Gattaca and Genetics

Introduction to Gattaca

In a previous blog, I answered three questions that the movie Gattaca brought up. In what ways do our genetics determine our place in the world — in society? What does Gattaca suggest about race, class, and sex and their public significance? Are we ultimately determined by them? Now, I will look further into how our society has the possibility to turn into Gattaca.

Genetics Home Reference has a definition for genetic discrimination. They state that

Genetic discrimination occurs when people are treated differently by their employer or insurance company because they have a gene mutation that causes or increases the risk of an inherited disorder. Fear of discrimination is a common concern among people considering genetic testing.

This can be seen in the movie Gattaca, when a person’s ability to obtain a certain job was choosen based off of their DNA. Vincent’s interview to get into Gattaca was through a pee test and blood test. If Vincent did not deceive the tester into believing he was Jerome, he would not have been allowed to work at Gattaca because of his DNA. Although companies do not currently higher or firer a person based on their genetics, federal and state laws have been placed into effect so that this should not be possible. According to American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the American with Disability Act (ADA) does not protect employees from genetic discrimination in the workforce. However, a federal law called the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) is designed to protect people from genetic discrimination. Specifically, the act states that it is meant “to prohibit discrimination on the basis of genetic information with respect to health insurance and employment”. This law indicates that lawmakers and other individuals have concerns that using genetics to decide whether a person is allowed employment, such as in the movie Gattaca, shows the persons full potential. It appears that the American society’s fear of becoming the society within Gattaca has allowed certain steps to be taken to ensure that America does not become a society that determines one’s ability.

While some laws are in effect, there are some areas of genetic discrimination that these laws do not protect. According to Genetics Home Reference,

GINA does not apply when an employer has fewer than 15 employees. It does not cover people in the U.S. military or those receiving health benefits through the Veterans Health Administration or Indian Health Service. GINA also does not protect against genetic discrimination in forms of insurance other than health insurance, such as life, disability, or long-term care insurance.

These holes in the law allows for the beginning of something like Gatacca, especially within our military. While some individuals could make arguments that it would be beneficial for our military because it would allow the military to choose those who are “genetically” better. However, genetics does not indicate what an individual will do because “there is no gene for the human spirit”. Thus, one cannot determine what an individual is capable of by genetics alone. Vincent in Gattaca is an example that even though genetically he is not capable through determination and motivation he made himself capable. However, Jerome in Gattaca is an example that even though genetically he is capable, he did not have the will to make it able.

Vincent recovery from leg-lengthening surgery

Not only does genetics not take into effect motivation nor determination, it also does not take into effect events that happen after birth. One example in Gattaca is how Jerome, an Olympic medalist, was in an accident that caused him to be paralyzed. Thus, not being able to walk anymore. While Vincent was so serious about taking over Jerome’s life that he went through leg-lengthening surgery to become as tall as Jerome used to be. Genetically, Jerome should not be paralyzed and Vincent should not be the same height as Jerome. However, Vincent did not let his genetics hold him back while Jerome let the situation determine his life.

This leads to the question. Should genetics determine an individual’s abilities and possibilities? The Genetics Home Reference wrote an article that answered if intelligence is determined by genetics. The article stated “like most aspects of human behavior and cognition, intelligence is a complex trait that is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors.” However, it is not determined by genetics alone. The article later stats, “studies suggest that genetic factors underlie about 50 percent of the difference in intelligence among individuals.” These studies prove that while genetics factors some into our intellectual abilities, it is not the only factor. Environmental factors, such as home environment, parenting, education, and the availability of resources, underlie the other fifty percent. These factors could have a person be either a Jerome or a Vincent from Gattaca with Vincent overcoming his genetic disposition and Jerome allowing his environmental factors to dictate his abilities. Thus, genetics should not determine an individual’s abilities and possibilities because how influential the individual’s environmental factors into their abilities. A scene in Gattaca emphasizes this point. Vincent tells Irene, another character who is not allowed any higher than her position based off of her DNA, “You are the authority on what is not possible, aren’t you Irene? They’ve got you looking for any flaw, that after a while that’s all you see. For what it’s worth, I’m here to tell you that it is possible. It is possible.”

This leads my last question. If we base everything off genetics, will all other discrimination no longer exist? The movie Gattaca did not have any other forms of discrimination other than genetic discrimination. They broke society into 2 groups — Valids and In-Valids. However, there was a secrete third group of people — The Broken Ladder, the In-Valids who steal a Valids’ identification and lie about their DNA and who they are in order to better themselves. While this is the only form of discrimination within Gattaca, would there not be any other discrimination — even if it is not in the workplace. In the American society, people discriminate against others based off of all types of appearances — skin color, they way an individual dresses, the career of an individual, what a person drives, where a person lives, how a person condones themselves. Would these types of discrimination not also occur, even if it is just on the individual level?

The movie Gattaca brings more questions about a Utopian society than answers. It is definitely worth watching a multitude of times to ask oneself these questions and try to determine the answers. It is also worth recording one’s answers and noticing the transformation of one’s own thoughts.