The Cruelty of Genetic Error

I am a perfectionist.  Throughout my upbringing, I would always be hard on myself for any mistake that I made.  At the time, many of these errors seemed to bear everlasting consequences which would hinder my short- and long-term goals.  Now, although personal errors irk me, I am able to put my blunders in context.  You see, nothing we do (or fail to accomplish) at a given moment ultimately secures our destiny.  We can augment our plans in order to compensate for unforseen mistakes.  An unexpectantly-low GPA this semester?  Apply to graduate school a semester later than you once anticipated.  Our decisions, by and large, do not deter our pursuits.

This idea – an appeal to free will, to self-determinism – is comforting.  What is not, what is truly disturbing, is the undeniable truth that our genetic code restricts our free will, sometimes to a terribly cruel degree; Dr. Benedict Lambert, the victim of achondroplasia,  personifies this idea in Mendel’s Dwarf.  A simple transformation from guanine to adenine (one of 33 billion genetic components) results in Lambert’s condition, which disfigures him and makes his desire for a normal life irrelevant.  There is something eerie about genetic determinism; to what degree do we have control of our lives?  What is evident is that our genetic composition burdens each and every one of us with a significant degree of agency loss.  We lose choice even before we are born.

Of course, we have options to change “who we are” – sex changes, hair dye, steroids, and other cosmetic and structural adjustments available to us.  But do these ever really “change” who we are?  I would argue that they don’t.  This is a cruel thought for many, to be sure.  I know there are times in my life when I wish I could trade my circumstances for someone else’s.  But really, at least part of life’s beauty is derived from how we deal with our personal characterisitcs – “the hand you’re dealt,” if you will.  Unfortunately, for someone with the malfuctioning gene which leads to achondroplasia, your fate is already known.  It looms over your existence like a dark cloud, shading your existence with a depressing color.

~ Jeff

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~ by jsj1313 on April 12, 2010.

One Response to “The Cruelty of Genetic Error”

  1. I’m not sure I agree that our genetic code restricts our free will. Our genetic code is just one component of what makes you you. Our environment plays a HUGE role in shaping “who we are.” I’m not sure which choices we lose before we are born…

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