Choosing tomorrow's children

Saturday 30 October, 3.30pm until 5.00pm, Lecture Theatre 2

Advances in Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) have opened up a new world of possibilities for people wanting to have children. It enables individuals to screen their potential children for certain disabilities and to choose the sex of their child in advance. But with these new choices come ethical dilemmas. Is it right for couples to ‘play God’ when it comes to creating new life, or are such decisions better handled by regulators and ethics committees? Does the prospect of screening out certain disabilities imply a ‘new eugenics’, where only the ‘right kind’ of children are brought into the world? What is the balance between supporting parents’ choices, and resisting social pressure to produce the ‘optimal’ child?

The debates around ART, where potential children are deliberately and scientifically created, relate to broader discussions about the role of science in human enhancement. As our understanding of genetics improves, there is the possibility of doing much more than identifying particular hereditary disabilities. The search is on for genetic causes of certain cancers, obesity, and other diseases. The hope is that these developments give the potential to create healthier human beings. But how far can we, and should we, hope to control for the myriad health problems that might afflict individuals at some point during their natural lives? How do we distinguish between enhancing the ‘natural’ health of future children, and using genetics to identify and manipulate what we previously considered to be features that were affected by social and cultural conditions and norms: for example, intelligence or appearance?

Listen to session audio:


Stephen Wilkinson
professor of bioethics, Keele University; author, Choosing Tomorrow's Children: the ethics of selective reproduction

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

Dr Tom Douglas
Wellcome Trust research fellow, Balliol College and Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford

Dr Ellie Lee
reader in social policy, University of Kent, Canterbury; director, Centre for Parenting Culture Studies

Produced by
Jennie Bristow senior lecturer in sociology, Canterbury Christ Church University; author, The Sociology of Generations: New directions and challenges and Baby Boomers and Generational Conflict; co-author, Parenting Culture Studies
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