Friday, September 07, 2007

Agnes Scott College Ethics Program Lecture Series, 2007-2008

Agnes Scott College

Improving Humans: Genetics, Technology, and Ethics

Genetic technologies open exciting possibilities for improving human health and quality of life. These technologies also raise moral questions—for example, about how and how far we should attempt to genetically enhance future humans, and about the moral scope of parents’ freedom to make choices about future children’s mental and physical characteristics. Please join us as we engage these questions of ethics, public policy, and law. All talks are free and open to the public, and take place on the Agnes Scott College campus in Decatur. (Please contact Lara Denis, director of the ethics program, for more information: )

1. McNair Ethics Lecture: Lee M. Silver

Title: “Genetic Engineering and the Future of Humankind”

Date: Monday, September 10, 2007

7:30 p.m., Evans Hall, ABC

This talk is co-sponsored by the Agnes Scott College chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, Beta of Georgia, through the Walter Edward McNair Fund.

Description of talk:

What does the future hold for Homo sapiens -- our own species? In a thousand years, a million years, or 100 million years, will human descendants be mostly indistinguishable -- physically and mentally -- from people somewhere on the broad curves of humanity that exist today. Or will genetic change lead to the emergence of a post human species, as different from us as we are from Neanderthal man or Homo erectus, in ways that our minds are incapable of imagining. The evolution of pre-human animals into human beings was driven almost entirely by natural selection. But modern medicine and modern notions of human rights could very well call a halt to Darwinian treachery. So does this mean that we are at the end of our evolutionary line? Not likely. With tools of genetic engineering that have already been applied to other animals, and with increased knowledge of the human genome, parents will soon be able to provide their children-to-be with inheritable advantages that could be passed on and enhanced from one generation to the next. The critical question is whether humanity will self-evolve together or apart.

Lee M. Silver is a professor at Princeton University in the Department of Molecular Biology and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He also has joint appointments in the Program in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy, the Center for Health and Wellbeing, the Office of Population Research, and the Princeton Environmental Institute, all at Princeton University. In 1973, he received a Bachelor's degree and a Master's degree in physics from the University of Pennsylvania, and in 1978, he received a doctorate in biophysics from Harvard University. Before arriving at Princeton in 1984, he trained at New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, which was directed by Nobel Laureate James D. Watson. Dr. Silver's newest book is Challenging Nature: The Clash of Science and Spirituality at the New Frontiers of Life, published by Ecco, an imprint of Harper Collins. Matt Ridley, author of Genome and The Red Queen says Challenging Nature is "imbued with courage, suffused with humanity and written with grace." The philosopher and author Peter Singer calls it "a provocative and sorely needed book," with a "rich array of arguments [that] will force you to think afresh about many cherished preconceptions." Michael Gazzaniga, a leading American neurobiologist and member of President Bush's Council on Bioethics says it is a "spectacular and riveting book that puts those who reason by assertion of prior traditions on the run. [Challenging Nature] makes you think and rethink the most basic questions about the nature of human existence. I say Bravo!" Dr. Silver's previous book is Remaking Eden: How Genetic Engineering and Cloning Will Transform the American Family, published in 16 languages. He is also the co-author of an undergraduate textbook in genetics, the single author of Mouse Genetics, a textbook for professionals, and editor of Teratocarcinoma Stem Cells. In 1993, Professor Silver was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). In 1995, he received an unsolicited 10 year National Institutes of Health MERIT award. He has published over 180 scientific articles in the fields of genetics, evolution, reproduction, embryology, computer modeling, and behavioral science, and other scholarly papers on topics at the interface between biotechnology, law, ethics, and religion. He has been elected to the governing boards of the Genetics Society of America and the International Mammalian Genome Society. He was a member of the New Jersey Bioethics Commission Task Force formed to recommend reproductive policy for the New Jersey State Legislature, and has testified on reproductive and genetic technologies before U.S. Congressional and New York State Senate committees. He has appeared on numerous television and radio programs including Nightly News with Tom Brokaw, Jim Lehrer News Hour, Nova, Nightline, World Report with Peter Jennings, Charlie Rose Show, 20/20, 60 Minutes, and many others in the U.S. and other countries.

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