America has always been closer to a eugenic regime than most Americans realize. But kicking a child out of school because of a guess about what might happen in the future according to current medical science and information about his genes is rather shocking. Yet according to a lawsuit by the parents, it happened to Colman Chadam in a Palo Alto Middle school.
The situation, odd as it may sound, played out like this. Colman has genetic markers for cystic fibrosis, and kids with the inherited lung disease can’t be near each other because they’re vulnerable to contagious infections. Two siblings with cystic fibrosis also attended Colman’s middle school in Palo Alto, California in 2012. So Colman was out, even though he didn’t actually have the disease…
The Colmans found out about his DNA markers when he was tested as an infant because of other medical issues. These markers do not determine that he will necessarily get cystic fibrosis. But his parents made the mistake of telling the school.
If the lawsuit is correct the school has acted out a scene from the 1997 science fiction movie Gattaca. See below, especially at the one-minute mark.
Notice in that scene a school refuses to allow a child to attend because he isn’t genetically engineered. He is thus assumed to be an unacceptable liability. What would happen if he fell? What would happen to our insurance?
Gattaca envisioned a future where most people had children engineered to be genetically perfect. The result was a society where people were discriminated against. Everyone was judged by their genes and what was calculated to result from their genes. The fact that genetic discrimination was technically illegal was meaningless. A handshake, saliva, or a mandatory drug test were all ways to get the information.
The result is a caste society where even the genetically engineered were often put in second place because of some flaw in the genetic engineering process. Everyone looked at what the science indicated about genetic potential and no one looked objectively at what people were actually doing. Just like the school allegedly got rid of a student not because of a disease he had but because he had the potential to get a disease, people classified others, and even themselves according to statistical risks.
The title of the movie was the name of the spaceport in the story. Gattaca is an odd name, but it reminds me of Attica prison, with a G in front for Genome. The future world the movie portrayed was certainly a prison planet.
Are we turning into Gattaca? The Wired article doesn’t mention the movie but it seems to think it is possible, even likely. In other news, CNN reports that scientists in the U.K. have been told they can start experimenting on genetically engineering human embryos.