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Iceland's Genetic Imprint - Thoughts after viewing Parents by Ragmar Bragason
by Shelly Schoeneshoefer

The hidden message behind these films (Parents and Children) could be the name Decode, a company that has transformed Iceland into a genealogical industry overnight. I wonder if Bragason is trying to make a social-political statement about his culture and a big controversy on the island since the beginning of time. The topic of children and parents with all their dysfunctional complications seems to suggest that medical records are as private in Iceland as in other countries.

One of the biggest debates in Iceland has to do with a company called Decode. The owner Kari Stefanasson was born in Iceland, but has lived the last two decades in the U.S.. He maps out the genetic heritage of this small island. Iceland is unique in that it has a small population with very little immigration, making it, therefore, a perfect genetic experiment. Decode has developed a database through which individuals of this community can trace their lineage for hundreds of years. The information is on the website Individuals as well as censuses, church books, and the national registry, etc, are sources of information.

Since genealogy is a national sport, this information was not so difficult to acquire. More surprising is that the project has government backing and the information is available worldwide. It certainly would be helpful to know whether certain genes are responsible for breast cancer or heart disease but would that help a world full of so many different ethnic groups with different genetic histories? It would be disturbing as an Icelander to discover that you and your boyfriend are related as well as Bjork from the Sugar Cubes with the whole world aware of the relationships. Even on the scientific level there are questions about this company which has been growing steadily and is currently facing scientific scrutiny.

In both Bragason’s films there is a missing father. This unknown makes the children feel indecisive and shameful in society. Will this all-encompassing genetic information prevent all single mothers from hiding the identity of their child’s father, even if the father is a crazy lunatic and murderer? The Icelandic government passed a law which would include genetic lineage information about all children, even if the parents opt out. This indicates that medical records are open to the public without scientific proof of direct links between genes and illnesses. But since the Icelandic government stands behind this company, it looks like the common person has no say. The information will be sold to the highest bidder and Decode will be gaining from the profits!