Bioethics, Technology and Law


Course Objective

Biomedical developments radically question the foundations of current
legal and ethical ways of thinking.
This interdisciplinary course will enable the student to critically
reflect upon legal and ethical dimensions of current public debates on
the regulation of biomedical technologies. This course will teach the
student to come to an understanding of the key concepts and categories
within legal regulation of biomedical technologies, and to connect these
with various normative ethical theories. Through an examination of the
existing legal frameworks surrounding biomedical technologies from the
perspectives of law and bioethics against the background of ongoing
contemporary political and societal discussions, the student will be
trained to integrate ethical reasoning, daily practices and legal rules
and regulations into a normative evaluation of these technological
developments. In this process the student will be encouraged to take a
legally and
ethically argued position in scientific debates on current developments
in the field of the life sciences through written and oral presentations
of a legal and philosophical nature.

Course Content

Central to this course are the fundamental legal-ethical questions that
are raised by emerging biomedical technologies. Foundational
legal-philosophical notions, such as human dignity, autonomy, justice,
freedom and equality, have acquired a renewed meaning and urgency in the
light of recent developments within the field of the medical

Medical biotechnology has enabled us to intervene with the human body
and human life in radically new and far-reaching ways. Existing and
emerging biomedical technologies, such as preimplantation genetic
diagnosis, gestational surrogacy, organ transplantation, whole genome
human genetic engineering and synthetic biology, are confronting lawyers
and ethicists with new and controversial questions that touch upon the
foundations of national and international legal orders. Indeed, the
foundational distinctions between, for example, person and thing, life
and death, human and animal, and chance and choice, are no longer a
natural given, but are increasingly becoming subject to human
decision-making. Moreover, the traditional legal image of the person is
put to the test. A few examples.

Why are women not allowed to sell their egg cells in most European
How should human embryos, frozen egg cells, organs and biological
materials be legally qualified: as part of the person, or as the object
of property rights?
How should the limits of life and death be understood on a legal level,
now that these boundaries have become fluid as a consequence of
technological developments?
How should national governments respond to new forms of medical tourism,
such as surrogacy and organ tourism?
What are the legal limits to human enhancement, and on which thoughts
and principles are they based?

These and other questions will be examined on three levels: a legal, a
philosophical and a social-political level. Firstly, the key concepts
and principles will be identified and analysed within the context of
current legal regulation of biomedical technologies. In this process,
the student will become familiar with the most important ‘biolegal’
frameworks and case-law. Secondly, these notions will be discussed
against the background of several philosophical schools of thought,
including liberalism, communitarianism, utilitarianism, bioconservatism,
transhumanism and more symbolic and phenomenological approaches. Lastly,
the practical effects of these legal and philosophical values will be
discussed through an examination of recent public and political debates
on biomedical issues.

As this course explores recent technological developments at the
intersection of law, ethics and society, this course fits well in the VU
law school's focus on 'law in action'.

Teaching Methods

Lectures and tutorials.

Method of Assessment



All literature will be made available through Canvas.

Target Audience

Apart from regular students, the course is also available for:
Students from other universities/faculties
Exchange students
Contractor (students who pay for one course)

Additional Information

Exit qualifications
Student will acquire the following skills and capacities:
1. thorough knowledge and understanding in the field of the theoretical
foundation of biomedical law and bioethics;
2. the capacity to think and act independently and in an academic way;
3. the capacity to use his/her knowledge of the discipline in a broader,
philosophical and social context;
4. the capacity to demonstrate his/her competence both orally and in
writing, in expressing, presenting and reporting relevant insights in a
clear and succinct way.

Recommended background knowledge

Only students with a either a bachelor’s or master’s degree in law,
philosophy, biomedical science or any other academic field that is
relevant for the subject matter, qualify for this course.

General Information

Course Code R_BioTL
Credits 6 EC
Period P1
Course Level 400
Language of Tuition English
Faculty Faculty of Law
Course Coordinator mr. B.C. van Beers
Examiner mr. B.C. van Beers
Teaching Staff mr. B.C. van Beers

Practical Information

You need to register for this course yourself

Teaching Methods Seminar, Lecture
Target audiences

This course is also available as: