Bioethics: The Law, Medicine, and Ethics of Reproductive Technologies and Genetics
An introduction to the study of bioethics
This online course introduces the legal, medical, and ethical questions surrounding reproduction and human genetics, and provides the tools to help answer them.
2-3 hours a week
What You'll Learn
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.
The course will be delivered via edX and connect learners around the world. By the end of the course, participants will be able to:
- 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
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.).
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.
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.
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.
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 the obligations of anonymous sperm donors to support the resulting child.
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.
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.
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.
Ways to take this course
When you enroll in this course, you will have the option of pursuing a Verified Certificate or Auditing the Course.
A Verified Certificate costs $149 and provides unlimited access to full course materials, activities, tests, and forums. At the end of the course, learners who earn a passing grade can receive a certificate.
Alternatively, learners can Audit the course for free and have access to select course material, activities, tests, and forums. Please note that this track does not offer a certificate for learners who earn a passing grade.