Reproduction, Genetics and the Rule of Law
Emily Jackson

Seminar Introduction

imageOver the past few decades, the reproductive process--from conception to childbirth--has been subject to intense scientific, public and legal scrutiny. Innovative developments, such as the mapping of the human genome and the cloning of animals, force us to constantly rethink the boundaries of what might be humanly possible; while more familiar ethical dilemmas, such as the moral legitimacy of abortion, continue to provoke debate and controversy.

Advances in the field of genetics have meant foetuses can not only be tested for existing infirmity, but also for their susceptibility to future ill health. Prenatal genetic testing is becoming routine, and the prospect of human reproductive cloning is no longer confined to the realm of science fiction. These advances have generated enormous public concern and debate, prompting fears of "designer babies" and of Frankenstein scientists creating children to order. It is, for example, already scientifically possible for parents to choose the sex of their offspring. Could parents in future be able to choose whether or not their children have other characteristics or traits, such as intelligence or a predisposition for obesity? Will the essential randomness of ordinary human reproduction be replaced by a consumerist ethic? That many of these fears are, in fact, based on fundamental misconceptions about genetics does not seem reduce their potency. Creating a regulatory framework capable of accommodating all of the ethical dilemmas thrown up by this ever-shifting terrain presents an enormous challenge for law in the twenty-first century.

In this seminar, Emily Jackson, senior lecturer in law at the London School of Economics and Political Science, offers a critical and legal analysis of controversial issues around human reproduction, abortion and genetics, with specific reference to UK law. She argues that instinctive and possibly groundless fears about the possibilities thrown up by genetic testing, abortion and cloning technology should not restrict reproductive choice. In session one she sets out what she believes should be the fundamental principle underpinning the regulation of human reproduction: the concept of autonomy. The following sessions critically explore and set out her perspective on some of the debates and paranoia surrounding abortion, designer babies and reproductive cloning.

Learning Objectives:
  • Explain the importance of the concept of autonomy in the regulation of reproductive decision-making.
  • Identify and describe the main arguments for and against abortion.
  • Describe the concerns about the implications of prenatal genetic testing and abortion and construct arguments to address those concerns.
  • Explain common misconceptions about human reproductive cloning.
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