TREND Magazine: Navagation Bar


The Case of George W.

Illustration by BrumfieldWhen George W. sold his genetic code to the biotech firm, Geneuticals, everything seemed fairly straight-forward.

He remembered when one of their representatives called to confirm whether he had received the paperwork. W. figured it was just good service.

"Yes, as a matter of fact, I’m filling it out right now.  But since I have you on the line, may I ask you a few questions?"

"Of course." replied the man on the other end. He sounded professional and courteous enough -- even personable, as if he really cared about doing business with W. , "how can I help you today?"

He figured he asked all the right questions:

On page three. Could he elaborate on: "…do hereby bequeath any and all PIC to the said partner, Geneuticals, Inc."?

"Personal Information Coding… basically, we’re talking DNA."

"Oh… OK."

On page seven. How extensive was the "non-disclosure" clause? Could he not even mention it to his wife?

A firm "No", but with apologies.

On page twelve then. Why so many disclaimers: "…waive my rights to redress, as well as by those of related parties…?"

"You understand of course, Mr. W., with lawsuits getting so out of control these days, that we simply need to protect ourselves."

Finally, on page fifteen. Could he explain the phrase, "…in the event of physiomorbidity" and "…potential dissolution of the corporation…?"

Standard terminology for any generic medical procedure.

W. remembered hanging up the phone -- satisfied with the answers -- then sifting through the many articles he’d pulled off the internet which profiled various companies in the field, and compared the sums he could expect to be compensated for the rights to his genetic information. He kept them all in one of those old, manila files – a clue as to his Achilles heel, of how outdated he really was, deep down. But he was too involved, even at that point, to stop and ponder such things.

He culled through another set of articles which tracked the business history of genetic coding, going all the way back to 1999 when Iceland first sold its genetic code, followed by Denmark, Lithuania, Romania, Ethiopia, Honduras, Nicaragua and a string of other countries – many which used the proceeds to pay off crippling debts to the U.S. or the I.M.F.  There was the expected, though sometimes fierce, competition for these properties among biotech multinationals, followed by a string of mergers – and finally, the advent of purchasing the coding of individuals.

Surely, W. reasoned, despite his stupid, intuitive qualms that just wouldn’t rest, this file proved indisputably that he had done his homework.  He’d even consulted Consumer Reports, which gave them a ‘Favorable’ ranking.  He was a good boy. He played by the rules. He had no reason to think otherwise.

W. signed on the dotted line.

Illustration by Brent BrumfieldIt seemed to him like signing for the mortgage on the house – just sign, sign, sign…without reading each and every word.  Or, each time he’d bought a used car, he realized he could practically plan on getting taken, to somedegree, by the salesman.  In a strange way, it had become a predictable ritual that was even mildly comforting in its obvious cat and mouse game.  Even in the most business-like of contracts, he realized, there was always a certain amount of blind faith involved.  His grandfather had had a bit too much of the latter, however, and W. chuckled at how the sweepstakes people took him for a ride and he ended up sending away thousands of dollars in exchange for a virtual treasure-chest of zirconian diamonds.   But W’s situation was totally different – everything was there in writing; it was black and white.  And last, but foremost: there were monthly debts to pay, and hungry mouths to feed.  So, in a sense, before he even saw the dotted line, it was a done deal.

How quietly did W. lick the envelope and seal his fate that cold January afternoon. He delicately raised the tiny red flag on the mailbox and deposited the envelope, as if he, himself, were that envelope, saying, "Here I am. Come and get me."

A few weeks passed, and just when he’d convinced himself that he’d botched the application papers, there was a knock at the door. There were two men at the door, "…from Biogeneuticals." announced the tall one -- though he couldn’t help but think that they looked more like delivery men.  W. started to invite them in, but the short one already seemed to have his foot upon the threshold, and so W. simply opened the door the remainder of the way. When he closed the door behind them, he noticed another man, with sunglasses, sitting in an unmarked van outside. He only saw the one vehicle, but was sure these two gentlemen must’ve come in a company vehicle which was parked out of sight.

"Is that one of your men, too?" W. asked.   The men chuckled slightly, and W. laughed reflexively, then somewhat nervously. "He’s just waiting on a phone call. Don’t worry about him." said the tall guy.

"Worry?"

"-- you seem a little nervous." the short guy replied.

"No, no..." W. lied, "just surprised. I didn’t know you did, you know…house calls."

"You didn’t get the letter?" as they looked at one another with an air of feigned surprise.

"What letter?"

"The one about our coming here today to do a preliminary screening… that is, to take a sampling – just a routine blood draw, actually – so that we can start up a database of your PIC… "

"No… I’m afraid I never got it, but we can set up a—"

"…it’s necessary, of course, to get you your advance. We could cut you a check today if you’d like, or, I suppose, if you’re absolutely busy, we could reschedule…"

"No, no…that’s fine -- I guess…."

"—good…good."

W. suddenly felt the need to sit down.  They all went over to the couch in the living room.  The short guy opened up his briefcase, which W. thought to be an odd choice for carrying the necessary apparatus for drawing blood. Nonetheless, he didn’t want to be rude.  Instead, he offered them something to drink, but they didn’t want anything.

It all happened without the slightest struggle.   Not with a bang at all. Sure, he felt the pinch of the needle, but by the time he started to lose consciousness, it was too late.  This would not be the type of high drama he had imagined on the few times when he even chanced to think about his final moments.  It was not the type of company he expected – no loving family with scores of great-grandchildren perched in sad, anxious vigil around the gray-haired patriarch’s bedside.  No, just two… blurry but otherwise complete strangers talking about the weather, sports, or where they’d go to get a drink after they were through with W.  Was he even conscious of what was happening?  Probably not – just dimly aware of a few somewhat troubling chuckles and generally unsettling events as they transpired… and he expired.

Since it was during the middle of a weekday, W’s wife was away at work.  Of course, they knew this.

But someone – one of W’s neighbors -- should’ve seen the two men lifting the large cardboard "Maytag" box into the back of a delivery van.

Someone should’ve seen them stack it beside a dozen or so other boxes just like it.

Someone should’ve told George W. that, in this day and age, information is everything… that it is voraciously all-consuming… that there is scarce little difference sometimes between the information about someone, and that someone himself.

 

-- George R. Wolfe

 

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