Lower Sixth students attend Cambridge University's McWhirter Conference

At the end of March, Lower Sixth students from St George's College attended The 2017 McWhirter Conference, entitled 'Bioethics - Who Decides?'.

Taking place at Newnham College, Cambridge, the conference encourages Sixth Form students to think about their own role in society and to think about how they might get involved with shaping Britain's future whilst providing an insight into university life.

Two students who attended the conference and were fascinated by everything they saw and heard have written reports on the two days spent there:

Day 1

"It was a rather early start to catch the 8.50am from King's Cross to Cambridge but after an entertaining taxi journey from the station to Newnham College our drowsiness all but subsided and anticipation of what was to come took its place.

After an optional tour of the College, the lectures began.

Dr Luann Van Campen, a bioethics expert from the pharmaceutical company ‘Lily,’ who had travelled all the way from Indianapolis to attend, gave the first lecture. Her speech, titled ‘Multinational, Pharmaceutical, Biomedical Research’ (quite a mouthful for a Wednesday morning) discussed the ethical dilemmas associated with testing drugs in developing countries.

The next lecture, given by Professor David Baulcombe, breached an equally controversial topic, the genetic modification of plants. An expert in the field, Professor Baulcombe made the argument for GM crops as well as an insight as to what he hoped the future would entail.

After each lecture, we attended ‘syndicate discussions.’ A musty room deep in the bowels of the College was to be the site of many heated debates over the two day period which proved to be intellectually challenging but also rewarding.

With most of lectures for the day out of the way, it was time to suit up for dinner which was located in the famous College Hall. Sir Gregory Winter, Master of Trinity College Cambridge, gave a final speech after the meal on whether bioethics (the ethical issues associated with the advance of medicine and biology) should really be considered after all. An interesting discussion to say the least!

The conference was a valuable experience, challenging me to form my own opinions on bioethics. As well as a chance to listen to some well renowned experts in the field."

Matt Dowthwaite (Lower Sixth)

Day 2

"The day began with a quick pack up of our things and gathering of our luggage as we had to vacate our rooms before being rewarded with a much needed filling breakfast to fuel us for our final day of the conference.

We kicked off the day with a lecture from Dr Lucy Van de Weil, a research associate at the Reproductive Sociology Research Group at the University of Cambridge. The lecture was headlined ‘The Bioethics of life in glass’ where she outlined the bioethical issues related to selective breeding and ‘designer babies’, newborns who have been produced with selected desired genes.

Later that morning, we had our fourth and final lecture from Professor Nichola Rumsey, a Professor of Appearance Psychology and Co-Director of the Centre for Appearance research at the University of Bristol. The lecture was the ‘Bioethics of Body Sculpture’ where she emphasised the grave influence the media has had on body sculpture in the modern world and what issues have come about from it such as the desire for cosmetic surgery. I was shocked to discover 93% of women have negative thoughts to their appearance every week.

Likewise to Day 1, we had syndicate discussions after each lecture. My discussions were situated in the old labs. The discussions were far from tedious, each one was thrilling and full of detailed knowledge from my peers. The atmosphere was competitive as each person offered their own thought and reasoning but at the same time it was pleasant and very welcoming.

We finished the conference with ‘Question Time’, where one brave student from each group was chosen to represent their group in a heated debate about each topic outlined from the lectures during the two day period in front of the rest of the students and professors. Again, it turned out to be a thrilling and head turning debate.

I feel very fortunate to have attended the conference. It was very useful in not only furthering my knowledge on bioethics to a greater understanding but it also helped me gain an insight into university life and allowed me to develop practical skills needed for the future."

Tom Mason (Lower Sixth)

9 May 2017

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