Entertainment Radio

Tuesday 23 April 2019

Radio: Life imitating art as gene genies mess with reality

Gattaca: 'a cautionary tale about the dangers of messing around with our genes'
Gattaca: 'a cautionary tale about the dangers of messing around with our genes'
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

The other day I watched the sci-fi movie Gattaca for the first time since its release in 1997. As a film, it's held up well; as a cautionary tale about the dangers of messing around with our genes, it still chills the bones.

Not for the first time, fiction now seems to be coming true, as we heard on Moncrieff (Newstalk, Mon-Fri 2pm). The Nuffield Council on Bioethics - the UK's leading voice in these matters - announced it is "morally permissible" for scientists to engage in "genome editing": tampering with human bodies at the deepest level.

If you shuddered with some unconscious dread reading that, you're not alone (the thought of "designer babies" is beyond creepy). Dr David King, director of Human Genetics Alert, feels the same way.

He listed the reasons why gene-modification is wrong: it's unnecessary, given that treatments already exist for inheritable conditions and embryos can be pre-screened anyway; it will further divide the world into haves and have-nots; it carries grave echoes of Nazi eugenics and "master race" policies; it will doubtless be used for ill, weaponised by someone.

His most compelling argument was a simple ethical one. A world where we can select various features for babies is one where people have become commodities. And that, all societies agree, is morally untenable.

Whether he can stop this happening is another matter; as Moncrieff noted, who knows what's going on in other jurisdictions. A weird, unsettling (and still creepy) future ahead.

Still, that future may not be all bad, judging by two young women who told Liveline (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 1.45pm) their story of accommodation hell. Millennials are often castigated by us oldies as whiny, precious, humourless and weak.

Not always, though. Meet Nora and Éadaoin, two girls from Cork (going by their accents) now living in Dublin. Maybe "existing" is a better fit than "living": such is the pressure on rental accommodation that they have to share a bed.

They're not sweethearts; they simply can't afford to pay for a room each, and even if they could, there aren't any out there. So they squeeze into a double bed - not a queen, Nora pointed out, a four-footer - every night.

She wakes up too early every morning because Éadaoin starts work two hours before her. Nora periodically bangs her head off a shelf above her side of the bed. They're each paying €450 a week for the privilege.

And it gets better, or worse: they now have to leave. Anywhere they've gone to see has been, Éadaoin says, like "a cattle-mart": so many people jostling for a spot that owners take people's names and draw from a hat. She also had horror stories from previous rentals, enough to make your blood boil.

Yet, for all this misery, you couldn't find a more cheerful, spirited, resilient pair. No moaning millennials these. They laughed about their situation. Nora poked fun at Éadaoin for cuddling up to her in her sleep, thinking the other girl is her boyfriend.

They shrug their shoulders and get on with it, making the best of a bad lot. Nora concluded: "At this stage we'd even be happy enough to continue sharing if we could just get somewhere." I really hope they do. They're a credit to themselves and, dare I say it, their much-maligned generation.

Finally, as heard on Morning Ireland (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 7am), Letterkenny man Jason Black scaled K2, "the world's most dangerous mountain". On a satellite phone from basecamp, he described the "joy and elation" of "having survived". Climbing gigantic mountains is a mad thing to do, if you ask me - but good on him all the same.

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