UNSW Law Initiative for Bio-Legalities (IBL) | Law

UNSW Law Initiative for Bio-Legalities (IBL)

Both law and biology are ordering devises and meaningful structures which regulate, allow or limit what can be done or undone and, in the process, alter our philosophical, political or social self-understanding.

The aim of the new UNSW Law Initiative for Bio-Legality (IBL) is to provide a platform for research, reflection and teaching where questions can be examined on how biological categories determine legality and how law becomes constituted in biology. Recent court cases on the property claims of seeds (Monsanto) or genes (Myriad), for instance, clearly reveal the enormous impact biotechnological in[ter]ventions have on what is made, grown or own. Other topics of interest include synthetic biology, genetic population research, epigenetics, forensic DNA, neurolaw, xenotransplantation, transgenetic animals, or germ-line therapy. These areas of concern have radically redefined of what legally establishes nature, property, personhood, evidence, mens rae, citizenship, reproduction, health, kinship, and “life” (or nonlife). We are also interested in new institutional practices and policies such as, for example, bio-banking and bio-safety and how they shape bio-sociality, bio-citizenship, bio-rights, and bio-constitutionalism.

In interrogating how biology influences our common understanding of legality, morality and science in the age of biotechnology, the initiative fundamentally takes a cross-disciplinary perspective on the changing boundaries between law and biology. While the relation between biology and law builds on a very long history – from natural law to evolutionary jurisprudence – the approach of the initiative is methodologically closer related to Science and Technology Studies (STS), Actor-Network-Theory (ANT), medical and legal anthropology, the philosophy of science, biology and technology and our  biopolitical understandings of legal governmentality.

Our first initiative is the symposium The “Biological Turn” in Law: A Critical Appraisal which was held on October 23 at the law school. For the full program see here. Please click here to watch the talks of the symposium.

Initiative Members  


Upcoming EVENTS 

Workshop on Natural and Unnatural Threats Pandemics & the Global Governance of Health and Biosecurity

UNSW Law Initiative for Bio-Legalities (IBL)

Date: 7 June, 9am - 5pm, UNSW Law

The threat of deadly infectiousness diseases has accompanied us throughout human history, but since the medical revolutions of the 19th and 20th century and the enormous success of preventive public health measures like increased hygiene, clean drinking water or global vaccination programs this threat seems dramatically reduced, and is now often considered as mainly prevailing in developing regions. Is this still a correct assumption?

Not only are natural pandemics reoccurring globally but the possible incidence of “unnatural” pandemics, resulting from the abuse of so-called DURC research (dual-use research of concern), is increasing rapidly. Biotechnology and bioterrorism both profit from the miniaturization of laboratories and open source coding availability. This also implies the reduction of scale, costs and complexity potentially creating a new threat from self-made “backyard” viruses. Is this “twelve monkey’s scenario” real or merely a new form of viral fear-mongering? Have we entered a new era where the radical potential of the biosciences demands an equal radical rethinking of global legal biosecurity governance focussed on real-time tracking of artificial pandemics? And what does ‘containment’ mean in this context: quarantining entire regions?

What can we learn from recent “natural” pandemics like Ebola, H5N1, SARS or HIV? Are these viral outbreaks signs of weak or collapsing public health systems, or a failing biosecurity surveillance, tracking and enforcement regimes? Do we need more medical humanitarianism, or more biosecurity governance? Or are these just different terms for a very similar postcolonial biopolitics attempting to manage Western/Northern anxieties and fears? And what is the role of the pharmaceutical and genetic industries in all of this? Who decides when and which persons and populations will be vaccinated, diagnosed, contained or worth saving? Do we focus on the legal-political or medical-public aspects of global public health governance? Are these questions at all inseparable?

The workshop aims to set up an interdisciplinary dialogue between scholars from medicine, public health, law, political and social sciences, international relations, humanitarian engineering, computer science, and, finally, research from pandemic, disaster and catastrophe studies.

This workshop is organized by the UNSW Initiative for Biolegalities in cooperation with the School of Public Health and Community Medicine. The workshop supports the UNSW Inequality and Technology Grand Challenges and aims to establish or expand collaborations between all PLuS Alliance members with invited scholars from all participating universities: UNSW, Kings College London, and Arizona State University.



9.15 -9.30

Welcome & Introduction, Marc De Leeuw (UNSW Law)


Biopreparedness in the Age of Genetically Engineered Pathogens and Open Access Science: An Urgent Need for a Paradigm Shift
Raina MacIntyre (UNSW)

Commentator: Angus J Dawson (USyd)


Morning Coffee/Tea


Virus genomes reveal factors that spread and sustained the Ebola epidemic
Matthew Scotch (Arizona State University)

Commentator: Adam Kamradt-Scott (USyd)


Ebola: what it tells us about medical ethics
Angus J Dawson (USyd)

Commentator: Marc De Leeuw (UNSW)




Reforming the World-Health Organization to become an operational Agency
Adam Kamradt-Scott (USyd)

Commentator: Raina MacIntyre (UNSW)


Cost-effectiveness of Pharmaceutical-based Pandemic Influenza Mitigation Strategies
James Wood/ Raina MacIntyre (et al) (UNSW)

Commentator: Matthew Scotch (Arizona State University)


Afternoon Tea


Influenza-associated delays in patient throughput and premature patient departure in emergency departments in NSW
David Muscatello (UNSW)

The community's attitude towards swine flu and pandemic influenza &
Why do I need it? I am not at risk! Public perceptions towards the pandemic (H1N1) 2009 vaccine

Holly Seal et. Al (UNSW)

Commentator: James Wood (UNSW)

3.30- 4.00

Vaccine Myopia: Adult vaccination also needs attention

Rob Menzies et.al. (UNSW)

Commentator: David Muscatello (UNSW)


Future Plans, Raina MacIntyre (UNSW) & Drinks


Organized by:

Marc De Leeuw, Fleur Johns (UNSW Law) & Raina MacIntyre (UNSW School of Public Health and Community Medicine)

Funding provided by UNSW Law and UNSW School of Public Health and Community Medicine


Symposium on The Seeds of Law: Patenting, Plant-Banking and the Public Good 

UNSW Law Initiative for Bio-Legalities (IBL)

Seeds determine what we can grow, which foods can be produced, which plants we grant protection. For centuries “ownership” of seeds was unknown to farmers and breeders. Although property rights over natural products were already introduced in the early 20th century the far-reaching implications of biotechnology have radically changed the ‘legal status’ of many seeds. Genetic modification of seeds became a patentable product allowing companies like Monsanto to conquer and monopolize the global seed market. Simultaneously fundamental reductions in biodiversity are countered with new protection regimes and public storing institutions such as the Australian Plant Bank. In combination these two processes evoke some urgent questions this symposium hopes to address: should “seeds” – both in their material occurrence and as patentable genetic data-sets – be a private or public “good”? Who determines which seeds can be privately patented and which ones need public protection and storage? Should agricultural techniques, seed reproduction and biodiversity be considered part of our human heritage or are seeds just another natural resource usable to generate global economic and social benefits? Are these two positions exclusive or can they co-exist? How does law intervene in these processes?

Date: Thursday, 17 March, 2016 1-5pm
Venue: Boardroom, UNSW Law
RSVP: theseedsoflaw.eventbrite.com.au


UNSW Law Initiative for Bio-Legalities (IBL)

Organisers: Marc De Leeuw / Initiative for Bio-Legalities & Miguel Vatter / Biopolitical Studies Research Network.
Funding provided by: UNSW Law / UNSW Arts and Social Sciences.

Full program is available here.


The "Biological Turn" in Law: A Critical Appraisal

The following talks were delivered at the symposium The "Biological Turn" in Law: A Critical Appraisal held at the UNSW Law on October 23 2015. The symposium critically discussed some of the implications of the “biological turn” in the human and social sciences as they touch upon jurisprudence and legal theory. Many studies show that with the increasing use of biological markers of identity (genetic, biometric, etc.), the traditional category of the legal (and moral) person is increasingly becoming unable to articulate or track the new interfaces between life and law. Aim of the symposium was to thematize the empirical and normative transformations in the ideas of legal personhood, legal form, and subjective rights caused or motivated by the biologization of law and politics.

The speakers of the symposium are: Joseph Pugliese (Macquarie University), Catherine Mills (Monash University), Ngaire Naffine (University of Adeliade) and Thomas Lemke (Goethe University Frankfurt). The responses were delivered by David Mercer (University of Wollongong), Sonja van Wichelen (University of Sydney), Miguel Vatter (UNSW) and Isabel Karpin (UTS). The symposium was organized by Marc De Leeuw (UNSW), who also introduces the symposium, and Miguel Vatter (UNSW). Funding was provided by UNSW Law and the Faculty for Arts and Sciences UNSW.


Part 1:
  • Welcome & Introduction: Marc de Leeuw (UNSW Law)
  • Biometric Extraterritorialisation of Personhood: Biopolitics of Biodata and the Embodied Border, Joseph Pugliese (Macquarie University)

Part 2: Foetal Life and Law, Catherine Mills (Monash University)

Part 3: Criminal Law and the Material Person, Ngaire Naffine (University of Adelaide)

Part 4: From Social Problems to Privacy Issues: A Symptomatic Reading of the Discourse on Genetic Discrimination, Thomas Lemke (Goethe-University Frankfurt)