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 Lena Jones Friday, 11 March 2016 04:29 posted by Lena Jones

      Are you saying that you would prefer your child to be born with Down syndrome or Tay-Sachs disease when such a thing would be entirely curable and preventable? Genetic Engineering isn't just about the pursuit of perfection but ameloriating the suffering of people with terrible genetic diseases.

    • Comment Link julia incam Tuesday, 06 October 2015 13:55 posted by julia incam

      i think genetic engineer for babes is not right. i don't think it is fair that the parents are "making a baby" in a laboratory. the world would be made of robots because if u can decide how smart ur child is then u r deciding what there grades they wll get and so on.

    • Comment Link J Carlos Deegan Tuesday, 23 June 2015 01:48 posted by J Carlos Deegan

      Aside from religious objections, the notion of racial improvement is baggage carried over from the eugenics movement of the first half of the last century that supported sterilizing mental defectives and other measures to eliminate undesirable heritable diseases. Reasoned debate over eugenics came to a stop after Hitler's policies in WWII. Breeding out defects is an effective way to improve a breed of livestock. Certainly we are not livestock and books like "Brave New World," and "1984" have burned an aversion to meddling in the genome. However, Tay-Sachs disease, diabetes, and scores of other genetic diseases continue or increase in our gene pool. It may be time to resume the conversation on this topic.

    • Comment Link HissyFit Tuesday, 04 November 2014 13:42 posted by HissyFit

      at my school, we once had a staff who had diabetes. upon the topic of genetic engineering, she said, ' I would have liked for my parents to engineer for me to not have diabetes at birth'. after hearing that, I am all for genetic engineering WHEN IT IS NESSESARY FOR HEALTH. engineering your child to be prettier or stronger is just stupid.

    • Comment Link Julian Sanchez Thursday, 14 November 2013 12:27 posted by Julian Sanchez

      We have seen a some point a student, a classmate that breezes through things. Eats knowledge like a sweet tooth kid with candy, twins, where one has some sort of rocket attached to his or her back.

      Will the technology be abused, yes, but the technology itself isn't evil. We must lead, least we drive ethical guidelines under the table and into places monster will have free rein over.

      In the end however, a future where a large percentage of the population have be prodigies in their own right is too much of an opportunity to pass up.

    • Comment Link JT Saturday, 06 July 2013 14:13 posted by JT

      I'm for using this technology for helping children with diseases (I do think we need to research it more though), but I'm just really afraid of people creating some sort of 'designer' baby. Where really trivial things are enhanced like looks, talents, etc., and those who don't have these enhancements will wallow at the bottom of the society. Not to mention my fear of terrible side effects such as violence or more genetic diseases.

    • Comment Link Laura Friday, 28 June 2013 01:00 posted by Laura

      Just the type of insight we need to fire up the debate.

    • Comment Link M Wednesday, 24 April 2013 03:19 posted by M

      Of course both sides are "right" in this... But I don't see anyone addressing a much wider problem: the actual mentality of people who would go to incredibly great lengths to have their OWN healthy child, spend thousands and thousands of dollars, because they cannot bear the thought of not having their own genes transferred, in a world where people and children are OVERLY ABUNDANT it is a frighteningly selfish reaction in a wider view of our position as humans on this planet. I think we are getting ahead of ourselves, tending to our vanity at the expense of much bigger issues at hand...

    • Comment Link Gha Wednesday, 27 March 2013 10:51 posted by Gha

      Hello all,Very interesting discissuon! The points about religious viewpoints about the body and death were particularly interesting. To make a quick clarification, mainly because I find the difference between culture and ethnicity confusing: culture = shared attitudes; ethnicity = common heritage, which most likely includes ancestry but could be language and religion, too.What I found fascinating in the article was the more native consequences of genetic research the stakes are high when the research indicates interbreeding. It is not the case that the researchers are racist in intent; the issue is more so that scientific discovery cannot be separated from cultural consequences. For example, if skull measurements were made to indicate intelligence, would women be deemed less intelligent than men for slightly smaller skull sizes? Large-scale skull measurements occurred in 19th century England and America, forming the scientific basis for justifying reduced rights, etc. [Stephen Jay Gould's _The Mismeasure of Man_'s chapter called "Women's Brains" covers this topic, which can be found at ] It has since been proven that the measurements were inaccurate, so this example varies slightly from genetic testing (although perhaps in the future, genetics will also be viewed as being one piece of a puzzle and not completely definitive). So science is affected by human values; the particular challenge with the Native American piece is that it is genetic. Rather than the scientists unconsciously proving a cultural value, e.g. women are inferior, these scientists unintentionally discovered a historical detail with serious social consequences. The tribe in question only involves 40 or so people of one gender or another, so there is no way to protect their individual rights. As all of you note, this is a really tricky research consequence!

    • Comment Link Myriam Wednesday, 06 March 2013 01:21 posted by Myriam

      Astonishing & sad how this audience could be swayed against the motion to prohibit genetically engineered babies by such narrow, low level, emotional arguments. There is so much involved, not least of which is the extreme disparity along class lines in the quality of health care babies receive.

    • 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!

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