Romeo and Juilet in Space!
Imagine a high school English class in the year 2100. It’s not unreasonable to think they’ll still be reading Shakespeare. After all, what’s a hundred years to something first published and preformed in the 1600s? And of course, your imaginary futuristic English high school students—after they’ve parked their floating cars a la The Jetsons—will probably be forced to read Romeo and Juliet, just like their great-grandparents did (that’s you!).
The only thing that would’ve changed is how they understand the concept of forbidden love. In Chapter 3 of Nova’s Cracking The Code of Life, “One Wrong Letter”, identical twins and their wives discover they all carry the faulty gene responsible for Tay-Sachs disease, causing it to appear in their children (click here to watch the Chapter in question). Tay-Sachs disease is incredibly rare and requires that both the mother and the father of a child to have the faulty gene. Children afflicted with it usually live somewhere between five and seven years, unable to move or ingest solid food.
There is a question being raised by “One Wrong Letter”: if you knew that the offspring created by you and the girl you were dating would have Tay-Sachs disease, or any number of such hereditary ailments, would you break up with her? Would it be responsible to stay with her and procreate? Or would you have to adopt?
It’s a possibility that one day such genetic testing would be common before marriage. Already, one can test for the faulty gene that causes Tay-Sachs disease. Other diseases, such as Down Syndrome, are now detectable in the first trimester. So again, imagine your futuristic English class, hands raised, discussing Romeo and Juliet. Montagues and Capulets? Why, they must have genes that when combined result in disease in their offspring. That must be the cause of all this strife. That must be why Romeo and Juilet are forbidden to be together
When examined under that lens, is Romeo and Juilet’s love more noble? Less? They are choosing to pursue a life together, no matter what defects their children might have. Perhaps the pragmatist will see their story as irresponsible and selfish. Perhaps the romantic will see it as brave and heroic.
It would be a mistake to overlook the potential for such couples to adopt. Obviously, this allows them to be married and still have children of their own. Still, there is the question of whether or not to pass on your faulty genetic code or let it die out. Is this evolution? Natural selection? Will such thinking lead to some strange type of genetic supremacy, as shown in the movie, Gattaca?
Who knows? Don’t worry too much about. We’ll all probably be cryogenically frozen by then anyways.