As one of the hottest areas of scientific and technological development today, genetics and biotechnology are raising a variety of difficult and controversial policy questions. Should individuals with genetic diseases be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act? Do the President and Congress have the power to decide whether or not stem cell research, an area of investigation that angers those who believe that life begins at conception, should be conducted? Should genes and stem cells be treated like any other type of intellectual property under the law? Do the World Trade Organization and other international governing bodies need to change their trade policies to accommodate the environmental, economic, health, and social concerns of countries with regard to genetically modified organisms? Not only do laws and regulatory frameworks need to be devised to promote this area of innovation and regulate the technologies that are developed, but the new powers that this science and technology allow—to peer into human genomes and predict future disease and behavior and manipulate the genomes of humans, plants, and animals, among others things—will require action from policymakers far beyond those who monitor the activities of the laboratory and the clinic.
In this course, we will explore how genetics and biotechnology are raising new political and policy challenges as they challenge our understandings of our bodies, our health, our pasts and futures, and even our social and political orders, and discuss the laws and regulatory frameworks that have already been developed to deal with this new area of research and technology. This course is designed for graduate students from public policy, public health, and the social and natural sciences. Topics include: politics, religion, and stem cell research; international development and genetically modified organisms; the politics of race and pharmacogenetics; implications for medical and health policy; the history of biotechnology policy; the ownership of genes and stem cells; public hype and excitement over the new science and technology; discrimination in insurance and employment; the creation of national DNA databanks; and genetics and biotechnology policy in comparative perspective. Students will be asked to prepare short policy memos, actively participate in classroom discussions and debates, and prepare a term paper on a topic of their choice.