Reframing Rights

From Basic Bioethics

Reframing Rights

Bioconstitutionalism in the Genetic Age

Edited by Sheila Jasanoff

Investigations into the interplay of biological and legal conceptions of life, from government policies on cloning to DNA profiling by law enforcement.





Investigations into the interplay of biological and legal conceptions of life, from government policies on cloning to DNA profiling by law enforcement.

Legal texts have been with us since the dawn of human history. Beginning in 1953, life too became textual. The discovery of the structure of DNA made it possible to represent the basic matter of life with permutations and combinations of four letters of the alphabet, A, T, C, and G. Since then, the biological and legal conceptions of life have been in constant, mutually constitutive interplay—the former focusing on life's definition, the latter on life's entitlements. Reframing Rights argues that this period of transformative change in law and the life sciences should be considered “bioconstitutional.”

Reframing Rights explores the evolving relationship of biology, biotechnology, and law through a series of national and cross-national case studies. Sheila Jasanoff maps out the conceptual territory in a substantive editorial introduction, after which the contributors offer “snapshots” of developments at the frontiers of biotechnology and the law. Chapters examine such topics as national cloning and xenotransplant policies; the politics of stem cell research in Britain, Germany, and Italy; DNA profiling and DNA databases in criminal law; clinical trials in India and the United States; the GM crop controversy in Britain; and precautionary policymaking in the European Union. These cases demonstrate changes of constitutional significance in the relations among human bodies, selves, science, and the state.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262015950 320 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 1 map, 2 graphs, 1 figure


$30.00 X ISBN: 9780262516273 320 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 1 map, 2 graphs, 1 figure


Sheila Jasanoff

Sheila Jasanoff is Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. She is the author of Can Science Make Sense of Life? and other books and the coeditor of Earthly Politics: Local and Global in Environmental Governance (MIT Press, 2004).


  • Essential reading for anyone working at the intersection of law, science, technology, and culture. The chapters are uniformly probing and, thanks to the inspiration and care of the volume's editor, share an uncommon level of thematic consistency. Most important, the framework of bioconstitutionalism represents genuine intellectual progress. At a time when our legal, social, and even natural categories appear most brittle, Reframing Rights brims over with insight and guidance.

    Douglas A. Kysar

    Joseph M. Field '55 Professor of Law, Yale Law School, and author of Regulating from Nowhere

  • Reframing Rights offers an original, empirically grounded overview of the many facets of the co-production of new biomedical entities, legal norms, and regulations. Each chapter provides a detailed case study of individual aspects of these processes, and Jasanoff's final essay brilliantly shows how they jointly contribute to the bioconstitutionalist research program. The book will likely become the standard reference for discussions of bioconstitutionalism; not simply a buzzword, this notion entails a methodology of its own and provides a detailed yet flexible analytical frame for empirical, comparative research.

    Alberto Cambrosio

    Social Studies of Medicine, McGill University

  • Modern biological innovations like embryonic stem cell research were not even imaginable when the political and legal structures of our societies were designed, and these biological innovations interact uneasily with these existing structures. In fact, biology is itself leading to a change in definitions of what it means to be human. In this important new work, Sheila Jasanoff edits a fascinating collection of studies of 'bioconstitutionalism' that empirically examine instances of this unease. All scholars interested in the impact of biological innovation on society should read this book.

    John H. Evans

    Professor of Sociology, University of California, San Diego

  • Focusing on a variety of genomic-related subjects—including stem cells, clones, bioethics, forensic DNA databases, and race, among others—Reframing Rights improves the reader's understanding of the evolving tensions between life and law in both a domestic and international context.

    Michael Yudell

    Associate Professor, Drexel University School of Public Health and coauthor of Welcome to the Genome