About the content
Bioethics provides an overview of the legal, medical, and ethical questions around reproduction and human genetics and how to apply legal reasoning to these questions.
This law course includes interviews with individuals who have used surrogacy and sperm donation, with medical professionals who are experts in current reproductive technologies like In Vitro Fertilization and Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis, and bioethicists and journalists who study the ownership and use of genetic information within human tissue. Additional Harvard colleagues will also share with you their thoughts on topics such as disability law as it relates to reproductive technology.
While the law and ethics surrounding these technologies are a central component to this course, we also show you examples of the deeply personal and human side of these issues. Throughout the course, and with the help of law students, we will discuss leading legal cases in this field, which will illuminate the types of questions the law has struggled with – stretching and evolving over time. From the famous Baby M surrogacy case, to cases on the paternity of sperm donors, to a case related to the ownership of human tissue turned into a commercial product, and others. We will show you the ethical, legal, and rhetorical underpinnings, which have served as the basis for various court decisions over the past 20 or 30 years. We will also explore potential future technologies and their implications for society: genetic enhancements to increase our intelligence, let us live a hundred years longer, or make us immune to diseases – and the possibility of creating animal-human hybrids, for example a mouse with a humanized brain.
The content within this course is intended to be instructive, and show how legal reasoning has been applied, or could be applied, to questions related to parenthood, reproduction, and other issues surrounding human genetic material. The material organized within this course should be considered an authoritative overview, but is not intended to serve as medical or legal advice.
- How the reproductive technology industry works, and issues raised related to buying and selling human reproductive materials
- The law and ethics of surrogacy
- Civil lawsuits when things go wrong with reproductive technology: wrongful birth and wrongful life lawsuits
- The law and ethics of sperm donation and the legal status of sperm donors
- Ethical and legal issues raised by human enhancement
- The law and ethics of mixing human and animal genetic material
- The ownership of human tissue and its underlying genetic information
Lesson 1: Buying and Selling Reproductive Materials
Identify the major technologies, terms, and concepts relevant to understanding the buying and selling of reproductive materials. Identify key moral objections and potential legal solutions commonly applied to buying and selling eggs, sperm, and embryos. Discuss the moral objections and legal solutions to buying and selling reproductive goods as compared to other taboo trades (selling organs, prostitution, etc.).
Lesson 2: Surrogacy
Identify the major terms and concepts relevant to understanding surrogacy. Evaluate the degree to which surrogacy contracts should be legally enforceable. Discuss the legal reasoning behind real and hypothetical surrogacy cases.
Lesson 3: Wrongful Life and Wrongful Birth
Identify major terms and concepts including torts, damages, remedies, and liabilities. Identify the difference between claims to wrongful birth and wrongful life. Discuss issues with employing the conception of “harm” or “best interests” to reproduction.
Lesson 4: Sperm and Egg Donation
Discuss when can a sperm donor be held to be the legal father of, or assert such fatherhood over, children produced from his genetic material. Discuss whether or not anonymous sperm donation should be allowed at all. Identify and discuss key similarities and differences among related cases involving sperm donation.
Lesson 5: Sperm Donor Anonymity
Identify and discuss key ethical debates related to anonymous sperm donation. Discuss the way various countries around the world do or do not permit anonymous sperm donation. Discuss the rights of donor-conceived children. Discuss obligations of anonymous sperm donors to support the resulting child.
Lesson 6: Enhancement
Identify and evaluate different types of pre-birth and post-birth human enhancements. Discuss legal options available to regulate limit, or expand enhancements. Evaluate the difference between enhancing oneself versus choosing enhancements for another, such as a child.
Lesson 7: Human-Animal Hybrids and Patent of Human Genetic Material
Identify and discuss seven different examples of human-animal hybrids and the moral and ethical ideas that suggest regulating, limiting, or expanding hybrids. Identify key terms relevant to theories of property and default rules. Discuss key issues related to the ownership and use of human tissue and its underlying genetic information.
I. Glenn Cohen
Professor, Harvard Law School
Harvard University is a private Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Established in 1636 and named for its first benefactor clergyman John Harvard, Harvard is the United States' oldest institution of higher learning, and its history, influence, and wealth have made it one of the world's most prestigious universities. The Harvard Corporation is its first chartered corporation. Although never formally affiliated with any denomination, the early College primarily trained Congregational and Unitarian clergy. Its curriculum and student body were gradually secularized during the 18th century, and by the 19th century, Harvard had emerged as the central cultural establishment among Boston elites. Following the American Civil War, President Charles W. Eliot's long tenure (1869–1909) transformed the college and affiliated professional schools into a modern research university; Harvard was a founding member of the Association of American Universities in 1900. A. Lawrence Lowell, who followed Eliot, further reformed the undergraduate curriculum and undertook aggressive expansion of Harvard's land holdings and physical plant. James Bryant Conant led the university through the Great Depression and World War II and began to reform the curriculum and liberalize admissions after the war. The undergraduate college became coeducational after its 1977 merger with Radcliffe College.
The university is organized into eleven separate academic units—ten faculties and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study—with campuses throughout the Boston metropolitan area: its 209-acre (85 ha) main campus is centered on Harvard Yard in Cambridge, approximately 3 miles (5 km) northwest of Boston; the business school and athletics facilities, including Harvard Stadium, are located across the Charles River in the Allston neighborhood of Boston and the medical, dental, and public health schools are in the Longwood Medical Area. The endowment of Harvard's is worth $37.1 billion, making it the largest of any academic institution.
Harvard is a large, highly residential research university. The nominal cost of attendance is high, but the university's large endowment allows it to offer generous financial aid packages. The Harvard Library is the world's largest academic and private library system, comprising 79 individual libraries holding over 18 million items. The University is cited as one of the world's top tertiary institutions by various organizations.
Harvard's alumni include eight U.S. presidents, several foreign heads of state, 62 living billionaires, 359 Rhodes Scholars, and 242 Marshall Scholars. To date, some 157 Nobel laureates, 18 Fields Medalists, and 14 Turing Award winners have been affiliated as students, faculty, or staff. In addition, Harvard students and alumni have won 10 Academy Awards, 48 Pulitzer Prizes, and 108 Olympic medals (46 gold, 41 silver and 21 bronze).
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