In the movie Gattaca, a world is depicted where social classes and job opportunities rely on your genetic code. The company for which the movie is named does rigorous testing daily to ensure the superiority of their employees. Anyone with the cash can send in a sample to obtain a copy of someone else’s genetic information.
I find this concept terrifying from a privacy standpoint. We are living in an age of constant tracking and surveillance where it is nearly impossible to “go off the grid”. Doesn’t a person have a right to be left alone if they wish? Of course our modern tracking methods offer benefits, say in a kidnapping situation, or if you lose your cell phone. It can do a lot for safety, but strict enforcement needs to be in place to prevent that information for being used for ill. “But if you’ve done nothing wrong, you should have nothing to hide”, you say. What about celebrities who don’t want to be mobbed, or victims of crimes who would rather have no reminder of their past? Location tracking and genetic testing have their differences, but I believe that they raise the same ethical questions in their execution. If you’ve done nothing wrong, you should have your right to privacy respected, no matter its form.
The Council for Responsible Genetics writes about instances where genetic information was used against the person’s will do deny access to insurance, jobs, and workman’s comp in their article “Genetic Testing, Privacy, and Discrimination”. These people were perfectly healthy by medical standards, but they will denied access because they were likely to carry a disease, even ones with simple treatment options. This type of profiling absolutely sickens me.
Apparently I’m not the only one who holds this opinion. In November I went to an art exhibit called Beyond Limits: Postglobal Mediations at the San Diego Art Institute. One of the works that I found most memorable was invisible by Heather Dewey-Hagborg. In this work she speaks out against a supreme court ruling that police can take DNA samples by creating a fictional product to obfuscate your DNA trail. On the website for this project, she compares DNA samples to your medical records, which are protected from public perusal. I found her work exciting and provocative. The protagonist in Gattaca could have gotten a good deal of use out of such a product!
As the technologies for genetic decoding become more advanced, the legislation and protection against this information being used should match and exceed what is possible.
Gabrielle Jarrett, presenting week 9 on electronic music