The debate program I chose was Intelligence Squared and was on the Prohibition of Genetically Engineered Babies. The debate was mediated by John Donvan and took place in February 2013. The two views were for and against the prohibition of genetically modifying the human genome. To start off the debate two debaters on each side stated their case. For prohibiting were Sheldon Krimsky, a professor at Tuft’s University and chair of The Genetic Council For Responsible Genetics, and Robert Wintson, a professor of science and society as well as an emeritus professor of fertility studies at Imperial College, London. On the opposite end were Nita Farahany, a research professor at Duke’s institute for Genome Sciences and Policy and a member of the Presidential Commission for the study of bioethical issues, and Lee Silver, a professor of molecular biology at Princeton University and author of the book “Challenging Nature”.
In the argument against banning genetic modification of babies I chose Nita Farahany’s argument. She started her debate by stating that she only wanted to convince the listener of two things: that we already can and have safely genetically engineered babies and that a middle ground of prudent vigilance, public oversight and debate is better than outright prohibition. She said that prohibition calls for an outright and complete ban on genetic engineering of babies and is no more outlandish than embryotic screening and taking prenatal vitamins. This technology has the possibility to avoid mitochondrial dysfunctions that cause rare but serious disease such as heart failure, dementia, and even death in the one in five thousand cases that a child is born with this defect. Mitochondrial DNA is passed from mother to every child, even if inactive, and only genetic engineering can safeguard this. The two techniques that are used are pronuclear transfer and maternal spindle transfer and at least thirty children have already been born in the US using these techniques. She also drew attention to the fact that the UK has already given the green light on this and a ban in the US would make us an outlier in the race for scientific progress. In her closing statement she said a middle ground is better than an outright ban. The public can decide what limitations there should be. Prohibition would only drive desperate people into back alley type procedures or overseas to get this genetic engineering done. Reproductive tourism is already rampant and enforcing this ban would be difficult.
In the argument to persuade the audience for the prohibition of genetically engineering babies I chose Lord Robert Winston’s main arguments against this. He stated that experimentation without the consent of the individual being experimented upon is unethical and should be made illegal at the societal level. His view is that the U.S. is already the leading biotechnological country in the world and has a major responsibility to lead it in this ethical issue. This process is irreversible and not guaranteed successful and the effects on the long-term life on the genetically modified person are still unclear. When we look at genetically modified mice in the pharmaceutical industry seventy percent of those animals were born with unpredictable abnormalities. In the mice that were successful genetically modified and bred fifty percent of them failed the phenotype test to complete a successful birth of their own. In addition to these flaws, successfully modified genes may not always function properly. Gene expression in a modified animals stops after a while during development and could show the same reaction in genetically modified humans. Also in the case of very rare mitochondrial diseases the risks heavily outweigh the chance of ridding the disorder. In conclusion there are safer, more effective, and less costly ways to prevent our children from being born with abnormalities such as...
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