University of Wisconsin–Madison

905 Bioethics & the Law - §001, Spring 2016

Categories: Constitutional Law Legal Theory and Jurisprudence

Instructor(s) Charo, R. Alta

Should the court grant a habeas corpus motion on behalf of chimpanzees in a zoo? Should the federal government or a sports organization ban the use of gene editing to enhance our muscles? If a divorcing couple disagree about what to do with frozen embryos left over from a failed attempt at pregnancy, how should a court rule on the dispute? Bioethics & the Law addresses some of the most controversial and through-provoking controversies today, including the definition of morally significant and legally protected human life; the limits of government regulation of human reproduction; the use of human beings in medical experimentation; the role of contract and personal choice in the development of legal kinship ties; rationing of life-saving organ transplants; the genetics of race; and the medical, legal and philosophical definition of death. This year the course is structured as follows: On Tuesdays there will be a lecture on the topic of the week, given by Professor Charo, Professor Kelleher (from the Dept of Medical History and Bioethics) or a guest specialist, and students from an undergraduate philosophy/medical ethics course will be joining us. On Thursdays, the law students meet alone with Professor Charo for discussion of the readings and class debate. Readings for the law students will be a combination of shorter pieces from philosophy, medicine and science fiction, along with classic common law and constitutional law cases. Legal concepts touched on include kinship, personhood, liberty, equity and autonomy. Prior knowledge of constitutional law and administrative law helpful but not required. Students will be required to write a 25-30-page paper on one of several topics announced by the instructor. There is no final exam.

Learning objectives:

By the end of the course, students will be familiar with seminal cases and controversies that have the defined the norms of modern medical ethics; will appreciate the inconsistencies in Supreme Court jurisprudence regarding procreative liberty; will be able to describe and critique the use of terms such as “liberty,” “autonomy,” “life,” “death” and “parent” as used in statutes and decisions; and will be knowledgeable about the most current debates concerning the role of the state and federal governments in setting limits on personal choice over procreation, medical enhancement, and the timing of one’s death.

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