The International Law of Biotechnology
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The International Law of Biotechnology

Human Rights, Trade, Patents, Health and the Environment

Matthias Herdegen

Biotechnology is a field that inspires complex legal and ethical debates on an international scale. Taking a fresh approach to the subject, Matthias Herdegen provides a comprehensive assessment of the regulation of biotechnology processes and products from an international and comparative perspective.
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Chapter 2: Law and ethics: an intriguing interplay

Matthias Herdegen

Abstract

Biotechnology has given rise to a close interaction of legal and ethical arguments. Religious beliefs and cultural differences could lead to conflicting approaches to topics such as in vitro fertilisation or pre-implantation diagnostics. In a secular state, regulatory decisions must be based on secular arguments. Still, religious beliefs and prevailing societal concepts or opinions influence regulatory approaches as to the status of early human life, the relative weight of competing interests and real or phantom risks. International law often requires regulatory decisions to be consistent and proportional. Thus, domestic regulatory choices should be based on common standards of rationality. Empirical criteria avoid subjectivism but should not entirely pre-empt value judgments. Still, socio-culturally entrenched values could pose severe difficulties to the development of international standards of bioethics. When international tribunals and other adjudicatory bodies overstretch international standards through an activist interpretation of international treaties, they may unduly narrow the corridor for democratic decisions at the national level. The standard of consistency preserves some deference to democratic choices.

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