Debating ethics at a movie site

In the dark future foretold by Gattaca, genetically tweaked ”perfect” humans rule, leading Ethan Hawke — as one of the natural-born fillers — to ask, ”How perfect do you want your children to be?” Well, in cyberspace, at least, they can be as perfect as you want. Thanks to Gattaca‘s vast Web home and digital breeding program (, you can genetically ”design” your own virtual children, determining everything from IQ to predisposition toward congenital diseases.

”This topic of bioengineering may have only recently come to the forefront since the cloned-sheep incident,” says Columbia TriStar Interactive’s Ira Rubenstein. ”But [writer-director] Andrew Niccol did lots of genetic research for the film.”

The site takes off on the movie’s theme, questioning the gen-ethics of creating a race of superior people, with bioethics profs Arthur Caplan and Dr. Carl Elliott answering Web queries. (Gattaca‘s posting boards link to related ethical discussions at the sites of the universities of Pennsylvania and Minnesota, as well as to sites in the U.K.)

The movie’s premise of discrimination based on one’s DNA may seem far-fetched, but the theoretical questions it piques concerning genetic engineering are clearly vital. ”We wanted to raise more questions,” says Rubenstein, ”rather than offer simple answers.”

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