Debaters clash over “designer babies”

Debate at Biola focuses on the ethical implications of choosing the physical features of a child before birth.

Kathryn Watson, Writer

Debaters Wesley Smith and Gregory Stock hashed out their views on the ethical implications of designer babies Friday night in Sutherland Auditorium in front of an attentive audience of both students and residents from the greater Los Angeles area.

The debate, entitled “Beauty, Brokenness and Designer Babies,” was part of a three-day conference sponsored by Joni and Friends Christian Institute on Disability and Biola’s Torrey Honors Institute. John Mark Reynolds, esteemed director of the Torrey Honors Institute, monitored the free-of-charge debate, which lasted about two and a half hours. On the opposite sides of the stage were Smith, involved in human rights and bioethics at the Discovery Institute and Stock, CEO of Signum Biosciences. Before the relatively calm debate, Reynolds urged Christians in the audience to “think hard, pray hard and love” when listening to the debaters’ exchanges.

A true debate, as Smith, Stock, Reynolds and audience members all acknowledged, wasn’t feasible because the differences between their basic worldviews were too colossal and the starting points of their arguments too dissimilar. Audience members said the meat of the debate hinged on the debaters’ definitions of the word “human,” as well as when a human life actually starts, two points Smith and Stock sharply disagreed on throughout the night.

“I think we have very well-intentioned but very different worldviews,” Reynolds said. “… It’s not really a debate but I do think it’s a very important airing” of ideas.

While this debate has been addressed in hypothetical terms for the past couple of decades, the possibility of choosing the specifics of one’s child has edged closer to reality. The debate was accelerated when Jeff Steinberg, director of the Fertility Institutes, said in February of this year that eye and hair color selection in addition to gender selection could be made available.

Many of Stock’s arguments rested on his assertion that parents should be able to exercise control over their children, as he believes life does not begin at conception. For Smith, however, rights rest mostly with what he called the child, who he believes has rights from the very start. Smith also called the concept of designer babies a “hubristic agenda.”

“Remember, we are not talking about doing something to ourselves,” Smith said. “If I want to make myself a purple planet, or Stock wants to make himself pink and polka dot, fine. But to do it to our children is a different thing altogether, because we’re not talking about ourselves, we’re talking about someone else.”

Audience members expressed their excitement over Christians and non-Christians going head to head over significant issues, and hoped to see more from Biola in the future.

Larry Sedillo, a Fullerton resident who used to live next door to President Emeritus Clyde Cook, was intrigued when he heard about the debate via the Frank Pastore show.

“I think that, in many instances, we’re ill-prepared to discuss many subjects with non-Christians,” he said I”m glad to see these kinds of exchanges.”

Students chimed in on the subject too.

“I’d just love to see more of this kind of thing here,” said Jolene Nolte, a senior, whose interest in Friday’s debate was piqued when an advertisement for it flashed on the screen at the “Does God Exist?” debate in April..

For some audience members, the subject matter was a bit more personal in nature.

Senior Calvin Sodestrom, whose brother has down syndrome, said debating the matter is all “just talk” until one’s actually lived alongside a person with a disability and seen the image of God in them.

Audience members, who filled up about half of Sutherland Auditorium, averred that there was no clear winner, as both Smith and Stock made thoughtful arguments and were arguing from dissimilar starting points in the first place. Stock closed by saying resolution is ultimately impossible.

“These are things, the issues we’re talking about today, are ones that we will never find consensus on, ever,. because they’re too much a manifestation of our philosophies, our religion, our politics, our sense of ourselves.”

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