If you google ‘family history’ in the news section, you’re likely to get a bunch of results about how scientists are linking breast cancer, schizophrenia, and a host of other maladies to family history. Millions of dollars, it seems, are being spent every year on research that seeks to find the warning signs of illnesses in our ancestors, probably with the ultimate goal of eliminating or counteracting these diseases at or before birth. Anyone who has seen the superb sci fi movie Gattaca, however, knows that this kind of over-forecasting can get out of control.
For the uninitiated, Gattaca tells the story of a young man who, according to his DNA, is predicted to die at age thirty-something of heart failure. Also, because he was conceived naturally- unlike most of his counterparts-, he is treated as a lower class and is limited to menial work. Going into space- his lifelong dream- is forbidden for him. In short, genetics have become another form of harsh discrimination.
Is this where our society is headed? Will we be so hasty to make genetic forecasts that we will limit others and ourselves?
I like to believe that, DNA notwithstanding, it is our choices that make us who we are, it is the good or bad influences we choose to let into our lives that determine our strength or weakness. People born with deformed legs can scale the highest mountains. Men who can’t talk or even move can unravel the mysteries of the universe.
I hope we will never get too carried away with genetic prophecy or with treating maladies for that matter. Sickness is a difficult, but often instructive, part of life.