GATTACA: Will Life Imitate Art?
I have always thought Ethan Hawke was a fairly ideal male specimen, which is why I never quite figured out why he was cast as the genetically 'invalid' hero of the science fiction flick Gattaca. In the film, Hawke portrayed a naturally born man in a world full of genetically engineered überhumans. Hawke's character has always dreamed of flying into space with the Gattaca company, but only the genetically perfect are allowed to climb the corporate ladder. The flawed hero works with a genetically superior, but tragically paralyzed man (played by Jude Law) to beat the system and, with a little help from the screenwriters, finally makes it into space.
Of course, Gattaca was a movie, a work of science fiction. We live in the real world, a place where designer jeans, not designer genes, rule the catwalk. The truth is, however, that the world so fascinatingly depicted in Gattaca may not be too far off. On Monday, two teams of scientists announced their simultaneous mapping of what is known as the human genome.
The human genome is the genetic code that makes us-at least physically-what we are. The medical possibilities, once we know how to reproduce this code, are practically endless. The human genome is the key to both cloning and the potential eradication of every kind of disease. It is also the key to genetic testing that can, in essence, tell one's medical future, and produce the 'designer babies' we hear about from critics of genetic research.
The eventuality of genetic design seems inevitable. Once disease is eradicated, the health industry will be a shell of what it currently is. The money tied up in the industry will have to go somewhere. With the requisite genetic research already under their belts, it seems an obvious choice for the same people who now run the drug companies to someday open genetic 'improvement' clinics. It will be the plastic surgery of the future. Aging socialites, instead of getting their faces lifted and their tummies tucked, will simply go for genetic therapy and come out looking ten years younger. Scientists say that genetic therapies will allow us to live to the age of one hundred fifty, and perhaps longer.
If we start living to age 150, what will the retirement age become? Certainly there are not enough working people in the world to support everyone from age 65 to age 150. Might we have to work to the age of 85, or even 105? How much do you love your current job? You had better really adore it, because you could be in it for a while. In case you need more convincing, here are 5 more reasons why we should forget we ever heard the word 'genome' and return to our genetically ignorant ways immediately:
* It will give the Olsen twins a way to clone themselves. If you thought two were scary, just wait for the Olsen Ten.
* Rosie O'Donnell could terrorize us over the airwaves for another 50 years. * Who will be the guests on the Jerry Springer Show? * Those of us who thought Fidel Castro's time was almost up: Guess again, here comes seventy-five more years.
* Funny looking people are just that-funny. If there are no funny looking people, whom will we laugh at?
Obviously, I am making light of the subject, but in all seriousness, the genome project is a scary thing. The Los Angeles Times referred to the genome as "The Book of Life." Look up "Book of Life" in any Bible and tell me we are not trying to play God. Regardless of your religious belief (of lack thereof), you must agree that is a frightening allusion. Just remember: What one creates, one can also destroy-even inadvertently. We are risking a lot more than designer babies...we may be risking our lives.
The naked truth is that we have no idea what may come of toying with the building blocks of life. Sure, some wonderful discoveries may be linked to the research the Celera and Human Genome scientists are doing today. Things could just as easily go the other way. The human genome has been called "the atom bomb of the 21st century," but Albert Einstein wasn't trying to create a weapon of mass destruction when he did his atomic research. Let us hope that science has learned from the past, even as it races into a future we've only begun to dream of.