In the film Gattaca, we see a futuristic world of advance science and technology. It’s a world striving for perfection, which is manifested through the powerful science of eugenics; where controlled breeding enables a society to run at its best, without any imperfections. We see a window into this in one scene where a geneticist explains to father-to-be, Antonio, why they shouldn’t leave their baby “up to chance”:
We want to give your child the best possible start. Believe me, we have enough imperfection built in already. Your child doesn’t need any more additional burdens. Keep in mind, this child is still you. Simply, the best, of you. You could conceive naturally a thousand times and never get such a result.
It’s a startling world to be faced with. In the film, we follow Vincent, born naturally and predicted to die at age 30 from heart failure. He defies his fate by taking on the DNA of paralysed athlete Jerome, so that he can work at Gattaca and hopefully one day fly to Saturn. We see Vincent struggle in this world, where imperfection of any kind is looked down upon. He says:
“I belonged to a new underclass, no longer determined by social status or the color of your skin. No, we now have discrimination down to a science.”
Even Jerome, who was born through the science of eugenics, deemed a perfect athlete, soon becomes the “underclass” as he is paralysed. He hides away from a society who once loved him, but now sees him as a hindrance.
A world like this feels hard to stomach, but as I watch documentaries & read various articles that hold a mirror up to our society, I fear that we are not so far from this type of world. In fact, our ankles are already allowing the water of eugenics to lap around them.
“If your morality is based, as mine is, on a desire to increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering, the decision to deliberately give birth to a Down’s baby, when you have the choice to abort it early in the pregnancy, might actually be immoral from the point of view of the child’s own welfare.”
Or from Peter Singer and his rather disturbing ideas on disability in babies. As Frank Skinner says in an interview with Sally Phillips, that “Science and love don’t mix“.
Recently this week, Sally Phillips produced a documentary on people with Down’s Syndrome, revealing to the world what is behind the pressures of the screening process for pregnant women and exploring the reasons why Down’s Syndrome is seen as a tragedy, where actually for her, it’s been more comedy than tragedy.
There was one point, which I think was the backdrop of the entire documentary, that caught my attention; Sally was sat with the Doctor who was creating this new screening process to detect DS in babies. The doctor put forward the argument that Sally’s son, Ollie, will outlive her and then what will happen to him?
You can fill the gap of silence with one word. Burden. What will happen to him? Who is going to look after him?
And Sally, wonderfully, answered back: The answer isn’t termination.
The answer isn’t to not allow him the chance to live. The answer isn’t to decide that it’s better if he never lived at all. The answer is to have a society that would care and nurture him.
She says, society needs to change, not the person.
It prompts her to ask this question: “What kind of world do we want to live in?”
And “Who do we think should be allowed to live in it?”
Currently, the kind of world we are leaning towards is a world where we eliminate all those who put a burden on society or those, who we deem, cannot possibly have any happiness in life due to their disability or life circumstance. And this would include all those who are weak, vulnerable, disabled, a foreigner, the elderly or an outsider.
And yet we forget, as my friend Tanya points out: We are all disabled. We are all weak in different ways. None of us are perfect.
The reality is, a society that doesn’t care for its most vulnerable is a bleak place to be and we don’t have to look far into our history to see that in our attempts to increase perfection in society and casting out those who don’t adhere to those rules, end in an increase in human suffering not a decline.
I am thankful for people like Sally and Tanya who are pushing back against this narrative and telling a better story. They are asking questions that should make us uncomfortable, they confront us with hard questions about what it means to be human.
What kind of world do we want to live in?
Do we want to live in a world where weakness and vulnerability are seen as a liability and too much of a burden, so we cast out those who don’t fit the perfect mould? Or, do we want a society that nurtures and cares for those who are weak, disabled, imperfect, vulnerable. Shouldering, carrying and giving value to every person, regardless?
As Christians, this should hit our hearts hard. And it should remind all of us that it’s not “them“, its “us“. We are all weak, we are all vulnerable, none of us are perfect.
We should strain hard against a world like Gattaca, and strive more for a world that provides refuge and safety. A world that reflects a God who is father to the fatherless, shelter to the homeless, refuge for the weak, hope for the suffering and love for those who feel unloved.