This course is an immersion in the fascinating cross-disciplinary domain where law, biomedicine, and bioethics meet. We will examine the history of this field, key controversies that have driven that history, the range of applicable law (state, federal, and international), the evolution of modern bioethics and its interaction with law, and the articulation of policy (from commissions, NGOs, professional societies, and others). The course will consider competing accounts of the relationship of law, biomedicine, and bioethics, as well as controversy over current issues, including response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We will begin by considering the nature of bioethics and its relation to law. We will then examine the history of modern bioethics, starting with the Medical Trial at Nuremberg after World War II and progressing to development of research ethics. We will proceed to analyze the evolving role of law and bioethics in governing assisted reproduction, cloning and other emerging technologies including gene editing, genetics and genomics, organ transplantation and the determination of death, life-sustaining treatment and care of the dying, and physician-assisted suicide (sometimes called “physician-assisted death”) and euthanasia. We will then focus on how bioethics and law are addressing crucial issues arising in the current pandemic. Finally, we will consider clinician responsibilities and vulnerabilities in the face of ethical and legal controversy.