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.