On the Eighth Day: Making Perfect Babies (dir:Gwynne Basen, 1992)

Country of Origin:
Running Time: 102 min

Written by Erna Buffie

Subject headings: reproductive rights, in vitro fertilization, documentary, eugenics, biotechnology

Gwynne Basen’s documentary On the Eighth Day offers a look into the world of artificial insemination through a close examination of the methods of in vitro fertilization (IFV) as well as the social and ethical consequences further development of these methods would have. The film opens with a case study of a woman who chose to have children knowing that her genetic disorder would most likely be passed on to her offspring. With this personal perspective, the film immediately dives into the question of whether it is morally right to control which children are born by pre-selecting which fetuses are fertilized. The film gives the history of the development of the study of genetics and how IVF was developed. Consequences of new technological advances in the field of genetics are explored through the voices of several researchers as well as non-medical personnel such as patients suffering from genetic disabilities and women who have used IVF. Although much of the film is dedicated to informing the public about these biotechnological advances, the viewpoints used of the researchers clearly shows the film’s intent to show the negative consequences of these techniques that may occur in the future. Reproductive services available at the time this film was made already were significant outside of providing alternative means of contraception. The availability of pre-implantation diagnostics raises ethical questions about whether it is right to choose only certain kinds of fetuses to carry to term or to abort fetuses with genetic disorders.
Throughout the film, Basen attempts to fairly present the debate over the moral line between researching genetics for the pursuit of knowledge and researching it in search of methods to genetically engineer a more perfect baby, as the name of the film implies. The most moving arguments were those discussing the most extreme case to date of an attempt to use genetics to perfect the human race: the Nazis. Basen makes this point emotionally as well as intellectually. Not only do the researchers draw strong parallels between recently developed reproductive technologies and the possibility of these methods being used for a racially determined genocide, but also makes the argument emotionally powerful by inter-cutting the researchers on screen testimonies with images illustrating the destructive toll of the Holocaust. Here Basen demonstrates her ability to incorporate several mediums of representation and perspectives from unique sources of information. Her pursuit of covering every angle of the discussion over biotechnology is clear in the film and enhances its appeal as an educational and academic tool. Her film manages to go in-depth into the topic while still offering explanations for the basics of genetics for viewers who do not have backgrounds in science.
Through the emotional exploration of the implications of genetic research and biotechnology, Basen presents the facts of the science as well as an argument for why it is important for women to know the facts she presents. Her emphasis on the very real possibilities that can come from these technological advances, both positive and negative, and their future effects on women make watching this film a truly eye-opening experience.

Further Information:
Women Make Movies listing — http://www.wmm.com/filmcatalog/pages/c145.shtml
American Society for Bioethics and Humanities — http://www.asbh.org/
National Center for Biotechnology Information — http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/
Gomez, Adriana, Meacham, Deborah. “Bioethics and Biotechnology: Marking the Boundaries in a Brave New World.” Women’s Health Journal n.2 (1997).