Gattaca – Are Designer Babies A Possibility?

Gattaca is a movie that depicts a future controlled by eugenics, where children’s traits are selected by their parents before birth. In this society, your DNA is your destiny.

The story of Gattaca is centered around Vincent, a young man who was born ‘naturally’ and is deemed inferior to everyone else whose genes have been manipulated. Moreover, he is short-sighted, has heart defects and a very short life expectancy- things that have been weeded out by genetic engineering. Vincent is therefore in the lowest of classes, working as a cleaner in a space station. However, his inferior status does not stop him from dreaming of becoming an astronaut. He, therefore, takes over the profile of a former professional swimmer, Jerome- who became a paraplegic after a tragic accident.

Throughout the movie, Vincent works to keep his identity a secret, with the risk of having his true DNA detected from the daily sweeps that take place in the space station. If discovered, he will be a social pariah, a ‘borrowed ladder’- which is a term used to refer to an unworthy human using a valid one’s DNA to fit in. However, Vincent overcomes his challenges and manages to become an astronaut, in spite of one of his superiors discovering his true identity.

The movie Gattaca is just one of the sci-fi movies that have provoked the discussion on designer babies. Just like in Gattaca, parents will one day be faced with the option of choosing how attractive, smart, athletic, healthy and impressionable their children will be. Although it has been disproved by many medical researchers, this technology is available and is being further developed.

Currently, parents can select embryos with desirable traits after the in-vitro fertilization process. The embryos are formed by the fusion of a sperm and an egg, and each is examined for any defects such as diabetes, cancer and heart problems. The preferred embryos are then put back in the uterus to mature into fetuses.

Even if embryo selection can give parents the desired results without genetic manipulation, a gene editing method that can eliminate the genes linked to rare diseases was developed in 2012. In spite of the positive results it bears, medical professionals are still skeptical about its use. This is because once it is approved, people will not only use it to prevent genetic diseases but also for purely aesthetic reasons. A world like Gattaca’s will not just be a dystopia, but a reality.

Back in the ’70s, the idea of designer babies was haunted by the fear of creating a Frankenstein. Time has passed but these fears are still imminent. There are too many genes that are linked to common genetic defects like diabetes, and not all are known. The genes linked to intelligence and personality are more of a mystery. Although numerous advances have been made, designer babies are still just a hot topic in the world of genetic engineering. Scientists still do not know enough to risk manipulating an embryo’s genes to come up with the perfect child.

  • Updated September 9, 2017
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