Introduction

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.

 

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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.

This course is designed for a diverse audience including, but not limited to, law students, prospective law students, medical professionals, as well as members of the general public interested in questions and topics related to surrogacy, parenthood, genetic and reproductive technology, ownership of genetic material, and more. You do not need any background in law, medicine, philosophy, or really any subject to enjoy this course. This course is meant to be an introduction for anyone interested in these topics.

 

What you'll learn:

  • 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

Meet The Author

I. Glenn Cohen

I. Glenn Cohen

Professor, Harvard Law School

Professor I. Glenn Cohen is one of the world's leading experts on the intersection of bioethics (sometimes also called "medical ethics") and the law, as well as health law. He also teaches civil procedure. From Seoul to Krakow to Vancouver, Professor Cohen has spoken at legal, medical, and industry conferences around the world and his work has appeared in or been covered on PBS, NPR, ABC, CNN, MSNBC, Mother Jones, the New York Times, the New Republic, the Boston Globe, and several other media venues.

He was the youngest professor on the faculty at Harvard Law School (tenured or untenured) both when he joined the faculty in 2008 (at age 29) and when he was tenured as a full professor in 2013 (at age 34), though not the youngest in history.

Professor Cohen's current projects relate to big data, health information technologies, mobile health, reproduction/reproductive technology, research ethics, organ transplantation, rationing in law and medicine, health policy, FDA law, translational medicine, and to medical tourism – the travel of patients who are residents of one country, the "home country," to another country, the "destination country," for medical treatment.

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