Prohibit Genetically Engineered Babies

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Imagine a world free of genetic diseases, where parents control their offspring’s height, eye color and intelligence.  The science may be closer than you think.  Genes interact in ways that we don’t fully understand and there could be unintended consequences, new diseases that result from our tinkering.  But even if the science could be perfected, is it morally wrong?  Would it lead to eugenics and a stratified society where only the rich enjoy the benefits of genetic enhancement?  Or would the real injustice be depriving our children of every scientifically possible opportunity?

  • Sheldon-Krimsky90x90


    Sheldon Krimsky

    Professor, Tufts University and Chair, Council for Responsible Genetics

  • Robert-Winston90x90


    Lord Robert Winston

    Professor of Science and Society and Emeritus Professor, Fertility Studies, Imperial College

  • Nita-Farahany90x90


    Nita Farahany

    Professor of Law and Philosophy and Professor of Genome Sciences & Policy, Duke University

  • Lee-Silver90x90


    Lee SIlver

    Professor, Princeton University and Author

    • Moderator Image


      John Donvan

      Author & Correspondent for ABC News

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For The Motion

Sheldon Krimsky

Professor, Tufts University and Chair, Council for Responsible Genetics

Sheldon Krimsky is the Lenore Stern Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences in the Department of  Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning in the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University. He is also an Adjunct Professor in Public Health and Family Medicine in the School of Medicine at Tufts University and a Visiting Professor at Brooklyn College. Krimsky's research has focused on the linkages between science/technology, ethics/values and public policy. 

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For The Motion

Lord Robert Winston

Professor of Science and Society and Emeritus Professor, Fertility Studies, Imperial College

Robert Winston, Professor of Science and Society and Emeritus Professor of Fertility Studies at Imperial College London, runs a research program in the Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology on transgenic technology in animal models, with a long-term aim of improving human transplantation. His research led to the development of gynecological microsurgery in the 1970s and various improvements in reproductive medicine, subsequently adopted internationally, particularly in the field of endocrinology and IVF.  

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Against The Motion

Nita Farahany

Professor of Law and Philosophy and Professor of Genome Sciences & Policy, Duke University

Nita A. Farahany is a leading scholar on the ethical, legal, and social implications of biosciences and emerging technologies, particularly those related to neuroscience and behavioral genetics. She holds a joint appointment as Professor of Law at Duke Law and Professor at Duke University’s Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy. In 2010, she was appointed by President Obama to the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, and continues to serve as a member.

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Against The Motion

Lee Silver

Professor, Princeton University and Author

Lee M. Silver is Professor of Molecular Biology and Public Policy at Princeton University. He is also a founder and principal science advisor of GenePeeks, a personal genome company that helps people interpret their genetic information to reduce the risk of heritable disease in the next generation. Professor Silver holds a doctorate in biophysics from Harvard University.  He is an elected lifetime Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a recipient of a National Institutes of Health MERIT award for outstanding research in genetics. 

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Declared Winner: Against The Motion

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Voting Breakdown:

Tracking the voting patterns of audience members who voted in both the pre- and post-debate votes, the breakdown is as follows: 42% voted the same way in BOTH pre- and post-debate votes (18% voted FOR twice, 20% voted AGAINST twice, 4% voted UNDECIDED twice). 58% changed their minds (4.5% voted FOR then changed to AGAINST, 4% voted FOR then changed to UNDECIDED, 4.5% voted AGAINST then changed to FOR, 3% voted AGAINST then changed to UNDECIDED, 19% voted UNDECIDED then changed to FOR, 23% voted UNDECIDED then changed to AGAINST) | Breakdown Graphic

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    • Comment Link Abelard Lindsey Sunday, 24 February 2013 20:40 posted by Abelard Lindsey

      If this technology is banned, what's to prevent people from traveling internationally to avail themselves of this technology? It seems to me that prohibitions are impossible to enforce.

      As far as regulation goes, who's to say that the regulators are any better than business entrepreneurs who seek to commercialize it. If anything, I trust business FAR more than government. Why? Because at least business people have competition. Government does not. Any and all human organizations subject to competitive pressure are always superior to any kind of monopoly.

      The difference between business and government is that one is based on competition, the other is a form of monopoly. Competition is ALWAYS superior to monopoly.

      Biotech equipment and instrumentation is becoming cheaper and more capable all the time. Who's to say that this kind of technology might not end up as a garage technology rather than Fortune 500 technology.

      Decentralization is ALWAYS superior to centralized, top-down control.

    • Comment Link karen wainwright Sunday, 24 February 2013 15:30 posted by karen wainwright

      I am listening to the debate via WHYY online, for which I am most grateful.

      I train and work with dogs, with a focus on rescued and relinquished companion pets. As such, I have seen the sort of damage we humans can unwittingly or purposely inflict on the physical and mental health of the animals we are responsible for.

      I currently help at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center. The dogs are screened before they enter the program, as we need animals that will succeed in what will be an incredible and rewarding life of service.

      These dogs are from respected and dedicated breeders and so I have taken a bigger interest in pure bred and pedigree lines. I probably should edit or remove the above...but I'm not genetically able!

      Anyway, the thing I really wanted to ask the debate teams, is if any ofthem had seen the documentary "Pedigree Dogs Exposed"? It is a heartwrenching and serious film that illuminates just what sort of awful results can happen as a result of our relentless persuit of "perfect" dogs.

      The champion German Shepherd that can barely use his back legs, the Cavalier King Charles screaming and writhing in pain and so on. All a result of inbreeding, self-serving dog clubs that are in bed with the competitions and our continual tinkering with the cards our animals were dealt.

      I am not sure what I think now that I have heard the debate. At first I was for the motion, on a purely gut level. I think that the only reason I would be against the motion is that I don't think that I have the right to dictate to others about their procreation choices.

      It's a very complex and emotional subject. I will be mulling this over and talking to friends about this. So thank you for your show, which is a pleasure to hear.


      Karen Wainwright
      Animal Behavior Certified Dog Trainer.

      P.S. This has been written on my phone and so forgive any gaffes or typos!

    • Comment Link sg Sunday, 24 February 2013 15:16 posted by sg

      I am all for using science and technology to improve human lives. We have been doing that successfully for centuries, and I doubt anyone would say that eradication of horrifying diseases like smallpox should have been debatable. The problem with continuing down the road of modifying genetics to create enhanced babies, is that it won't stop with fixing defects; but will very quickly be used to create super-humans. We won't know until we are on the other side of it and may be for centuries thereafter, if the decision was right or not. If we are wrong in going down this path, the risk is way too high. But we are already at a point, where there is no going back. So might as well, try to do it with government approval, in a constrained manner, and focus on fixing problems rather than creating super-humans.

    • Comment Link MC Blanc Monday, 18 February 2013 17:36 posted by MC Blanc

      Our DNA is our very own personal copy of the encoded Language of Life spoken to each of us by the Author of Life.

      Tho' we may have problems... (often over petty matters of taste, while others may involve issues of a more serious nature)... with what's written in our personal "book of life"...

      Never the less...
      The fact that we are alive at all means that we possess a working copy of what must be counted among the most amazingly comprehensive & profoundly complex Set of Instructions EVER COMPOSED.

      For US To Allow Genetic Engineers To...
      1. Plagiarize These Masterful Codes
      2. Molest Them (in the name of "improving" them)
      3. Patent These Plagiarisms—As IF Directly Molesting Genetic Codes Should Confer Rights of Authorship To The Molesters


      Do I think that there'll be "hell" for us all to pay if we go (further) down this path?
      You bet I do.
      And--Thank goodness--I'm NOT the only one.

    • Comment Link Anslie Abraham Saturday, 16 February 2013 12:07 posted by Anslie Abraham

      If Joseph and Mary were to decide to genetically engineer the baby Jesus, Jesus would not have been born Jesus the way we know him. God’s will and plan for the world could not have been carried out and God would have been a failure.
      Gandhi would not have been Gandhi, nor would Dr. Martin Luther King Junior would have been what he was.
      The future of the world now seems very unstable unless we recognize our limitations and think twice before we try to scientifically change the natural world.

    • Comment Link Tom Thursday, 14 February 2013 16:42 posted by Tom

      I would have liked to see a 2nd vote only by those with an exposure to basic genetics and or evolution. I suspect the motion would have carried in that sample.

    • Comment Link Marcy Darnovsky Wednesday, 13 February 2013 20:08 posted by Marcy Darnovsky

      The speaker who claims that other countries have "done this already" is mistaken.

      "Genetically engineered babies" in the common sense of that term - ie enhanced "designer babies" - has been prohibited in some three dozen countries worldwide. This includes most European countries, Canada, Australia, etc.

      As for mitochondrial replacement, the UK has not approved it nor are they "doing it" - they are currently studying it and considering it.

    • Comment Link Jeanne Wednesday, 13 February 2013 19:37 posted by Jeanne

      Where is God in all of this?
      Never mind 'mother nature'...
      What about what Father God has to say in all of this!
      It will be too bad if we don't even consider this very important part of the debate!

    • Comment Link LaToya Wednesday, 13 February 2013 19:09 posted by LaToya

      Thank you PETE DOMINICK for talking about this debate and this site on your show this morning!!

    • Comment Link Agil Wednesday, 13 February 2013 07:32 posted by Agil

      i am with the motion!

    • Comment Link michel Tuesday, 12 February 2013 07:05 posted by michel


    • Comment Link Lily Saturday, 09 February 2013 21:12 posted by Lily

      Would Steve Hawking have been born if his parents could choose otherwise?

    • Comment Link P Saturday, 09 February 2013 20:14 posted by P

      The question is should we have "unfettered access" to this technology. I think the technology will benefit the world greatly, but it must be controlled (regulated).

      I have very little faith in business, in that, it will not regulate itself before society demands it. I believe businesses will always choose profit over the well being of the community it serves. Of course businesses will correct itself when society demands change, but until then, the people are just a means to an end (their bottom line).

    • Comment Link T Wednesday, 06 February 2013 10:58 posted by T

      The genie is already out of the bottle. There are enough diseases beginning with diabetes that genetic tinkering might fix that few would argue against it. The problem is that we can't look into a crystal ball and see all the unintended consequences. Extending and saving lives will contribute to overpopulation, increase demand for food and water in a world of limited resources. Not to worry though, nature has its way of controlling her balance. I discovered, as a child, that you can only put so many rats in a box before they eat each other and balance is restored.

    • Comment Link janille Tuesday, 05 February 2013 14:38 posted by janille

      I am reminded of the movie Jurassic Park and this (rough) quote: "We were so busy trying to see if we could do it we didn't stop to think if we should." Human nature being what it is, the concept of 'designer babies' for the rich, even genetic disease cures (still only for the rich) will be taken too far and we will suffer the consequences of it in the long term.

    • Comment Link greg Thursday, 31 January 2013 21:23 posted by greg

      Genetically modified to change nature..
      Sure, why not? after all we live in, "A Brave New World"

    • Comment Link Jake Tuesday, 29 January 2013 03:15 posted by Jake

      I think it is necessary to differentiate between using genetic engineering to cure a known genetic disease, and using genetic engineering simply to try and "improve" people. The reason for this is that while our knowledge of the the human genome and its workings has grown exponentially over the past decade or so, we are far from completely understanding how we work. the potential for causing children to be born with horrible genetic defects is great enough that there appears to be little justification for taking that risk simply to fulfill the whims of parents.
      In a society that has enacted strict laws regarding the care and ethical treatment of lab animals, laws based upon the idea that experimentation on animals must be limited to cases of great necessity for research, it seems strange that we would have no problem performing these sort of experiments on a human baby, simply to fulfill his or her parents desires.
      In the cases of serious monogenetic diseases, where the genetic mutation is known and easy to correct, I see no difference between genetic engineering and conventional medicine, each one having its own advantages and disadvantages.

    • Comment Link hilary Friday, 25 January 2013 08:49 posted by hilary

      How sad it would be if we all were the same looking and thinking? H.

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