Hinweis: Die Prozentangaben in Klammern zeigen die Gewichtung der einzelnen Aufgaben.
- Outline the Gunns’ situation and their reasons for undergoing genetic diagnosis. (Text A) (20 %)
- Show how the way the author presents the Gunns conveys her attitude towards them and their decision. Give evidence from the text. (Text A) (25 %)
- Mediation You are part of an international science project on genetic engineering. For your project group, outline the information the German film provides about modern blood tests and how they influence the situation of future parents. (Text B) (20 %)
- Choose one of the following tasks:
4.1 “This is an area in our lives that we can’t influence unless we pay for it.” (Text A, l. 24) Explain the quote and assess to what extent expensive procedures in science and technology can lead to social injustice. (35 %)
4.2 Compare the Gunns’ efforts to create a perfect family with those of another family from literature, film or real life who use technology to improve their family life. Assess the way they cope. (35 %)
4.3 Write a speech for an international youth conference on human cloning. Using information from Text A, discuss the consequences of trying to create perfect human beings with the help of genetic engineering. (35 %)
The newspaper article "Sex selection: Getting the baby you want" by Amanda Mitchison, published in The Guardian, April 3, 2010 deals with the Gunn family and their decision to select the gender of their next child.
The Gunn family lives in a suburb in South England in a well furnished, stylish house. The following week they are planning to go to California, USA to be treated for an in vitro fertilization using preimplantation genetic diagnosis to have a girl as their next child.
As they have three boys already, they have decided to undergo this treatment and not leave the gender of their next baby to fate.
Their first child was a boy, which they are happy about; after his birth they went on a specific diet to influence the gender of their next baby, who also turned out to be a boy. Analysing and comparing their situation with the ones of their friends, the Gunns assumed that the next baby would be a girl. When the third baby was also a boy, they decided for the genetic treatment. They have always wanted to have a baby girl because Susan Gunn, the mother, wants to buy girl's clothes in High Street stores.
The author uses different methods to reveal her attitude towards the Gunn family and their decision.
First of all, the family's house and the atmosphere in it are introduced, which foreshadows the family's material priorities. The Gunns are introduced to the reader as a well-off family who live in a suburb in South England (l.1), one of the most expensive living areas in the UK. Their house has a fashionable interior, which is presented by the author in a very detailed manner so that the reader can picture it precisely. The author does not seem to approve as she uses slightly negatively connoted adjectives like "chicken soup colour" (l.3) to refer to the furniture, and as this colour is "favoured by architects – and expensive private clinics" (l.4), the author conveys the impression that they have planned their life according to fashionable trends set by someone else, like architects or their friends. The intrusion of "expensive private clinics" in l.4 into ordinary dwellings creates a contrast and foreshadows the medical treatment the parents are going to have. It also provides an impression of sterility in an otherwise ordinary house. This is even more strengthened by mentioning that there is "not a toy or a half chewed rusk" (l.2), which the reader usually expects from a family that already has children, especially one with three boys. The whole house, especially the description of the "glass coffee table" (l.2) and the "clean and modern" style, rather describes the cold and distanced interior of a hospital than of a cozy and welcoming family home. In this way, the author reveals her very critical attitude toward the Gunn family and questions their ability to raise their kids in a loving way.
When the reader learns that the family has three boys already, one usually expects lots of noise and movement.
The next lines, from line 5 to 25, describe Robert and Susan Gunn's efforts to have a baby girl. Again in a very detailled manner, the author explains how the Gunns were planning to influence the gender of their next baby. In this part, the author uses direct quotes from both of them to tell their story. The author leaves these quotes uncommented, as it is common knowledge that gender is a biological predisposition and cannot be influenced by a specific diet. Even the comparison of the Gunn's children to their friends' is quite bizarre and shows enormous naivety, and further portrays the Gunns as parents who rather regard their children as accessories than real children. The efforts mentioned with regard to having a baby girl show the Gunn's logical consequence that you have to work and to pay for desired goals. But in this way, their attitude is extended to having children, and to paying for determining the baby's gender - which reduces the children to pure objects.
The next lines, from line 27 to 29, show a lot of parallel, anaphoric sentence structures: "They trawled [...] They spoke [...] They booked in", which form a climax, and which correspond to the Gunn's attitude that you have to work hard if you want to be successful. It also very emotionlessly lists their activities, and creates the impression of a very efficient and easy way to interfere with genetics.
The whole treatment is rather presented as a family adventure - "Disneyland between the egg harvesting and implantation" (ll. 30/31) – and thus an enormous contrast between the fictional fun world of Disneyland and the scientific process is revealed.
The final presentation of the clinic in L.A. as "a slick operation" uses a derogative adjective, referring to fertility treatments as being part of a business plan that only well-off people can afford. The enumeration of the various activities offered by the clinic in lines 31 and 32 present it as a travel agency rather than a serious medical institute. A contrast between natural conception and the economic planning of the procedure reveals the true aim, which is gaining profit, and shows a decline in ethical standards as well as the estrangement from nature.
Lately I watched a German film on TV which I regard as very useful for our project on genetic engineering. Let me briefly outline its contents.
The film deals with possible future production of babies and its impact on parenthood.
There are already new blood tests available to check if the unborn baby suffers from any genetic defects that might lead to disability like Down Syndrome. Technically it is possible to extract the whole DNA from the mother's blood sample and to scan it for abnormalities of any kind. As it is forbidden in Germany to scan the blood of the unborn child for genetic defects that might occur later in life, couples often have the blood test done abroad.
Lots of scientists fear that future parents cannot cope with their specific situation, as they have to decide on a possible abortion if the unborn child is diagnosed with a genetic defect. The parents' wish to have a perfect child shows how this new technology is going to change society, and it shows what difficult decisions future parents will have to face.
The quote at hand is a statement from the text "Sex selection: Getting the baby you want" by Amanda Mitchison, published in The Guardian, April 3, 2010.
Robert Gunn states that he and his wife can influence all parts of their life because they are able to pay for it. Usually, you cannot interfere with natural procedures like the conception of a baby, but in Mr. Gunn's understanding, every problem, even very intimate and sensitive ones like deciding your baby's gender according to your wishes, can be solved with money.
Because he names money as the solution for such problems, it widens the already existing gap between the rich and the poor. Better-off parents could provide their child with the best possible options for a successful life, such as beauty, the desired gender, intelligence, and even good health since diseases might be erased from the DNA as well. Nature is overruled and de-valued by money; the creation of a child becomes a business, and so family life is de-valued as well because the basis is money, and feelings are not necessarily required to have a baby.
But those who cannot afford to pay for their future child’s improved options are condemned to a second-class life, and their child as well, because even before the baby is born, he/she is already disadvantaged since he/she cannot compete with his/her artificially created and specified companions. They are condemned to a lower status regarding beauty, intelligence or health even before they are born. So for those who cannot afford it, they and their descendents it will be caught in a vicious circle they are not able to escape. Mr. Gunn's attitude, on the one hand, ridicules our present achievement-oriented society, but supports it on the other hand as it lacks in ethical values dominating over money.
In this way, the fictional world of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World has already turned into reality as reality is governed by money.
All parents wish to have a healthy and perfect child, to provide it with the best conditions for its life and to pass their genes on to future generations. This is an ingrained and natural aim of all parents. Therefore, lots of literary works have dealt with this aspect as well.
First, there is the movie Gattaca in which two brothers, conceived in different ways, compete against each other. Vincent, the first born son, conceived the natural way, is a child of love, but the minute he was born, tests showed his short life expectancy and the serious diseases he is going to develop. Although he has worked very hard at school and has achieved outstanding results, he is condemned to performing lower jobs due to his low health predisposition.
The second son, Anton, was artificially created; his parents selected the best possible options in life for him. All jobs are open to him as he has an excellent health status.
Although their parents are very concerned about Vincent's health and prevent him from doing, for example, extreme sports, he is very ambitious to reach his aim of travelling into space. When the chance is offered to him, he takes it, although it means betraying society by assuming somebody else's healthy identity. Anton detects his brother's fraud and is ready to hand him over to authorities. Before he does, however, they race against each other in a swimming competition for the last time, which this time Vincent wins, although he has a lower health rating. He proves that other qualities than a good health status make up your humanlike ambition, passion, strategy and perseverance; they form your character and define you as a person. Morally, Vincent has an advantage over his brother since, due to his lower health status, he has to get the most out of his life. He proves to be a human being, and does not give in although he has been intimidated by society. Anton takes his superiority for granted, and does not know how to fight for it; he is too comfortable with his situation to appreciate it.
Another example is Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. In this novel, society has taken over the role of parents, and it creates children according to its need. Even before the babies are born, they are predestined to either govern society as Alphas or to serve it as manual workers, as Epsilons.
Scientists in this society use different technological means, like providing extra nutrition for Alpha embryos or denying sufficient oxygen for the Epsilons, so that the babies develop in the desired direction.
Careers later on suppress or further the babies' mental and physical development according to their applied status. In that way, society efficiently produces enough babies that turn into the desired number of workers, careers or managers, and at the same time society saves its own continued existence.
Since this society unnaturally has its children artificially produced and programmed, a real development within this society has ceased to exist. Social development requires human communication, interaction on different levels using different individual skills, abilities and creativity. The lack of thinking and the reduction of the population to simple objects in this novel contradict the real purpose of a society. This society has become a mere shell for 12 world governors who are in no way interested in changing their privileged status.
Seen as a symbol, this society being applied to future parents would mean that parents are only interested in the use their future children will bring to them. The parents might not be interested in the respective child's development any longer; the child might be reduced to a pure decorative object.
Comparing this to the Gunn family, it becomes obvious that the parents think and act in the same manner. Their main reason to have a baby girl is to fit into the expectations of society of having boys and girls, and so that Mrs. Gunn can start shopping for girl's clothes.
The sterile, clean interior of their house and the way they see the genetic procedure as an adventure clearly mirrors the society in Brave New World.
It shows today's reader that this type of society is no future dream or warning any longer, but a very topical issue in which this and future generations must decide on how humane and social they are going to remain.
Dear representatives of this conference,
With the new Star Wars movie being recently released, I was strongly reminded of what different shades our future might have – full of technology, we might use a changed language or even different languages, we might deal with a changed earth’s surface or one on other planets, or with artificial intelligence that is so humanlike that it cannot be spotted among humans any longer. Or we might face genetic engineering that has become the most natural thing in the world to us, simply to create a perfect human being.
It also reminded me that the common topic we have been discussing here is not that futuristic; it has already been an issue for quite some time.
Stem cell research, for some a medical breakthrough for curing diseases, for some blasphemy as you are meddling with God's creation, for some an abuse of future life, has made it clear just how far genetic research has already developed.
But what might be the consequences of trying to create the perfect human being using genetic engineering?
Nobody can deny the benefits of genetic engineering when we look at it from an objective, medical perspective. Defects in a person's DNA might be detected and repaired so that, for example, a long line of genetically transmitted defects like the Huntington disease within one family could be stopped. Imagine how much suffering parents could be spared.
What follows seems more than logical: Possible costs for health care treatments could be reduced to nearly zero, as treatments for that disease will no longer be needed, no specific gadgets for mobility or in the household will be needed to ease the patient's life. The child might lead a perfectly normal life, attend an ordinary school and might have all the options for further development in their life. All the money being saved for health care treatments, special equipment, and special education could be saved and directly re-invested, for example, in education to develop the whole society.
Isn't that a convincing reason to support genetic engineering and human cloning?
Even more, the perfect human beings could be cloned to save everlasting health and valuable human features. We, the future parents, make sure that society remains a stable and healthy one.
But don't we limit ourselves in this case to a couple of cloned persons and a limited pool of DNA?
Social development is based on creative human beings that are allowed to make mistakes. Recognizing their mistakes and learning from them lets people grow and think of new patterns on how to overcome obstacles. In denying this process to people, one might question what mental and physical development is still required when you already have a perfect human being. Essential human features like being ambitious, working hard to achieve aims, finding compromises and solutions in controversial discussions are at stake, too. And when human beings are denied the opportunity for thinking and deciding on their own, the step to overrule them in a tyrannical system or to abuse them as, for example, clone warriors is a close one.
Finally, who defines and decides what features are the necessary ones, which worthy ones are to be kept and cloned? Which ones should be ruled out? This is a unique decision to make that cannot be reversed.
So in that way we deny ourselves different shades in personalities and individualism.
Genetic engineering is a process that could better or worsen society, but it should be used as a tool to serve human beings, and it is our responsibility and duty as future scientists, parents and human beings to keep it like this.
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