Human Rights and Emerging technologies (2017/18)

Academic Year: 
Course Description: 

At the beginning of the 21st century the emerging new technologies have become inherently political. Neuroscience, genetics (genetic testing, screening, and DNA fingerprinting), the various assisted reproductive technologies, nanotechnology, robotics, information technologies, and their combination now constitute subjects of governance. Furthermore, as these technologies are increasingly used by governments, it has become difficult to scrutinize or control them, to limit their use or to apply equal access to them. In this process of scrutiny a human rights approach may provide some guidance. Human rights have developed an established set of norms, a specific language, an institutional network and infrastructure for thinking about new technologies, their relevance, or the potential challenges posed by their application. Another benefit of this approach is to provide an alternative to the prevailing economic and technocratic model of innovation.

This course deals with the status of, and current challenges to, human rights in this context. By analyzing relevant texts and landmark cases, new generations of human rights will be explored. Is it possible to interpret human rights norms on the level of the human cells? Should access to transplantation, tissues in biobanks, umbilical cord blood, or the results of stem cell research be based on principle of solidarity? Or do we have to acknowledge that we are inevitably drifting towards a more commercial paradigm? The course will focus on recently emerged new technologies and their implications in the domain of human rights, such as right to privacy, international, national and personal security and DNA testing. The main methodology of this course is qualitative analysis of normative texts and cases that contain elements from both the human rights and public policy.   

Uses and effects of biotechnological advances by now have become the subject of intense debates in society. Yet, the policy impacts of life sciences have remained so far understudied or at least not adequately elaborated – even though issues such as reproduction and gender; the new and emergent forms of discrimination; intellectual property and benefit sharing; and the protection of vulnerable groups, would provide a broad scope of study in this area. During the course the students will analyze normative texts and cases that contain elements from both the human rights and new technologies. The Reader and the attached bibliography shall provide the basic literature for further studies. 

Learning Outcomes: 

Goals of the course

  • to examine various forms of new technologies and related policies as challenges to human rights;
  • to encourage critical analytical thinking about the role of human rights in shaping and restricting and applying new technologies and science; and
  • to analyze various examples and case studies on science and technology and their impact on human rights.

Learning outcomes by the course

  • Skills to analyze and to understand human rights problems raised by new challenges of technological advances;
  • Capability to find, to analyze and to interpret cases, including their relevance in the political context; and
  • Familiarity with basic human rights and to understand their role in the international politics.

Course requirements:

Students are required to participate in the discussion of the social and legal issues implicated in the cases and in the literature. Reading assignments and the schedule of the course are enclosed in the detailed syllabus. Course requirements include attendance at lectures and seminars.


active participation in seminar discussion, based on the required readings and seminar presentations (30% of the final grade), and a final essay – a 10 to 12-page research paper on a topic to be chosen after consultation with the instructor (70% of the grade). The paper is due on December 18 of 2017. The topic of the final essay should relate to the themes and concepts of the course and the title should be approved on the basis of a written proposal to be submitted at midterm. 


Basic materials for this course:

Roger Brownsword, Morag Goodwin (2012) Law and the technologies of the Twenty-First Century Cambridge. Cambridge University Press

Jasanoff, Sheila (2011) Reframing Rights: Bio-Constitutionalism in the Genetic Age. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Francioni, Francesco (2007) Biotechnologies and International Human Rights. Oxford and Portland, OR: Hart Publishing.

Rose, Nikolas (2007) The Politics of Life Itself: Biomedicine, Power, and Subjectivity in the Twenty-First Century. Princeton: Princeton University Press.