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Who Owns Life? Ethical, Juridical, and Artistic Encounters with Biotechnology


Deze informatie is alleen in het Engels beschikbaar.

Admission requirements

This course is an (extracurricular) Honours Class: an honours elective in the Honours College programme. There are limited spots available for second-year and third-year non honours students. Admission will be based on motivation.


"Who owns life?” addresses the ethical, cultural, juridical and economic issues regarding biotechnology by means of a highly interactive and experiential learning trajectory.

Transgenic organisms, lab-grown organs, clones, designer babies: A brave new biotechnological world is upon us, raising both hopes and fears. Contemporary biotechnology, involving practices such as genetic engineering, tissue culture or synthetic biology, provides us with a capacity to radically transform our daily lives and subverts our conventional notions of nature, life and the human body. Yet, amidst rapid scientific developments, significant practical and intellectual concerns are still pending deliberation. The legal and philosophical debates in and around biotechnology are ongoing and animated, tackling issues of life ownership and life commodification. At the same time, legal, scientific, societal and economic forces fight over the regulation of research practice and of the commercial application of biotechnologies. The question remains: Who owns life, really?

The aim of this class is to provide the participants with a hands-on understanding of the key issues in biotechnology and of the various perspectives and values in the public debate surrounding biotechnology. The class is distinguished by an interactive and experiential approach: Participants are expected to engage in biotechnological protocols and lab practice. They are also expected to actively contribute to debates and in-class exchanges regarding contemporary challenges in bioethics. Finally, as the course emphasizes the artistic perspective as a valuable entry to the issues at stake, participants will be exposed to contemporary artist practice and production, both during the seminars and during hands-on, lab-based workshops led by bio-artists.

Course objectives

Upon successful completion of this course, students will:

  • have a hands-on understanding of contemporary developments in biotechnology;

  • have an understanding of major concepts and arguments in bioethics;

  • be able to identify key issues in biotechnology and its products;

  • be able to identify various perspectives and values in the public debate surrounding biotechnology;

  • be able to analyse artworks that engage with biotechnology;

  • have obtained an affinity with both a humanities and a natural science approach;

  • have learnt to think critically about contemporary biotechnological challenges;

  • have learnt how to approach biotechnological challenges in their own (professional) life.


Mondays, 13.00 – 17.00.

4 February
11 February
18 February
25 February
4 March
11 March


Gorlaeus Lab

4 February – Room DM021PC
11 February – Room DM021PC
18 February – Room EM 2.17
25 February – Room EM 2.17
4 March – Room DM021PC
11 March – Room DM021PC


The programma will incude the following aspects (subject to changes, depending upon the availability of visiting artists and guest lecturers):
1. Introduction and safety induction
2. Debate 1- Commodification
3. DIY biology workshop and guest lecture
4. Debate 2- Human Enhancement
5. Hands-on session in the lab with bio-artist
6. 7. Roleplay
8. Final student presentations

Course Load

This course is worth 5 EC, which means the total course load equals 140 hours.

  • Seminars: 6 * 4 hours = 24 hours

  • Literature reading & practical work: 8 * 6 hours = 48 hours

  • Group work assignments: 2 * 4 hours + 1 * 12 hours = 20 hours

  • Final essay: 48 hours

Assessment method

  • 40% Group work

  • 60% A final paper of 2500 words

The students are asked to write as a final paper a position paper on biotechnological issues addressing stakeholders

Please note: attendance is mandatory.

Blackboard and uSis

Blackboard will be used in this course. Students can register for the Blackboard site two weeks prior to the start of the course.

Please note: students are not required to register through uSis for the Honours Classes. Your registration will be done centrally.

Reading list

Compendium of articles available via Blackboard.


Enrolling in this course is possible from Tuesday November 6th until Thursday November 15th 23.59 hrs through the Honours Academy, via this link.
It is not necessary to register in uSis. It is not necessary to register in uSis.


prof. dr. R. Zwijnenberg