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On the eve of Valentine’s Day, Intelligence Squared U.S. (IQ2US) presented an Oxford-style debate titled “Prohibit Genetically Engineered Babies.” The debate was centered around the issue of whether or not genetically engineering babies would be an ingenious accomplishment, or completely out of line, and out of sync with Mother Nature. If you think that engineering your own ideal and perfect child sounds crazy, you’ll be happy to hear that many who voted in this debate agree with you. However, by the end of the discussion, which asked if genetically modifying babies should be banned in the USA, opinions were mixed.
Although the majority of people (49%) were against genetically modified children, a full 41% of people who voted thought genetically engineered babies were a good idea. 10% of voters were undecided. According to the debate panel, a world where parents control their offspring’s health traits as well as height, eye color and intelligence is not as far off as one might think. The science required to achieve this is well within reach, and soon, parents may be called on to make a choice: genetically modify their children or let nature take its course. Let us know what you think in the poll below, then keep reading to learn more about this debate.
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Sheldon Krimsky, a philosopher at Tufts University, who argued in favor of a ban on genetically engineered babies, notes, “Humans have already genetically modified animals and crops, but in the hundreds of thousands of trails that failed, we simply discarded the results of the unwanted crop or animal.” Krimsky and fellow ban proponent Lord Robert Winston, talked about the many uncertainties that may be associated with the genetic underpinnings of traits and the problems that come along with manipulating genes. On the flip side of the debate were Lee Silver, a professor of molecular biology and public policy at Princeton University and Nita Farahany, a professor of law and of genome sciences and policy at Duke University both discussed parent empowerment, meaning the ability of parents to use gene modification in order to give their children a healthy life. These two also noted that uncertainty should not prevent the use of new technology, especially when reproduction, even when unaided by technology, does involve uncertainty as well. Although, neither Farahany nor Silver were arguing in favor of parents modifying babies to achieve non-health related traits, such as green eyes or higher intelligence, one has to wonder once we start modifying babies for health reasons, where will those modifications end? Will we have a surplus of baby boys on hand? Or only blue-eyed, blond-haired kids running around? Will people cast-off babies who don’t turn out as expected or “ordered?” Will all babies eventually get their start in an impersonal lab? These are all critical issues of importance.
If you’re interested, Live Science offers a more complete rundown of this debate, or you can visit the actual debate website page to watch the discussion on video and read more of the science behind both sides of this proposal.