I have high hopes for this debate on gene edited babies. Intelligence Squared US convenes good debates. (I watched their ‘de-extinction’ debate back in 2019, which coincidentally, featured George Church, one of the debaters in this event.) Not ‘good’ in that I necessarily agree or am interested in the topics but good as in thoughtful. Here’s more from the organization’s mission on their What is IQ2US? webpage,
A nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, Intelligence Squared U.S. addresses a fundamental problem in America: the extreme polarization of our nation and our politics.
Our mission is to restore critical thinking, facts, reason, and civility to American public discourse.
More about the upcoming debate can be found on the Use Gene Editing to Make Better Babies event page,
Use Gene Editing to Make Better Babies
Hosted By John Donvan
Thursday, February 17, 2022
05:00 PM − 06:30 PM EST
A genetic disease runs in your family. Your doctor tells you that, should you wish to have a child, that child is likely to also carry the disease. But a new gene-editing technology could change your fate. It could ensure that your baby is — and remains — healthy. Even more, it could potentially make sure your grandchildren are also free of the disease. What do you do? Now, imagine it’s not a rare genetic disorder, but general illness, or eye color, or cognitive ability, or athleticism. Do you opt into this new world of genetically edited humans? And what if it’s not just you. What your friends, neighbors, and colleagues are also embracing this genetic revolution? Right now, science doesn’t give you that choice. But huge advancements in CRISPR [clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats] technology are making human gene editing a reality. In fact, in 2018, a Chinese scientist announced the first genetically modified babies; twin girls made to resist HIV, smallpox, and malaria. The promise of this technology is clear. But gene editing is not without its perils. Its critics say the technology is destined to exacerbate inequality, pressure all parents (and nations) into editing their children to stay competitive, and meddling with the most basic aspect of our humanity. In this context, we ask the question: Should we use gene editing to make better babies?
The use of gene editing allows for couples to have children when they might otherwise have that option unavailable for them. It also allows for less to be left to chance during the pregnancy.
Gene editing will allow for babies to be born with reduced or eliminated chances of inheriting and passing on genes linked to diseases. We have a moral imperative to use technology that will improve the quality of life.
It is only a matter of time before gene editing becomes a widespread technology, potentially used by competitors and rivals on the international stage. If we have the technology, we should use it to our advantage to remain competitive.
The use of gene editing to create “better” outcomes in children will inherently create social stratification based on any gene editing, likely reflecting existing socioeconomic status. Additionally, the term ‘better’ is arbitrary and potentially short-sighted and dangerous.
Currently, there exist reasonable alternatives to gene editing for every condition for which gene editing can be used.
The technology is still developing, and the long-term effects of any gene-editing could be potentially dangerous with consequences echoing throughout the gene environment.
A February 8, 2022 Intelligence Squared U.S. news release about the upcoming debate (received via email) provides details about the debaters,
FOR THE MOTION – BIOS
* George Church, Geneticist & Founder, Personal Genome Project
George Church is one of the nation’s leading geneticists and scholars. He is a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and MIT. In 1984, he developed the first direct genomic sequencing method, which resulted in the first genome sequence. He also helped initiate the Human Genome Project in 1984 and the Personal Genome Project in 2005. Church also serves as the director of the National Institutes of Health Center of Excellence in Genomic Science.
* Amy Webb, Futurist & Author, “The Genesis Machine”
Amy Webb is an award-winning author and futurist. She is the founder and CEO of the Future Today Institute and was named one of five women changing the world by Forbes. Her new book, “The Genesis Machine,” explores the future of synthetic biology, including human gene editing. Webb is a professor of strategic foresight at New York University’s Stern School of Business and has been elected a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
AGAINST THE MOTION – BIOS
* Marcy Darnovsky, Policy Advocate & Executive Director, Center for Genetics and Society
Marcy Darnovsky is a policy advocate and one of the most prominent voices on the politics of human biotechnology. As executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society, Darnovsky is focused on the social justice and public interest implications of gene editing. This work is informed by her background as an organizer and advocate in a range of environmental and progressive political movements.
* Françoise Baylis, Philosopher & Author, “Altered Inheritance”
Françoise Baylis is a philosopher whose innovative work in bioethics, at the intersection of policy and practice, has stretched the very boundaries of the field. She is the author of “Altered Inheritance: CRISPR and the Ethics of Human Genome Editing,” which explores the scientific, ethical, and political implications of human genome editing. Baylis is a research professor at Dalhousie University and a fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences. In 2017, she was awarded the Canadian Bioethics Society Lifetime Achievement Award.
Getting back to the Use Gene Editing to Make Better Babies event page, there are a few options,
Have a question? Ask us
There’s also an option to Vote For or Against the Motion but you’ll have to go to the Use Gene Editing to Make Better Babies event page.
Two of the debaters have been mentioned on this blog before, George Church and Françoise Baylis. There are several references to Church including this mention with regard to Dr. He Jiankui and his CRISPR twins (July 28, 2020 posting). Françoise Baylis features in four 2019 postings with the most recent being this October 17, 2019 piece.
For anyone curious about the ‘de-extinction’ debate, it was described here in a January 18, 2019 posting prior to the event.