The result is that invalids can't get any but the most menial jobs. What employer would take a chance on giving a high-paying technical job to someone with a predisposition to early death from heart disease when there is an equally skilled candidate who is certified disease-free, and who will cost the company (and their insurers) far less in medical bills and retraining costs over the long haul?
The ethical issues that this film brings up are deeply poignant. But one of the lines that goes by so quickly that it can pass your notice occurs fairly close to the beginning of the movie, when the main character is narrating what life is like in this society. "Of course, discrimination based on genes is technically illegal," he says, "but there's always a way around that."
He utters this line as a potential employer hands him a plastic jar for a urine test -- ostensibly for drug testing, but which will also give the company anything they want to know about the candidate's genetic makeup.
[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]
If HR 1313 passes, it will allow employers to circumvent GINA -- as long as such genetic tests are part of a "workplace wellness" program.
Before you blame the Republicans, however, realize that we were well on the way to ceding all the power over a person's private genetic data to employers during the Obama presidency. "Workplace Wellness" laws passed during the previous administration allowed employers to levy a 30% surcharge on employees' health insurance costs if they refused to participate in "voluntary" workplace wellness programs, many of which require screenings for cholesterol, blood pressure, and other health factors. At least with GINA, there was explicit language to stop employers from doing what they did in Gattaca -- collecting private health information from people under the guise of doing screenings for risk factors, and extracting a hell of a lot more from a blood sample or urine sample than the employee bargained for.
If HR 1313 passes, that protection will disappear. Labeling mandatory screening part of a "Workplace Wellness" program will allow employers to have access to any information on your health that they want -- including a list of the markers you carry showing your predisposition to genetic health conditions.
One more way in which we are headed, as a nation, toward giving far more clout to corporations than we do to individuals.
When Gattaca premiered twenty years ago, it seemed pretty far-fetched. People were identified when they entered a government building using a finger-prick test. Criminals could be caught from the DNA on a single eyelash, because everyone's DNA was on record with the government. If you were stopped on the road and refused a finger prick, the police could still identify you by an iris scan. In one memorable scene, a woman goes to a genetic screening company to get the low-down on her boyfriend -- after she gives him a nice long French kiss, and thus mixing enough of his saliva with hers to sequence his DNA and find out if he's a good candidate for a long-term relationship.
Now, it's looking like the world of Gattaca is, as it says in the opening sequence, in the "not-so-distant future."
In fact, if HR 1313 passes, it might be right around the corner.