Edge of 30: Perfect genes don’t make for a perfect life


By Lindsay Steele

After my column about gender selection hit the press last month, a Catholic friend told me the topic reminded him of the movie “Gattaca.”
I was somewhat familiar with the movie — I’m sure I had a crush on star Ethan Hawke at one time — but I didn’t recall having seen it in its entirety. My friend encouraged me to watch the movie and write a follow up.


Gattaca is a 1997 American science fiction film which features a view of a future society driven by eugenics in which potential children are conceived through genetic manipulation to ensure they possess the best hereditary traits of their parents. The film centers on a character named Vincent, played by Hawke, who was conceived naturally and struggles to overcome genetic discrimination to realize his dream of traveling into space. The movie brings light to concerns over reproductive technologies that focus on improving the genetic quality of the human population.

We have not yet reached this type of society in our world, but that’s not to say it could not happen as technology advances. Currently, genetic testing can be used to give couples an idea of what kind of diseases and conditions their future children could inherit, therefore “helping” them to decide whether having a child would be wise. Additionally, pregnant women are offered a “quad screen” that allows doctors to make early diagnoses of conditions such as Down syndrome, Trisomy 18 and neural tube defects. Some couples will use this information to decide whether to terminate the pregnancy. In a sense, genetic selection is already occurring at some level.


I get it; parents want the best for their children. I’m afraid that my son will have anxiety and crooked teeth, like me. No one wants their child to struggle or suffer. There is a thought that, if the child is genetically perfect, they will suffer less in life. But, is that really true?

In my observation of people, I am convinced that no one is immune to suffering. Someone who is a naturally talented athlete or scholar, for example, may struggle with perfectionism and intense pressure from parents, perhaps leading them to anxiety and feeling like they are never good enough. Someone who is considered extremely good looking is not immune to heartbreak. On the other hand, persons with developmental disabilities may get looks of pity from strangers when in reality they feel content with their lives.

No one has a perfect life, and genes do not determine what kind of life a person will have. “Good genes” do not necessarily equate to a happy life, nor do “bad genes” cause someone to be constantly unhappy.

I feel like our editor, Barb Arland-Fye, puts it best. She has seen life from the perspective of her son Colin, who has Autism, and her son Patrick, who does not. “The ‘perfect’ child may not grow up to be perfect and can have some serious challenges anywhere along the way,” she said. “God created unique human beings fashioned in God’s likeness. That means we need to make room for everybody in this world — ‘perfect’ or not.”

(Editor’s note: Lindsay Steele is a reporter for The Catholic Messenger. Contact her at steele@davenportdiocese.org or by phone at (563) 888-4248.)

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