Rise of the Planet of the Apes – a bioethical feast

December 31, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes, now available on DVD, was one of the blockbuster releases in the summer of 2011. A prequel to the classic series of films (5 cinema releases between 1968 and 1973, TV spin-off and Tim Burton’s 2001 remake of the main Planet of the Apes), the new movie tries to offer a plausible mechanisms for the evolution of apes into a dominant global force.

(Warning: contains spoilers!) The new film is a veritable gold-mine for discussion of ethical topics, it would make as excellent vehicle for an engaging “film night”. In terms of bioethical issues, the film touches on all of the following:

  • Research ethics – there are lots of examples where aspects of the conduct of research are raised (some of which are picked out specifically in the list below). The motivations for doing research are touched upon at several points in the film – these include financial gain, fame and a desire to do good, both for mankind in general and specifically for the benefit of a relative in need. GenSys boss Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) is the embodiment of profit as a driver for research whereas Will Rodman (James Franco) represents more noble aspirations. A discussion of the ethics of research funding could follow naturally. Read the rest of this entry »
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Genetic testing: would you want to know? – The Killer in Me

December 29, 2007

The Killer in Me illustrates just how far genetic testing for disease has developed. Testing for conditions caused by mutation in a single gene has been possible for some while, and examples have been considered previously in relation to programmes in the Bitter Inheritance series, e.g. Huntington’s disease (Episode 5) and Gorlin Syndrome (Episode 4). In The Killer in Me, four celebrities agree to undergo pioneering genetic tests for conditions that are under the influence of several different genes and environmental factors, such as diet. It is promised that the battery of tests will indicate their potential risk, i.e. their predisposition, to several common diseases, including heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s. The tests are supervised by Paul Jenkins, a Senior Clinical Researcher at Queen Mary’s School of Medicine and the co-founder of the company ‘Genetic Health’. As he explains, “We know the environmental influences that can predispose to disease, now we are able for the first time to start to determine your genetic predisposition to those diseases” (00:01:39).

The decisions about which tests to take, and the celebrities’ responses to the results of those tests, offer insights into the ethical dilemmas posed by screening. GMTV presenter Fiona Philips re-examines her mother’s past medical history, which included both breast cancer and Alzheimer’s which unfortunately led to her death. She reflects on the terrible ordeal her mother suffered for eight years, and wonders what actions she would take if the test presented that she was at high risk of Alzheimer’s (00:02:49-00:05:17 and 00:17:50-00:19:10*). Read the rest of this entry »