The term Genetic Engineering

The term Genetic Engineering, as we all know, can be used for various topics, ranging between the elimination of pre-mature conditions to creating a so called “Designer Baby”. Designer Baby is a new-formed word, to be short, it is the process of altering DNA as a means of creating a better society. To be realistic it is far more than that.
The movie ‘Gattaca’ from the year 1997 displays a possible outcome of a, not so far but also not so near, society in where one’s whole life is determined by whether the person is a ‘Valid’ or a ‘degenerate’. In Gattaca, state-of-the-art technology has reached a point where ‘Superhumans’ can be created by recoding Gene-sequences responsible for negative traits or health issues. These flawless beings often referred to as ‘Valids’ are then granted a high position in society while natural born children, also called ‘invalids’, might struggle finding a job less degrading than a cleaner.
The protagonist, Vincent Freeman, is faced with the same challenges any invalid has to face. At a young age Vincent is made to believe that his passion for traveling to space is nothing more than a daydream. This is due to the fact that Vincent was diagnosed with a gene at birth which is prone to a heart condition that in turn lowers his life expectancy to 30 years. The state of this society where perfection is praised and flaws are condemned has anchored its way into the minds of the people. This becomes most-obvious through his father’s comment, in which he tells Vincent, that the only way he is going to see the inside of a spacecraft is by cleaning one.
Until one day where Vincent had to save his genetically superior brother from drowning, he accepted the role that had been given to him. After this incident Vincent questioned the system in which he was living and came to the realization that his passion for travelling to space was not impossible to achieve. The storyline then continues by following Vincent’s quest of travelling to space.
Gattaca beautifully portrays possible ad- and disadvantages of cloning and genetic engineering. Benefits seen are primarily medical and technological developments. The movie, however, makes it very clear that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. A new type of racism, ‘Genoism’ as it is called in the movie, where one is judged by the content of their Genes instead of character, is being practiced. This in turn has created a society in which the population is segregated into Valid and Invalid.
From a Valid’s point of view there is nothing wrong with the system since parents have the choice of modifying their offspring. Anyone choosing not to, has to take responsibility for their actions and deal with the fact that the natural born offspring will face constant discrimination. The issue picked up in the movie suggests that individuals do not have a choice anymore. That they are more or less forced to adjust to society or deal with the consequences. This ethical question which rationally answered would speak in favor of Genetic Engineering, here, completely left out the moral aspect to it. This reminds of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, in which a caste system controlled by technology determines a Newborn’s fate.
Similar to the lion raised by sheep, a naïve invalid who has lived his entire life thinking to be inferior to others will most likely live a life holding onto what he believes to be true.
The movie does a great job of presenting the issue. Eventhough, the movie focuses more on the disadvantages of genetic engineering, the observer is still challenged with difficult ethical questions to answer. On this basis the observer makes up his own mind regarding certain topics. It must, however, be noted that Gattaca focuses on a few and very specific examples of genetic engineering.