Darwin’s Dangerous Idea – Born Equal? (BBC2)


This episode of Darwin's Dangerous Idea can be viewed online via the BBC iPlayer until April7 2009.

In the three-part series, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, broadcast on BBC2 to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, broadcaster Andrew Marr explores the impact of the theory of evolution by natural selection on science, politics and society.

While the first and third episodes, respectively entitled Body and Soul and Life and Death, explore the historical spread of Darwin’s theory and the way it can be employed within conservation and ecology, the second episode, Born Equal?, includes a short section (between 00:45:12 and 00:56:20) that could be used in bioethics teaching.


Andrew Marr and his DNA sample

Andrew Marr and his DNA sample

In Born Equal? Andrew Marr highlights how Darwin’s theory has been used for political purposes, in particular as a justification for eugenics programmes (most notably in Nazi Germany during the Second World War). As a historical exploration the programme as a whole is fascinating and very informative, however, it is as the episode approaches more recent events – especially the advent of DNA technology and genetic testing – that some of the bioethical issues that currently appear on the UK GCSE and A-level curricula begin to be discussed. Beginning at 00:45:12, the last fifteen minutes of the programme introduces issues around genetic information and privacy, and the possible use of genetic test results by employers and insurers.

These issues are initally discussed within the context of prevention of Tay-Sachs disease in the USA, specifically the compliation of a genetic database within the New York Jewish community which can be used in family planning (see 00:45:12 to 00:49:53). The programme highlights how this database has allowed the disease to be “almost eradicated” from the community, but also presents the more critical point of view which sees this uses of predictive genetic testing as a modern form of eugenics. Marr then goes on to discuss the wider uses of predictive genetic testing and the bioethical issues they raise (primarily between 00:49:53 and 00:52:19). The programme culminates highlighting some of the implications of ‘genes for’ intelligence, particularly when the genetic varients involved are identified with (socially identified) ‘races’ (00:52:19 to 00:56:20).

The series is supported by a range of resources provided in collaboration with the Open University. These are suitable for use by schools, colleges and universities, and can be found at the Darwin Open2.net website.

The second episode of Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (entitled Born Equal?) was first broadcast on BBC2 on March 12 2009 at 21:00. It is availble to view or download via the BBC iPlayer until April 7 2009. Unfortunately as an OU joint production, you will need an additional license above and beyond normal ERA license in order to obtain copis from the BUFVC (TRILT Identifier: 00E487F5)


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