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Are your Genes your Destiny?

14 August 2017
Gattaca and the ethics of genomics

As part of National Science Week, the University of Sydney will host a screening of Gattaca followed by a panel discussion about ethics and genomics.

On 15 August, the University of Sydney will host a free public screening, followed by a hosted conversation about the 20-year-old science-fiction film Gattaca for National Science Week and Sydney Science Festival.

Gattaca presented a dystopian view of the future, predicting a society where people are genetically modified to have the best hereditary traits of their parents.

Since the film’s release in 1997, the science of genetic manipulation has come a long way, allowing us to better isolate, sequence and examine the human genome.

Dr Jacqueline Savard from the University of Sydney, School of Public Health’s  Sydney Health Ethics, says the film raises a number of ethical questions we are confronting today when it comes to genetic manipulation.

“What it means to choose certain characteristics and the belief that our fate lies in our genes is still an ongoing debate. Seeking and making changes that reflect our own values, is a deeply ethical question, because it means we are altering not only how we see ourselves, but also how we see others,” says Dr Savard.

“Choosing to have a child that we believe will be gifted at certain activities or will have a certain physical appearance is actually a wider comment on the values we hold in society and can be seen to reflect how we judge ourselves and others.”

She says that while the film represents the ethical discussion around genomics in the 1990s, those discussions are still ongoing but their focus has shifted.

“At the time of the film’s release, the first sequencing of the human was still ongoing and the struggle between public and private interests and who had the right to patent genes was at its height.

“This struggle continues, but what genetic information means, how we access it and how we use it in the present has evolved to become a different discussion.”

Following the film screening, there will be a hosted conversation about the issues the film raises, our current genetic capabilities and the impacts of these in society. 

Experts participating in this conversation include Associate Professor Marcel Dinger, head of the Kinghorn Centre for Clinical Genomics at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Professor Ian Kerridge, Professor of Bioethics and Medicine at the University of Sydney and Dr Catherine Farragher, lecturer in the Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies at Macquarie University. Dr Jacqueline Savard will host the discussion and facilitate questions from the audience.

The film screening and conversation following it will be shown at the University of Sydney on 15 August 2017 from 6pm onwards.  The event can be found on social media at: https://www.facebook.com/genesdestinyNatSciWk17/

Tickets and further information can be viewed here.

This project received funding from the Australian Government as part of the Inspiring Australia – Science Engagement Programme. It is part of National Science Week, Sydney Science Festival and is presented by Sydney Ideas and Sydney Health Ethics at the University of Sydney in partnership with the Garvan Institute of Medical Research.

Elliott Richardson

Assistant Media Advisor (Medicine, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy)

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