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URPP Human Reproduction Reloaded | H2R

SP 1 Normativity of Human Reproduction

Scientific Research Questions

Human reproduction is shaped and claimed by various discourses on the body, self-determination, the definition of the family, and the admissibility of human intervention. It is governed by numerous norms while itself generating normative ideas and leading to social, ethical and legal consequences. Reproductive medicine is developing  rapidly, so research into the normative paradigm shifts associated with new reproductive possibilities is important both to Swiss and international science and to national and global society. Research has to consider the experiences of other countries and adopt a comparative approach; it must also be heuristically open, evolve around the findings from empirical research and include citizen science to achieve valid results. The main scientific questions of the project cover both the traditional and the new normativity of human reproduction:

  • How can a normative framework adequately take into account the interests of the individual and of society as a whole?
  • How can the legitimate objectives of medical advances be reconciled with the fundamental values of ethics and law?

This project unites competencies in law, philosophy, ethics, history, and gender studies to unfold, analyze, and question various explicit and implicit normative assumptions.

Research Areas

The Project entails three research areas, which are interlinked by a common methodological-reflective framework.

  • Rights over bodies and bodily substances
  • Descent and family
  • The Scope and limits of reproductive autonomy

Projects PhDs and Postdocs

Eternally Binding Care - On the Suitability of the Status Law of Parentage to Represent Plural and Relational Conceptions of Parenthood (by Fiona Behle)
Swiss parentage law is status law and regulates the legal assignment of children to 'their' parents. The traditional family conception of the Swiss Civil Code favors heterosexual, married couples with children and assumes two-parent families. The two-parent principle and the concept of two-parent families makes it impossible to legally represent the many different forms of families and kinship that exist. The goal of this dissertation is to examine the legal figure of parental status, its emergence, as well as the possibility for an inclusive, caring conception of parenthood and parentage law inherent in it.

Reproductive Autonomy, Medically Assisted Reproduction and Genetic Responsibility. Genesis and validity of a bioethical discourse paradigm of social generativity from a protestant theological perspective (working title; by Dr. Michael Braunschweig)
My current research focus on how technologies of medically assisted reproduction together with genetic diagnosis (seem to) change not only the social practices of reproduction but may also transform (gradually or categorically) the normative ontology of human reproduction. I critically assess predominant paradigms of liberal reproductive ethics („reproductive autonomy“, „liberal eugenics“, „transhumanism“) from an internal/immanent liberal perspective and from an (external) protestant theological perspective and evaluate them critically with regard to innovation potentials, but also the need for delimitation for an "ethics of reproduction" in the tradition of protestant ethics of family and kinship. In doing so, I focus in particular on questions of "genetic responsibility," that is, on whether and how techniques of medically assisted reproduction and genetic diagnostics (and, perhaps, preventive or enhancing gene editing interventions in the human germline) influence and change parental responsibility with regard to the genetic makeup of their offspring, how far this responsibility extends, and where legitimate limits to parental responsibility lie.

The Embryo and Thomas Aquinas (by Sabine Stettler)
The embryo is subject to constant change. On the one hand, it is in the process of changing into a potential child; on the other hand, it changes through temporal and social contexts. This project asks how the embryo can be understood in the writings of Thomas Aquinas and in the reception of these texts, developed in the context of questions of embryo protection. The discussion of the medieval and modern particularities of the embryo allows us to critically reflect on the role of technology and notions of time that underlie the different conceptions. 

Parenthood as a project - And why biology cannot justify parental rights (by Melanie Dössegger)
Raising children involves a high degree of authority of some autonomous persons over a (so far) non-autonomous person, an authority we generally only accept if it is in the interest of the non-autonomous person. However, if we justify parental rights in terms of children's interests alone, we cannot explain why we infringe on parents' rights when we redistribute children to the best-possible parents after birth. In my research, I clarify in whose interests parental rights lie, how parents acquire those rights and justify how broad the scope of these rights ought to be. My thesis is that parenthood is a weighty life-project to many people and therefore they have a fundamental, but conditional and limited right to initiate and continue this project. The advantage of such a liberal conception of parenthood would be that the concept is not based on bio-normative ideas of the "real" family, it morally equates fatherhood and motherhood and gives moral recognition to diverse family forms.

The legal framework for new reproduction techniques (by Dr. Estelle Fragu)
The law on assisted reproduction techniques is currently making a decisive transition from a biological model to a model based on the will to be a parent. The parental project is gradually becoming the only condition for initiating treatment by medically assisted reproduction and subsequently establishing filiation with the resulting child. This transition has consequences at two levels. On the one hand, unlike the biological model, the parental project does not contain any intrinsic limits that would justify the prohibition or limitation of certain techniques. It is therefore necessary to rethink the legal framework for each innovation in this area, such as uterus transplants, preimplantation genetic testing or CRISPR Cas9 technology, and to revive principles such as the prohibition of eugenics or human dignity. On the other hand, the establishment of maternity through childbirth, i.e. a biological reality, appears more and more anachronistic in a society where the will takes precedence over the body.

Dealing with surplus information from a legal perspective (by Jasmin Häcker-Winkenbach)
Genetic testing methods are subject to rapid development. Increasingly powerful analytical methods are leading to ever larger amounts of data. Inevitably, genetic information is obtained that lies outside the original purpose of the testing –and was not actually sought. Such information (so-called surplus information) can be highly relevant for the persons concerned (e.g. reproductive decisions, prevention of diseases). The dissertation explores the question of how the law should deal with surplus information obtained through genetic testing. The focus of the work lies on surplus information from prenatal genetic testing and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis.

Patent law-based access systems for CRISPR-Cas9 technology (by Sharon Petralia)
Patent law restricts the use, research and exploitation of CRISPR-Cas9, but patents also protect the invention and its commercialisation, thereby driving competition and incentivising further innovation. This aims to strike a balance between the interests of inventors and those of the general public. In this PhD project, the groundbreaking CRISPR-Cas9 technology will be examined from the perspective of intellectual property law, with a focus on patent law. The project assesses existing access systems under Swiss and other laws that (may) enable the use of CRISPR-Cas9 technology; it then identifies what an optimised access rights system might look like and makes suggestions for its implementation (with a focus on Switzerland).

Theological-ethical considerations on vulnerability in the context of intended parenthood and unvoluntary childlessness (by Leonie Abstein)
The desire to have a child is closely linked to the respective idea of a good life. In times of modern contraception and reproductive medicine, the decision to have a child of one's own seems more predictable and controllable than ever before. These developments can tempt us to ignore the moments of unavailability and vulnerability associated with human reproduction. Under such conditions, an unfulfilled desire to have children can be perceived as even more painful. Vulnerability concepts can provide a useful starting point for ethical reflection on how to deal with these issues, for example by asking how experiences of vulnerability and harm can be integrated into life and life plans. This can be linked with Christological considerations on incarnation: The voluntary exposition to vulnerability can be seen as connection of people who decide to desire a child with God, the Father, who brings his son into the world as a vulnerable newborn.