The moral question of Gattaca and our Genetic Destiny

by on September 23rd, 2005

Athletic, intelligent, efficient, and breeding-class good looks: a combination none can resist. Indeed, a combination idealized in the greatest spirit and aspirations of Civilizations: Greek, Roman, Persian, and Hollywood.

Statues, kingdoms, monuments, poems, politicians, and popular cultural icons, devoted to the same virtues. A desire to eliminate vices that plague and paroxysize the human race: the creation and perpetuation of the pharmaceutical world, and the papacy.

Indeed, the entire foundation of the human race, in view of a higher cosmic order and in awareness of mortal vulnerabilities, has crafted and archived epistles after epistles in endeavors, inundating patent offices and creating new change agents: all to fight the peril of chance and to obtain the peace of progress.

All of this accomplished through the rigors of wars, and by exercising a deep resilience against the trials of natural catastrophes, the vagaries of viral infections, and internecine disagreements based on disparate distribution of resources.

Disparities have divided the races of Darwin, a law that has prevailed even with the great human race, Darwin’s own: inalienable, and utter, persuasion of natural selection over the fate of a single race. A natural selection based on inspiration and procreation. Based on focus and form: An acuity, an adaptability, a flexibility, a mobility.

Welcome to Gattaca: a new world created by Genetic selection that renders wars useless, plagues as of the past, defects: defunct. Taking the best combination from a gene pool latent within a single egg and a sperm, and selecting the best features: creating a genetic bingo: a lottery for everyone.

Those that do not have within the string of their genes the comparable features are assigned tasks suited to their abilities. Those that do have the winning combo are assigned positions within Society where they make steadfast contributions.

Is this our future? Is this ethical? How about God? Would he be tousled?

Despite the fact that natural selection dictates our mating patterns: a primitive but inherent mechanism that, while it electrifies us with the pangs and pricks of sexuality, the ooohs and aaaahs of derived delight; it is an imperfect system.

While everyone shares the same desire in a mate at a visceral, non-rationalized level: intelligence and physical symmetry; not all end up with an equal deal. It seems nature has gone out of its way to distribute that combination very sparsely within the population: a combination upon which the great prowess and mantle of progress of our race depends: the reservoir of the necessary Renaissance Men and Women.

These men and women create all that we hold dear, all that we value as cultures and as a race. Yet, on account of their scant numbers, their mixing with the lesser endowed would invariably create such a dilution, that only the presence of natural selection, and compatible options, saves the race from descending into an extremely random and most certain and most total stagnation.

In Gattaca, by carefully selecting the latent brilliance in the gene pool of each couple, a new race is created, in a way that is very natural.

It is a triumph against chance, which is no more radical, than leaving catastrophes such as hurricane Katrina or the eruption of Mt.Krakatoa to run their natural courses.

Indeed our politicians and scientists promise us a defense against the threat of this random chance. Billions, indeed, trillions of real dollars pour into all aspects of research and endeavors to prevent this chance from usurping our race from the face of the planet, and halt the decadence of its denizens.

If God were to create disparity in men and nature, and expect a preservation of this disparity; then what of self-perfecting moral application? What of the use of intelligence? What of the proliferation of seed?

If Science were to streamline those disparities, is that a triumph of moral, or a travesty?

If it is a travesty, then we are all consorts: that is, each of us that have ever taken advantage of an automobile or a Tylenol; each of us that have been given birth to.

Fine.Let us leave Gattaca in the future for a second, and so called Genetic Engineering, to its theoretical vault.

Let us look at a precursory innovation such as stem cell research. An innovation that can save existing, contributing, robust lives: stultified and banned by certain governments on so called moral grounds.

If warfare could be condoned as something somber and secretly glorious; if our greatest moral compunction, and our greatest Biblical disclaimer “Thou shall not kill” is neatly bundled up in wraps and left at the altar of the ignored sacraments; then how is fine tuning our genetic composition: the fundamental resource of human brilliance, moral or otherwise; be any different from say.. spending 60 billion dollars on flood gates, from installing security features in cars, from searching for the cure for cancer? Are these not profanities as well then? Are these not gross violations of God’s wishes?

In reference to stem cell research, “This medical revolution allows scientists to understand how a single undifferentiated cell—the fertilized egg—can develop into all the different tissues and organs of the human body. Embryos created through a process called “therapeutic cloning” might eventually yield stem cells to grow tissues and organs genetically identical to those of a patient, making possible a rejection-free therapy for spinal cord injuries, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, or heart disease” reports Robert L. Paarlberg, in his acclaimed article The Great Stem Cell Race, Foreign Policy Magazine, May/June 2005.

Further into the article Mr.Paarlberg reports,

“In August 2001, Bush decided to restrict federal money to only the few stem cell lines already in existence at that time.

Frustrated U.S. researchers then learned, in February 2004, that a team in South Korea had successfully harvested and cultured stem cells from a human embryo cloned using nuclear-transfer technology (the method first used in Scotland in 1996 to clone Dolly the sheep). Dr. Irving Weissman of Stanford University, warned, “You are going to start picking up Nature and Science and all the great [scientific research] journals, and you are going to read about how South Koreans and Chinese and Singaporeans are making advances that the rest of us can’t even study.”

And, despite some impressive breakthroughs in Asia, limited access to private funds and global research networks keeps that region from sprinting ahead of the field. The United States may be the leader in this biomedical research race, but for that it has the rest of the world to thank.”

The double standards maintained by our moralists are stupendous in their scope of myopia (Interestingly, Myopia by the way is something stem cell research could cure).

Even the European government has shunned the concept, according to Mr. Paarlberg’s article: “There has been no great exodus of U.S. stem cell scientists to Europe—and for good reason. The political and regulatory climate for embryo research is far worse there than in the United States. Not content with funding bans, several major European governments have criminalized stem cell harvesting and human cloning, even if done with private money and for therapeutic purposes. Germany’s 1990 Embryo Protection Act effectively bans all harvesting of cell lines from human embryos, and, in January 2002, a new law was enacted to prohibit imports of all stem cell lines not in existence at that time. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research recently confirmed that a German scientist would be committing a criminal act if he so much as advised a colleague in another country engaged in the harvesting of new stem cells.”

While, Gattaca, a world where brilliance thrives and Society replenishes its numbers by fine tuning its genetic resources maybe still to come; its undertakings murmur in the Petri dishes and test tubes of foreign laboratories.

As Mr.Paarlberg reports, “Britain, and to a lesser extent Sweden and Belgium, has departed from the continental trend by actively encouraging stem cell research. The British government not only encourages advanced research into human biology but since 2001 has explicitly permitted—and funded—cell harvesting from IVF embryos and therapeutic cloning. Britain’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority issued its first cloning license in August 2004. Public funds support this work through the Research Councils UK, the main public investor for scientific research in Britain. In the spring of 2004, the Research Councils announced a new stem cell initiative that totaled $30 million for a research center at Cambridge (to be headed by Roger Pedersen) and the opening of a stem cell bank to share lines.”

While our moralists and priests squabble over the subtleties of religious dogma and personal tastes, just as they have over the roundness of the Earth, and the ethics of wearing jeans; while our teenagers and fashion models contemplate over the season’s most catchy eye color and hairdo; somewhere, in some secret lab (but not that secret), the architects are working closely, inspired by the vision of a world where chance is contested: the world of Gattaca, transcending the debates, maybe as inevitable as it is moot.

“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy, meditate on these things.” ~ Philippians 4:8

“It’s choice-not chance-that determines your destiny.”~<b>Jean Nidetch

“Blood has no nationality.”~ Vincent’, from the movie Gattaca

Alexander Rai