We’ve begun with Biotechnology, chapter 20 of our book. The best possible approach I could think of for beginning this chapter, was through a film which we concluded watching today: Gattaca, directed by Andrew Niccol in 1997. Biotechnology and many of its sociological and technical implications are suggested here — sci-fi as an alternative way to approach contemporary scientific issues. One of the protagonists of the film is named Eugene, which literally means ‘well born’ (Eu = good, true; Gene = born). Thus, not surprisingly, eugenics comes to mind. A short Wikipedia excerpt from the eugenics article:
The way eugenics was practiced in this period (19th and 20th centuries) involved “interventions”, which is a euphemistic name for the identification and classification of individuals and their families, including the poor, mentally ill, blind, deaf, developmentally disabled, promiscuous women, homosexuals and entire racial groups — such as the Roma and Jews — as “degenerate” or “unfit”; the segregation or institutionalisation of such individuals and groups, their sterilization, euthanasia, and in the extreme case of Nazi Germany, their mass extermination.
Eugenics became an academic discipline at many colleges and universities, and received funding from many sources. Three International Eugenics Conferences presented a global venue for eugenicists with meetings in 1912 in London, and in 1921 and 1932 in New York. Eugenic policies were first implemented in the early 1900s in the United States. Later, in the 1920s and 30s, the eugenic policy of sterilizing certain mental patients was implemented in a variety of other countries, including Belgium,Brazil,Canada, and Sweden, among others. The scientific reputation of eugenics started to decline in the 1930s, a time when Ernst Rüdin used eugenics as a justification for the racial policies of Nazi Germany, and when proponents of eugenics among scientists and thinkers prompted a backlash in the public. Nevertheless, in Sweden the eugenics program continued until 1975. — Parentheses added by me.
The following links* provide a context on where we are in terms of eugenics in the 21st century:
1) One of the articles deals with technicals achievements that are worth a look at if we want to better understand the impact of Biotechnology in te next few decades: Life expectancy linked to DNA length.
2) This second article–with a somewhat misleading and poorly chosen title–is an interview that chillingly reminds us of the dystopia presented in Niccol’s film: China is engineering genius babies.
*Reading is compulsory.