“Consider God’s handiwork: who can straighten what He hath made crooked.” – Ecclesiastes 7:13

“I not only think we will tamper with Mother Nature, I think Mother wants us to” – Willard Gaylin

Some two decades ago, filmmaker Andrew Niccol wrote and directed GATTACA, a sci-fi movie that presented a future in which individuals and society were at risk from having gained access to, and control of, our genetic code.

Today, 20 years after the movie’s initial release, that future fiction, once considered distant and impossible, is, in many ways, now. Hundreds of laboratories offer tests for thousands of genetic variants. Once conducted only by medical professionals, a variety of tests can now be ordered by mail from direct-to-consumer companies. The FDA has even approved a few medical tests. And for a somewhat larger fee than the DTC companies charge, you can get not just selected DNA but your entire genome sequenced.

For some parents-to-be, prenatal genetic screening allows couples to decide whether to complete a pregnancy to term, or with preimplantation genetic diagnosis, allows couples to decide whether to have an embryo found to have “disorders and mutations” implanted at all.

Are we paying attention to the ways this information is, and could, alter the human race in ways once thought only possible in sci-fi novels and movies like GATTACA?

To consider these questions in 2018, The Center for Genetics and Society and The Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society presented two screenings of GATTACA followed by panel discussions with the audiences in the Bay Area.

Life of the Law Senior Producer, Tony Gannon and Associate Producer producer Andrea Hendrickson were there and produced this episode.


Up the Borrowed Ladder


This episode of Life of the Law was produced by Senior Producer, Tony Gannon and Associate Producer Andrea Hendrickson. Nancy Mullane is our Executive Producer. Our Social Media Editor is Rachael Cain. We pulled audio clips from the film GATTACA, testing the limits of fair use. All other music was composed by Andrea Hendrickson. Katie Murphy audio described portions of the film.

We’re a non-profit project of the Tides Center and we’re part of the Panoply Network of Podcasts from Slate. You can also find Life of the Law on PRX, Public Radio Exchange.

We want to thank, Renee Cramer, Hadar Aviram, Erica Pearson, Kalli Catcott, Heather Thompson, Lila LaHood, Dionne Woods, Bill Epling, Kate Robertson, Edmund and Hilary Billings, Kate Germond, Annie Bunting, Shanker Raman, Malcolm Appelbe, Osagie Obasogie, Katherine Katcher, Ben Edwards, Steve Linde, Robert Anthony, Grace Nielsen, Brittny Bottorff and York University for their donations in support of Life of the Law.

Special thanks to The Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, and Marcy Darnovsky and Osagie Obasogie at The Center for Genetics and Society.

JOIN US next time when we present…

Episode 135: IN- STUDIO – Genetics and Humanity

© Copyright 2018 Life of the Law. All rights reserved.

Supplemental Reading and Listening:

Beyond Bioethics, Toward a New Biopolitics Osagie Obasogie (Editor), Marcy Darnovsky (Editor), Troy Duster (Foreward), Patricia Williams (Afterword by)

The Wired Guide to CRISPR by Megan Molteni – April 17, 2018 https://www.wired.com/story/wired-guide-to-crispr/

What Happens When Geneticists Talk Sloppily About Race by Ian Holmes – April 25, 2018 https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/04/reich-genetics-racism/558818/

How Genetics is Changing Our Understanding of Race by David Reich – March 23, 2018 https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/23/opinion/sunday/genetics-race.html

A response to David Reich’s piece: How Not To Talk About Race And Genetics

Don’t edit the human germ line – by Edward Lanphier, Fyodor Urnov, Sarah Ehlen Haecker, Michael Werner & Joanna Smolenski | Nature | 12 March 2015 https://www.nature.com/news/don-t-edit-the-human-germ-line-1.17111

Can We Cure Genetic Diseases Without Slipping Into Eugenics? by Nathaniel Comfort | The Nation | July 16, 2015  https://www.thenation.com/article/can-we-cure-genetic-diseases-without-slipping-into-eugenics/

This Court Battle Will Decide Who Will Make a Fortune From Gene Editing Tech by Susan Decker and Michelle Cortez – April 29, 2018 https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-04-29/berkeley-fights-harvard-mit-over-profits-from-gene-editing-tech

Doctors in China Lead Race To Treat Cancer By Editing Genes by Rob Stein – February 21, 2018 https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/02/21/585336506/doctors-in-china-lead-race-to-treat-cancer-by-editing-genes

The Legal and Regulatory Context for Human Gene Editing by R. Alta Charo – Issues in Science Technologies Volume XXXII Issue 3, Spring 2016

California’s Sterilization Survivors: An Estimate and Call for Redress American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) – January 2017 by Alexandra Minna Stern PhD, Nicole L. Novak PhD, Natalie Lira PhD, Kate O’Connor MPH, Siobán Harlow PhD, and Sharon Kardia PhD   https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2016.303489

Fact Sheet: Living Survivors of California’s Eugenic Sterilization ProgramProduced by the California Eugenic Sterilization Research Group, January 2017  https://docs.google.com/document/d/19eRaBJFyIPfAvuOj1X3OXduP45JWk55Y_Z2gnPTc_wU/edit#heading=h.l968v336ebof

Regulation of Assisted Reproductive Technologies: Gains and Losses, Indira Chakravarthi – First Published January 18, 2016 http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0971521515612866#_i12

Unesco Panel of experts call for ban on “editing” of human DNA to avoid unethical tampering with hereditary traits  https://en.unesco.org/news/unesco-panel-experts-calls-ban-editing-human-dna-avoid-unethical-tampering-hereditary-traits