Human Rights and Emerging Technologies

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, AI, information technologies, and their combination now constitute subjects of governance. Furthermore, as governments have started to rely increasingly on the use of these technologies, 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 perspectives.

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. In order to provide a context for the analysis of normative texts and cases, students will have at their disposal a Course Reader and the attached bibliography, which constitutes the basic literature for further studies.

Goals of the course

In order to achieve this end, the main goals of this course are:

  • to examine various forms of new technologies and the related policies as challenges to human rights;
  • to encourage critical analytical thinking about the role of human rights in shaping and restricting the application of new technologies and scientific advances; and
  • to analyze various examples of and case studies on the application of science and technology and their impact on human rights.
Learning Outcomes: 
  • Developing skills to analyze and to understand the human rights problems raised by new technologies and scientific advances;
  • Attaining capability to find, analyze and interpret cases of human rights relevance, including the understanding of their political context; and
  • Gaining familiarity with basic human rights in order to understand their role in international politics.

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.

Evaluation: active participation in seminar discussion, based on the required readings; two seminar presentations (20–20% of the final grade); and a final essay (a 10–12 pages long research paper of on a topic to be chosen after consultation with the instructor – 60% of the grade). The paper is due on December 15 of 2019. 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.

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