Is There a Gene Responsible for Our Obsession with Perfection? Disability, Ethics and Responsibility

Lalita McHenry


My mother gave birth to me.
A small baby like me.
Sing song, put in the cot, cradle as well
Small clothes, small face, small body.
Old photos about me
Born here, Down Syndrome
My father Down Syndrome
My mother Down Syndrome
I’m perfect.
Perfect Baby.
Perfect Child.
Perfect Woman (Rita Halabarec)

Creative works such as those performed by Geelong’s Back to Back Theatre demonstrate how the term disability is being reconstructed, transformed and subverted. Performing artists are actively challenging negative representations of disability by making visible a body seen to have existed largely through the gaze of medical abjection. At the same time, however, prenatal screening, and genetic engineering more broadly, holds out promise for a world where traits like Down syndrome cease to exist. This poem, written by a performer who played in Back to Back Theatre’s 2002 Melbourne Festival production of Soft, offers a challenge to discourses that perpetuate the belief that disability equals imperfection, disadvantage and suffering. Soft grapples with the highly controversial ethical issues of prenatal screening and the pursuit of perfection by asking the question – ‘Is there a gene responsible for our obsession with perfection?’

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