SMNR: Legal Regulation of Human Genome Editing

Course Information

Registration Information

Meeting Times

Day Time Location
WED 7:00 - 10:00 pm TNH 3.127

Evaluation Method

Type Date Time Location


This is a Government course, cross-listed with the Law School.

The germline editing of the human genome will permanently alter our species biologically, in ways large and small. From the standpoint of political, legal, and human rights theory, our seminar asks: How might a liberal democratic community today — marked by value pluralism and aspiring to tolerance for different normative cultures — best regulate the confluence of rapid developments in genetic science and  biotechnology? Our seminar focuses on both the promise of gene manipulation to improve human health and reduce human suffering, and on the dangers that gene manipulation poses to various notions of human dignity and various theories of human nature. In modern secular societies such as the USA, traditional theological or metaphysical conceptions of human nature and human dignity compete with contemporary alternatives: with natural scientific accounts of what our species is, and with social scientific accounts of the individual and social importance of treating members with respect and dignity. These contemporary alternatives deploy post-metaphysical notions of human nature (for example, as a social construct) and with post-theological notions of human dignity (for example, as the decisional autonomy of future persons, held in trust by the current generation). Our seminar asks: How might the American legal system (with inputs from expert medical and bioethical opinion as well as from informed public opinion) plausibly configure decisional autonomy of future persons at the point of genetic manipulation? To answer this question, we will identify resources in in state and federal law (and perhaps in human rights theory as well), toward identifying plausible normative standards for the regulation of human gene editing, for today and in the future.


The student will enhance her research skills; improve her writing skills in the scholarly genre; refine her analytic skills through careful reading, analysis, and discursive argumentation in defense of an original thesis in each of her papers; and cultivate her capacity to engage in small group discussion: in developing and conducting one in-class presentation, and in classroom participation more generally. And she will learn a great deal about cutting-edge thinking on the moral and legal challenges of regulating biotechnologies in general and, in particular, the future possible germline editing of our species —— surely one of the most significant challenges for legal thought in the twenty-first century.


Requirements: one 12-page to 16-page paper (based on directed and supervised research in the course materials, addressing one or more issues of legal regulation, either current or proposed) and one in-class power-point presentation of the student's paper-in-progress. The paper itself is due at the end of the semester; the power-point presentation is due in the course of the semester. Presentation will generate thoughtful, critical feedback from the entire class and should be useful to the student's development of her paper. During the semester, the instructor will closely review two rough-drafts of the paper (not graded) and provide written and oral suggestions for improvements in substance and style. Student will submit one final paper, for a grade, revised in light of the instructor’s comments on the first two drafts.

Course grade: 80% of course grade: evaluation of paper; 20% of course grade: one in-class power-point presentation; course grade adjusted for quality of weekly classroom participation.

Textbooks ( * denotes required )

No materials required


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Important Class Changes

Date Updated
12/19/2022 Room(s) changed
10/04/2022 Wait List procedure updated