This class will explore the challenges of translating the coded "text" of the double helix into the taxonomies of law, public policy, social science. We will consider the balancing of interests in the evolving intersection of DNA technology and the law, particularly as a contrasting set of scientific conventions and legal discourses.
The human genome project has complicated the Anglo-American jurisprudential model, premised as so much of it has been upon a Manichean divide between mind and body, freedom and instinct, intellect and impulse. In addition, genetic modification and "bioprospecting" of microbial, plant and animal life forms have vexed the meanings of "property," "nature," "regulation" and "reproduction." Finally, in a world where DNA can pinpoint a range of medical or biological inequalities, the very cornerstone of our constitutional identity--the notion of equal personhood--is increasingly undercut by confusions about the distinction between cultural (or "common sense") norms and reproducible scientific insight. That is, socially-constructed, pseudo-biological taxonomies like "race" or "disability" are given new if misleading life when falsely interwoven with the authority of genetic sequence.
The challenge we face is how to chart an ethical course in the face of nearly unprecedented technological leaps and expansion of human understanding. How can we re-examine the etymological history hidden in common metaphors or the unconscious images embedded in the language we bring to the enterprise of knowledge production? What principles or philosophical coordinates do we employ in deciding what's right and what's wrong in confronting these evolving moral, legal and policy challenges?
In civil law, we will look at the tensions among markets, experimentation, and the public interest. We will discuss the ways in which contrasting methods of proof in the realms of science and law complicate factual understandings. Each class with begin with hypotheticals taking up topics like the role of expert testimony and the definitions of expertise; uncertainty and objectivity; norms, exceptions and perfection; the pharmaceutical and insurance industry's impact on notions of risk or the lack of it; secrecy, intellectual property and freedom of information; reproductive technology, reproductive rights and eugenics.
In the area of criminal law, we will look at the compilation of databanks here and in other industrialized countries. We will discuss the metrics by which that accumulated information is interpreted, and how those interpretations affect notions of privacy, the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, presumptions of innocence, suspect profiling, presumptions of biologized aggression, as well as the "CSI" effect.