“Gattaca” (1997): A Question of Ethics


In 1997 visionary writer/director Andrew Niccol brought the science fiction film “Gattaca” to the big screen. The film had a star studded cast that included Ethan Hawke, Jude Law, and Uma Thurman. Their performances helped drive the memorable story along. The story of a future where, “when one’s life is determined by genetic engineering rather than education or experience. The wealthy can choose the genetic makeup of their descendants. People are designed to fit into whatever role is decided before birth. But what happens when someone desires another way of life?”

This was done at a time where the science just barely seemed possible. People had successful cloned sheep and were looking for another way we could better ourselves and it seemed genetic engineering might hold the key. Some question the ethics involved in doing something like that. When “Gattaca” was released it came out at the right time. While all this new science and possibilities were being explored, the film pondered what some in the public pondered, what moral bounders are going to be crossed and what does this mean for our future as a species? The film struck a raw nerve with critics and audiences alike. The Critic Consensus on Rotten Tomatoes (a collection of critic reviews) was, “Intelligent and scientifically provocative, Gattaca is an absorbing sci fi drama that poses important interesting ethical questions about the nature of science.” This was based on 55 critic reviews and 82% of them gave it a favorable review.


The film showed people that were genetically engineered instead of being born naturally these were called valids, and they were given all the opportunity in the worlds. Where children who had natural childbirth (invalids) were overlooked and the best jobs were given to the best “bred” people in the world. In the film there are laws that are designed to protect invalids and not to be treated any differently than valids. Similar to what we have today except what we have is making sure we don’t treat different races differently. But as the film explains no one takes the laws seriously and why should they? Let’s say that you have two people interviewing for a job and one is in better shape and has some better education and experience than the other who would you pick? The same thing applies here, someone who was genetically born with a set of skills suited for a certain job and he goes in to interview with an “invalid” who has been trying to gain the necessary skills for the job for years who would you pick? The person who has been born to do a certain job or a person who has been gaining some skills over time to get the job he or she wanted? You would pick the valid you can’t go wrong with someone who was born ready for a certain job. Something like this creates an unfair balance in the work trade and you can set up as much regulations as you want it won’t change the fact at all.


To see something similar to this in the real world, look at sports, particularly Baseball. Many ballplayers took performance enhancing drugs in order to gain an edge and stay at the top of the game. During this era the people who took these drugs ended up with multi-year million dollar contracts. Owners were paying through the noise to get these top notch players leaving a lot smaller players in the cold trying to stay in the big leagues. Records were shattered again and again during this era that began around the late 1980s and lasted all the way to the early 2000s. Attendance skyrocketed and new high paying TV deals were done with companions across America. Owners were taking in money at unheard of amounts and kept trying to get more of the best players around. It wasn’t until a real crack done happened around major league baseball trying to clean up the game and impose new tougher rules against performance enhancing drugs. The Government had to step in and get the league to crack down. Why would they not want to crack down before? With the league and owners getting all this money from fans to see these players why would they want to stop? Now the game has become a lot fairer to all players with the ban on steroids and through Billy Beane’s moneyball concept the game has seen fairness restored. But all this mess was caused by pill players could take and put them far ahead the competition. Other players left the big leagues as a result because they couldn’t keep up with them and weren’t noticed by any the scouts. Image what would happen if people were genetically engineered for this game? Think of how many players wouldn’t be able to play because of them. Although this example is not in genetic engineering it does show what can happen if certain people are given an edge over others.

Another thing that can happen because of genetically engineering is the feeling of inequality. Eventually the invalids would properly grow tired of being treated unfairly and could even start a revolution. As ridiculous as that sounds all you have to do is look at history and it will tell the whole story. The French Revolution started because of the lower classes of society feeling hugely mistreated and ignored while the privileged were living large, and rose up to gain equality. In our own country events like this have occurred. There were numinous protests in America to gain equal freedoms for African Americans, and even the occupy Wall Street movement almost sparked class warfare to a full firestorm. To say that “in-valids” would do nothing about being treated unfairly would be naïve.


That being said is there a place in the world for genetic engineering? Well of course there is. It depends on how you choose to use it. Rather than genetically engineering children for perfection it should be use to help fight off disease and major injuries. Birth defects can be helped or eliminated by using this. This creates something balanced where only if you really need it, it can be used. But to make genetically engineered kids so they are perfect and create unfair advantages in the workplace is just asking for trouble.


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