Thursday, August 02, 2007
Every couple years I am compelled to go to the local video store and rent the best Sci Fi movie ever made - Gattaca. I LOVE this film.
Made 10 years ago, this sweet little movie has so many layers to it... and raises some important questions.
One of the quotes from the film is when Vincent Freeman says "We now have discrimination down to a science"
Some would argue that the only reason discrimination is bad/wrong/unfair is that it is based on prejudice that inaccurately attributes negative assumptions to an entire group or class based on a few limited cases. The reason people think that ALL women are bad drivers is because SOME women are bad drivers, believe ALL African Americans are better at sports or inclined to violence is that SOME are. Individual cases or limited trends get extrapolated to blanket assumptions about the whole. Now, that's just wrong, correct?
But what if we had some sort of science which could unequivocally prove that a person was prone to certain diseases or had specific personality type, would develop particular limits of mind or body?
Would it be unethical to deny that person insurance coverage if we KNEW in advance he or she would get cancer or advanced heart disease or merely prudent on the part of the company offering the coverage? Would it be wrong to socially favor those who have demonstrated a far greater potential for achievement rather than taking a chance on someone whose genotype indicated he or she is more likely to produce marginal results? Could such a test determine entrance to colleges, to jobs, to who should or should not reproduce? Would that make the world a better place?
Do we resist the idea because it is a bad idea or do we resist the idea out of fear that we would wind up on the wrong end of the privilege stick?
American minds balk at the backward notions of a caste system whereby individuals are assigned to a profession, a way of life, AT BIRTH that cannot be changed, based entirely on the role of the parents. We are so locked into the notion of hope inherent in the possibility of social mobility that we resent any system that dictates an ascribed status that cannot be changed.
But what if those assignments were not based on the happenstance of who one's parents were, but rather based on a proven calculation of some scientific test that indicated what a person's strengths and weaknesses and aptitudes would be?
As for me, I'm with Vincent. I believe in pursuing dreams beyond all reason. I believe in scrambling for what my heart longs for even in the face of being told by rational authorities that it is utterly impossible. I don't want to be reasonable. I want to chase my dreams.
Yet as we advance in developing refinements of knowledge based on mapping the human genome there are all sorts of quirky ethical questions that arise.
Does it make sense to spend limited resources educating those with limited ability to benefit or contribute back?
Should we spend public dollars giving medical care to those we are quite sure are about to die anyway?
Is it fool hardy to marry a man (or woman) whose genes can tell you in advance you are just asking for a life on the more painful side of the balance scale in the "for better or worse" pledge?
These are the sorts of questions that will pivot through my brain whenever I watch this film. So I'll pop up a big bowl of popcorn and settle in with my favorite movie for the third or fourth time. I'll ponder big questions and dream of flying to the stars.