Tackling the other selection debate

18th October 1996 at 01:00
Nicola Baldwin's tightly written play on the subject of genetic selection, The Gift, focuses on three generations of the Kay family. Teenager Annie Kay inherits Friedreich's Ataxia, a recessive genetic disorder of the central nervous system, from her carrier parents. So when her brother Ryan (also a carrier) marries, he uses genetic selection (choosing from multiple embryos produced by so-called super-ovulation) to ensure that his own child will neither carry nor develop the disease.

The central question posed by the play is whether Ryan is justified in tinkering with nature, a question made more ambiguous by the fact that the selection process offers him the opportunity not merely to eradicate Friedreich's Ataxia from his family, but also to select the male, robust, sporty specimen he longs to produce. In the debate that follows the play, Y Touring delves deeper into this grey area, encouraging students to weigh the potential advantages of selection against its possible dangers and to consider how far we should go down the road of choosing the sort of child we want.

This is essentially an old-fashioned TIE-style programme aimed at 14 to 16-year-olds, and something of a model of the genre. Pitched at just the right level, the play conveys complex information and focuses the arguments with remarkable clarity, but also possesses the dramatic clout to make you care about the characters and so make the issue "live".

The style of the debate, moreover, has been carefully thought out, and it is conducted with enormous skill and sensitivity. The accompanying education pack reinforces the company's suggestion that genetics is set to become a key issue of the 21st century. The Gift offers a hugely valuable response to the urgent need to address it.

The Gift, by the Y Touring Theatre Company, is touring schools and some public venues until mid-November. Full details from Y Touring, 0171 272 5755.

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