Rob Sparrow: talks on eugenics TODAY in Edmonton

Just a quick reminder:

Professor Rob Sparrow will be giving two talks in Edmonton at the University of Alberta on Monday April 8 and Tuesday April 9, 2013. Both talks are open to the public and free! Talks are being held on campus in ETLC (Engineering Teaching & Learning Complex) located just off 116 Street between 92 Avenue and 91 Avenue. Public Parking can be found in Windsor Car Park. On Monday April 8th from 3:30 Pm – 5:00 pm ETLC room E1-003 (wheelchair accessible) Professor Sparrow’s lecture is called “In Vitro Eugenics” and on Tuesday April 9th from 3:30 pm – 5:00 pm his lecture is titled “The paradoxical ethics of PGD”. The abstracts for these talks are as follows:

Monday April 8, 2013 from 3:30 pm – 5:00 pm ETLC Room E1-003 (Wheelchair Accessible)

In vitro eugenics

A series of recent scientific results suggest that, in the not-too-distant future, it will be possible to create viable human gametes from human stem cells. Should this turn out to be the case, it will dramatically expand the number and type of individuals—and combinations of individuals—for whom reproduction will be possible and will consequently require a concerted effort to extend and revise current accounts of the ethics of reproduction. Some of this intellectual work has already begun, with philosophers and bioethicists discussing the ethics of posthumous and same-sex genetic parenthood with renewed enthusiasm. However, the development of a technology of in vitro gametogenesis would also make possible other technological interventions into human reproduction, which as yet have barely been discussed at all. In particular, it might allow what I will call “in vitro eugenics”: the deliberate breeding of human beings in vitro by fusing sperm and egg derived from stem cells to create an embryo and then deriving new gametes from stem cells derived from that embryo, which in turn might be used to create another embryo. Repeated iterations of this process would allow scientists to proceed through multiple human generations “in the lab”. In vitro eugenics might be used to study the hereditary of genetic disorders and to produce cell lines of a desired character for medical applications. More controversially, it might also function as a powerful technology of “human enhancement” by allowing researchers to use all the techniques of selective breeding to produce humans with a desired genotype. This paper aims to draw attention to this dramatic and—to some, at least—potentially disturbing new technological possibility.

Tuesday April 9, 2013 at 3:30 pm – 5:00 pm in ETLC – Room E1-017 (Wheelchair Accessible)

The paradoxical ethics of PGD

Preimplantation genetic diagnosis allows parents to choose between embryos they have created via IVF on the basis of information about their genetics. It is currently widely used to prevent the birth of children with serious genetic conditions such as cystic fibrosis or Tay–Sachs disease. More recently, a number of influential philosophers and bioethicists have been arguing that parents should use PGD to have the “best child possible”. This presentation will explore the ethics of preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), in the light of the “disability critique” of prenatal testing and the argument for “human enhancement”. By means of a linked set of hypothetical cases, I will demonstrate how popular and intuitive accounts of the ethics of PGD lead to unexpected and problematic conclusions. I will suggest that there is currently no account of the ethics of PGD that does not struggle to account for important intuitions in one or more cases.


Rob Sparrow is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow in the Philosophy Program, and an adjunct Associate Professor in the Centre for Human Bioethics, at Monash University, where he works on ethical issues raised by new technologies. His current research interests include the ethics of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, technologies of human enhancement, artificial gametes, and the ethics of robotics.

Rob Wilson / 780-492-8481 / Blog:


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