Rethinking the Legal and Ethical Status of Humans, Animals, and the Environment

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Spring 2014 Seminar
Meets: T 5:00pm - 7:00pm in WCC Room 5052
2 classroom credits

Cutting across issues in bioethics, animal rights, and environmentalism, this course will explore the law’s treatment of entities whose legal and ethical status is ambiguous or contested.

The first section of the course will be devoted to human entities, such as embryos, the brain dead, and future persons. With respect to future persons, for example, we will ask whether an activity can be considered harmful to a future person if it alters the person’s genetics so much that it changes the person’s identity; whether a law that prevents someone from coming into existence can be justified by reference to the best interests of that person; and if it can be justified, in what circumstances and on what grounds.

The second section of the course will be devoted to animal entities, such as primates, farm animals, and chimeras. With respect to primates, for example, we will ask whether animal protection statutes should be understood as granting rights to primates; how their status as property without legal standing to enforce these statutes shapes the answer to that question; and whether they should be granted standing or a functional alternative, such as equitable self-ownership.

The third section of the course will be devoted to environmental entities, such as the climate, forests, and endangered plant species. With respect to the climate, for example, we will ask whether cap and trade regimes create objectionable rights to impose harm by which they can be meaningfully distinguished from other regulatory regimes; how a cap and trade solution to the problem of global warming conceptualizes the harm of emissions; and what conception of the “good” of the environment underlies this conception of harm.

Across these categories, we will also explore a broader set of common questions and issues. For example, we will explore the relationship between legal and natural categories, as well as the nature of ethical and legal justification, asking whether rights and duties should be based on general categories (such as species membership), individual capacities (such as sentience or rationality), or a completely different type of criterion (such as the meaning of a form of treatment).

Grading will be based on class participation and reading responses.

Subject Areas: Health Law , Legal & Political Theory , Environmental Law .