may be determined by the choices of their parents. The most common objection to these practices is that they detract from the “dignity” of human life. Some are concerned that immunity to disease and general genetic superiority will be a privilege of the affluent, drastically widening society’s socio-economic divides.

Proponents argue that it’s only natural to provide your children with any strength and advantage possible. The expected benefits of genetic immunization techniques alone will revolutionize the field of health care. The enormous costs to society of medical treatment will be dramatically reduced, not to mention the relief of pain and suffering to countless people. Though it is doubtless that there are many details to be resolved in the realm of legality, the advantages of these techniques are invaluable.

The ubiquitous and incalculable benefits of biotechnology as a whole and the specific issues involved in Gattaca successfully mute the alarmist calls for moratoriums and bans on these technological breakthroughs. With utmost caution and consideration these studies will ultimately lead humanity to limitless heights.

Analysis of the Bioethical Issues in Gattaca.

Final Draft

Gattaca. Dir. ?. Perf. ?,?,?. distr.?,year?.

Ferreira, Patrick. “Moral Issues in Genetic Counseling.” Online Posting.

Division of Medical Genetics Pediatrics, University of Alberta Hospitals.

31 OCT. 2000

Lebau, Steve. “Genetic Testing: Balancing Benefits and Abuses.” Online Posting.

USA Today. 31 OCT.


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