Of Gs and Cs and Ts, Scorpions, and Kate.
When we watch films like GATTACA, or read novels like Brave New World, we start to put a negative spin on genetic advancement. Certainly the idea of discrimination based on one’s genetic code is frightening, certain thoughts begin to cross the mind– What if I were born naturally? What if i was an “invalid” as they call it in GATTACA. The repercussions and effects that such engineering of designer children could have on this world are, to be frank, astronomical.
And what about the novel House of the Scorpion? The protagonist of this novel is a young clone of a rich overlord who has been genetically engineered to be an organ donor for when the old man’s organs start to fail. He is treated worse than an animal by most on the plantation, and the reader is guaranteed to despise all forms of cloning by the end of the book. But what if engineering organs genetically is what it took to save a life?
My best friend in middle school had Cystic Fibrosis. About once every few months she would miss a week of school to go to the hospital and have her lungs drained of fluid that had built up. One small mistake in her “Code of Life” or “Code of guaranteed death” as it may be, had cost her the ability to break down the mucous that accumulates naturally in the lungs. Her lungs were a ticking time bomb from day one.
Cystic Fibrosis usually kills in the early thirties of a victim’s life.
That gives Kate about 10-12 years left.
But she is in school. And last I heard it, she plans on going to graduate school, too. Kate is a hero in every way. She has long been the most well-adjusted person I know, despite the terrible knowledge of her slowly ticking short life. I asked her once, how she deals with knowing she will die young. She responded “Everyone dies, I just might die a little sooner. And you could die tomorrow in a car crash. We just don’t know, and we can’t prevent it so I may as well accept it.”
But what if we could prevent it.
Genetic disease can be eliminated, says science. We can already take a peek at the chromosome and point to a section. There is the piece responsible for Tay Sach’s, there is the piece linked to Cystic Fibrosis. We can now screen for these, and avoid the tragedy of having a child with such an untimely fate. But then again… if this were possible in 1991, Kate would have never been born, and I would never have had such a strong and beautiful best friend. What then?