Synopsis of Genes on Trial
In this program's hypothetical scenario, moderated by Charles Ogletree, university researchers unwittingly find themselves navigating a cultural minefield when they embark on a study of the genetic basis of addiction to alcohol. Stanley Crouch and Karen Rothenberg are asked to play members of a family with a history of alcoholism on both sides; their 21-year-old son, Joseph, has been seen nipping into the champagne on Christmas morning. Brother-in-law Dean Hamer, a geneticist, wants the family to participate in a study of a genetic susceptibility to alcohol addiction in Tracy Islanders, an immigrant group to which the family belongs. Somewhat reluctantly, the family participates. The study does reveal a genetic marker among Tracy Islanders; those who possess it have twice the risk of becoming addicted to alcohol, but constitute only five percent of the Tracy Island population. More questions arise when Joseph, drunk, kills a man by pushing him through a bar window. Johnnie Cochran, role-playing Joseph's lawyer, argues that the gene has robbed Joseph of his free will and thus he cannot be held responsible for his deed, but the judge is skeptical. Should the family have participated in the study? How might the fact that the study reveals a genetic marker for addiction to alcohol among Tracy Islanders affect the individual Islander, the family, and the community? How should genetic information affect the legal process?