The Oxford Union Debating Society at Oxford University has published full video of its DNA Manipulation Debate, filmed on May 26. The Motion under debate was, “This House Believes the Manipulation of Human DNA is an Ethical Necessity.” Oxford billed its DNA Manipulation Debate as “historic” in a year when rapid advances in gene editing and genome synthesis suddenly confront humans with the possibility of being able to write, edit, re-write, and ultimately control their own genetic destinies.
The team supporting the Motion was led by Sir Ian Wilmut, famous for cloning Dolly the Sheep and now Chair of the Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, and included Oxford’s noted moral philosopher Julian Savulescu and Oxford student debater Lynda Troung, a fast-rising star in RNA research.
The team opposing the Motion included Dr. Norman Fost, professor emeritus of pediatrics and director of the medical ethics program at the University of Wisconsin; Professor Barbara Evans, Director of the Center for Biotechnology & Law at the University of Houston Law Center and a frequent participant in Petrie-Flom conferences; and Oxford student debater Dr. Rahul Gandhi, a young medical doctor and monk focusing on rural healthcare, who is pursuing an MBA at Oxford this year as a prelude to seeking an MPH at Harvard next year.
“It was an uphill battle,” Evans notes, “The pre-debate Twitter poll was running 51-49% in favor of the view that there is a moral necessity to manipulate the human genome, for example, to eliminate diseases and improve people’s well-being.” Nobody on her opposition team was overtly opposed to gene editing, she notes, “but we just thought it went a bit too far to claim there is a moral necessity to do it.” After the debate, the votes had shifted to 53-47% in favor of the opposition position argued by the Fost/Evans/Gandhi team.
The Oxford Union is considered the oldest and most influential student-run organization in the world. Its Thursday debates began in 1823 as an act of defiance at a time when free speech was under threat in England.
Watch the full DNA Manipulation debate online:
Oxford student Lynda Truong, speaking in favor of the motion.
Oxford student Dr. Rahul Gandhi, speaking in opposition to the motion.
Sir Ian Wilmut, in favor.
Prof. Barbara Evans, opposed.
Prof. Julian Savalescu, in favor.
Dr. Norman Fost, opposed.