Frankenstein's Daughters: from science fiction to science fact?

Saturday 31 October, 10.30am until 12.00pm, Lecture Theatre 1

Developments in pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and screening (PGD and PGS) allow couples to avoid having children with life-threatening conditions, but they also imply the possibility that some specific forms of disability will be ‘screened out’, raising the prospect of a generation of ‘designer babies’. Many religious groups rail against scientists ‘playing God’. While some disability campaigners fear that the use of PGD and PGS will devalue people born with disabilities, disabled people could potentially use ARTs to select a child that shares their physical impairment: in one high-profile case a deaf couple challenged the assumption that an embryo likely to be deaf should be rejected. Current UK law means ‘normal’ embryos must always be preferred, but is this appropriate given that the state does not prevent two deaf people from becoming parents together ordinarily?

Where does science fact meet science fiction and how can we distinguish between the two outside of the lab? How far should the decisions of HFEA committees regulate individuals’ decision-making and clinicians’ practice? Should the media take a more measured approach to reporting on science and reproduction - or do journalists have a duty to inform us of the worst possible outcomes as well as the most probable? Does pre-implantation genetic screening imply an attack on disabled people? Can biomedical breakthroughs shape what it is to be human?

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Mark Henderson
head of communications, Wellcome Trust; author, The Geek Manifesto: why science matters

Ken MacLeod
award-winning science fiction writer; author, Descent, The Restoration Game and Intrusion; writer-in-residence, MA Creative Writing, Edinburgh Napier University 2013-2014

Sandy Starr
communications officer, Progress Educational Trust; webmaster, BioNews

Dr Alan Thornhill
scientific director, The London Bridge Fertility, Gynaecology and Genetics Centre

Fiona Fox
director, Science Media Centre.

Produced by
Tony Gilland associate fellow, Academy of Ideas
Recommended readings
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