Want to Reach Your Potential? Live!

October 18, 2007


Apparently, my taste in films is having quite an impact on the content of this blog. I saw Gattaca for the first time yesterday, as part of a seminar class on medicine, ethics, and culture. For those of you who have never seen the film, it explores a society that has become entirely obsessed with genetic perfection. Parents engineer their children to be tall, attractive, healthy, and resistant to diseases. The movie chronicles the life of a man named Vincent, conceived naturally, who purchases the DNA and identity of Jerome, a genetically-engineered man like most of the population, in order to avoid discrimination.

All of this is quite fascinating, and I highly recommend the film. One relatively minor event at the end of the film, however, quite thoroughly disturbed me. The reason that Jerome is willing to sell his identity and genetic material is that he broke his back and must use a wheelchair, which clearly excludes him from participating in a body-obsessed society. I had my hopes that, just as Vincent is able to break free of society’s expectations and reach his potential, Jerome, could live freely and break away from society’s expectations. As they part for the final time towards the end of the movie, Jerome tells Vincent that he is about to follow his dreams and “do some traveling.” Jerome is supposed to complement Vincent’s success in finally being able to go to the stars as an astronaut. The dream of a person conceived naturally is to go to space. According to Gattaca, the dream of a person in a wheelchair is to toss himself into an incinerator.

In a film based on the premise that each human has a great potential when free of prejudice, Gattaca’s directors evidently felt that people with serious disabilities need not try. It is shocking that the ending is supposed to be a happy one, with the “normal” character fulfilling his potential and the “degenerate” character accepting his fate. Since when is committing a disillusioned suicide an expression of human potential?

It is disturbing and wrong to imply that the greatest aspiration of people with disabilities should be to “come to terms with” our inabilities and end our worthless lives. Sorry, but this blogger in a wheelchair is not lighting himself up any time soon. There are far too many dreams and travels that I need to be alive for.