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Contemporary Issues in Medical Law and Ethics


Module description

In this module we will examine the legal and ethical issues posed by reproductive and genetic technologies. The development of reproductive technology has brought with it both ethical and legal difficulties. Is it merely an enabling mechanism allowing those who would otherwise be unable to have children, or is it another example of patriarchal control over the female body? Moreover, should everyone who desires to do so be permitted access to artificial reproductive techniques regardless of age or social circumstances? Is there a right to reproduce in such circumstances, or at the very least to be allowed to undergo fertility treatment even if it should prove to be ultimately unsuccessful?

This area of health care provides a focus for the complex interaction of ethical and legal modes of governance. The role of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 as amended by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 will be examined in order to evaluate if it is an effective means of regulating such a complex and ethically fraught area. In addition, key themes such as autonomy and personhood as well as the doctrine of the sanctity of life in the medical context will also be raised here. To what extent should the law regulate this area, and even more pragmatically, to what extent can the law regulate this area effectively? Topics will include regulation of new reproductive technologies, access to reproductive technologies, human cloning and embryo stem cell research. In each instance we will examine the legal and ethical challenges posed, critique current law and ethics, and explore alternative recommendations.

Indicative syllabus

  • Rights to reproduce
  • Regulation of assisted reproduction
  • Stem cells, embryos and the politics of cloning 
  • The law and ethics of pre-natal genetic testing and diagnosis 
  • Surrogacy
  • Law and the regulation of genetic technology
  • Law medicine and genetic privacy: the case of biobanks
  • Genetics and intellectual property

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will:

  • have a coherent understanding of key aspects of reproductive technologies and genetics and how the law governs this area of medicine
  • be able to examine the significance of contemporary research and debates about the subject
  • be able to read, review, consolidate and assess critically cases, statutes, textbooks, media reports, government and community group websites and scholarly publications in the field
  • understand how key concepts can be deployed to devise and sustain arguments and/or solve problems in this area
  • be able to critically evaluate arguments, assumptions, abstract concepts and data to frame appropriate questions to achieve a solution, or a range of solutions to a problem within the field
  • appreciate the uncertainty, ambiguity and limits of the law in trying to govern the field of genetics and reproductive technologies.