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Should We Prohibit Genetically Engineered Babies?

Nita Farahany and Lee Silver argue against the motion "Prohibit Genetically Engineered Babies" during an <em>Intelligence Squared U.S.</em> debate.
Samuel LaHoz
Nita Farahany and Lee Silver argue against the motion "Prohibit Genetically Engineered Babies" during an Intelligence Squared U.S. debate.

What if, before your children were born, you could make sure they had the genes to be taller or smarter? Would that tempt you, or would you find it unnerving?

What if that genetic engineering would save a child from a rare disease?

As advancements in science bring these ideas closer to reality, a group of experts faced off two against two in an Intelligence Squared U.S. debate on the proposition: "Prohibit Genetically Engineered Babies."

Before the debate, 24 percent of the audience supported the idea of prohibiting genetic engineering of babies, while 30 percent were against. Forty-six percent were undecided. After each side presented its case, 41 percent of the audience voted for the motion, "Prohibit Genetically Engineered Babies," while 49 percent sided with the experts arguing against it — making them the winners of the debate.

Those debating were:

Robert Winston argues in favor of banning genetic engineering of babies.
/ Samuel LaHoz
Samuel LaHoz
Robert Winston argues in favor of banning genetic engineering of babies.


Sheldon Krimsky is the Lenore Stern professor of humanities and social sciences in the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts University. He is also an adjunct professor in public health and family medicine in Tufts' School of Medicine and a visiting professor at Brooklyn College. Krimsky's research has focused on the links between science and technology, ethics and values, and public policy. He is the author of more than 180 papers and 11 books, including Genetic Justice: DNA Data Banks, Criminal Investigations, and Civil Liberties (2010), and the co-editor of Genetic Explanations: Sense and Nonsense (2013). Krimsky has been elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for "seminal scholarship exploring the normative dimensions and moral implications of science in its social context."

Robert Winston, a 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, particularly in the field of endocrinology and IVF. His work on preimplantation genetic diagnosis enabled families carrying gene defects to have children free of fatal illnesses. He has been a visiting professor at a number of American, Australian and European universities, and was president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 2005. He is a fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences.


Nita A. Farahany studies 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. She also is the editor of The Impact of Behavioral Sciences on Criminal Law (2011), a book of essays from experts in science, law, philosophy and policy. In 2011, Farahany served as a visiting associate professor of law and the Leah Kaplan visiting professor of human rights at Stanford Law School. She teaches courses related to criminal law and criminal procedure, along with courses at the intersection of law, science and philosophy.

Lee M. Silver is professor of molecular biology and public policy at Princeton University. He is also a founder and principal science adviser of GenePeeks, a personal genome company. Silver 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. Silver has authored an undergraduate textbook in genetics and genomics, a postgraduate textbook in mammalian genetics, and two books for a general audience, Challenging Nature and Remaking Eden. He has also authored more than 200 scientific articles, written opinion pieces for The New York Times and other publications, and has appeared on numerous television and radio programs, including on NPR. Silver collaborated with the playwright Jeremy Kareken on the play Sweet, Sweet Motherhood.

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