Should you design your child?

A rock opera penned by Finnish bioethics researchers has been compared to The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

As the price for genetic testing falls, the tests are becoming increasingly accessible. But what can these tests really tell you?

“If you exercise and have a healthy lifestyle, the commercially available gene tests are likely to not tell you anything too exciting. They can even cause unnecessary worry,” points out academy researcher Tuija Takala.

Decoding DNA is never just about one individual. As a side product, the tests always reveal information about the immediate family: paternity, serious hereditary illnesses or susceptibility to them.

“I recommend you think carefully about genetic testing before you take the plunge."

Wrath of the gods befalls merchant of science

The difficult issues in genetic engineering are tackled via the medium of rock opera in late March, when Playing God, authored by Takala and Matti Häyry takes to the stage at the Gloria Cultural Arena in Helsinki.

“This artistic medium helps us describe the true breadth of the issues, and the music engages feelings in addition to the intellect,” Professor Häyry of Aalto University explains.

The story focuses on the reproduction and survival of humans as a species: granted a lengthened lifespan, a blues singer becomes bored with life and decides to commit suicide; a married couple shapes the characteristics of their twin sons before birth, but the results are nothing but trouble; and, born to rescue her sick brother, a girl must go on a long journey of introspection when her brother dies despite everyone’s best efforts.

At the centre of the action is a science-peddling charlatan, played by Häyry, who completely unhinges the small 1970s town, resulting in divine intervention.

Ethical discussion about parental choices

The researchers got the idea for a rock opera over dinner and red wine four years ago in Switzerland. The duo started booking musicians for their international project from the USA, the UK, Sweden , Finland, and other countries. The most well-known performer is Corky Laing, drummer of rock band Mountain. All music and lyrics were created specifically for the project.

The production’s world premiere in Basel last summer was very well received.

“Watching the show I felt like I was at a really high-quality rock gig,” enthuses doctoral student Johanna Ahola-Launonen.

According to the researchers, many have thought that their story is intended as a protest against genetic engineering, but they see genetics as just another addition to the ancient effort of people to better their offspring. Rather than speculate about the methods, the focus should be on the motives.

“We’re more interested in criticising the all-encompassing commercialism.”

In the picture from left: Tuija Takala, Johanna Ahola-Launonen and Matti Häyry.