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The body and the law: scholars debate when human rights limit state interference


If a robot surgeon hurts you, who takes the blame? Why is abortion more difficult to access than fertility treatment? And is denying benefits to an economically marginalised person equivalent to torture?

These and other topics will be hotly debated at an academic event called 'The Body and Human Rights', to be held in Central London on 12 February – hosted by experts in social science and law from Brunel University London, and with speakers from around the world.

Dr Meredith Jones, a Reader in Gender and Media at Brunel, explains how the two research areas complement each other: "The body has become a major area of research across many disciplines. Feminist scholars have made important interventions in the ways that bodies are represented, managed, regulated, treated medically, and modified.

"Simultaneously, human rights scholars have engaged with challenging questions of how the human body should be legally understood and defined, and what may legitimate the State to become involved with individual choices about what to do with one's body."

The symposium, convened by Dr Jones and by Dr Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos, Associate Dean and Senior Lecturer in Law at Brunel, will feature papers from academics from UK and international universities.

Professor Lisa Blackman from Goldsmiths, University of London, will tackle non-human body politics in her keynote speech. When our bodies become fundamentally changed, altered and reformed by technological or industrial advances, what counts as a body? And where does this leave 'us' and our capacity to apprehend, experience, live and commune with the 'alien' parts?

Panels at the free-to-attend event will cover:

  • reproductive rights and abortion
  • mass atrocities and the destruction of the body
  • states and human dignity
  • criminal law, death and machines
  • surveillance and privacy
  • gender, identity and ownership of the body.

(Read the full conference programme here.)

"The topic of how individuals might protect their autonomy from state invasions is rarely out of the political and legal agendas," commented Dr Giannoulopoulos, "with rights being enhanced for some and threatened for others.

"This May's abortion referendum in Ireland comes at a time when reproductive rights are being eroded in the USA; policy makers are beginning to discuss how assisted dying should be implemented, if Parliament decides it is necessary; and the rights of refugees in Greece and elsewhere are in limbo.

"Our symposium will examine these legal, social and moral complexities, encourage debate and deepen our understanding, against the backdrop of a wider debate about the role of international human rights institutions, and international human rights law, in helping strike a balance between the public interest and individual autonomy."

The symposium will be held at Friends House in Kings Cross from 10:00 to 17:00 on Monday 12 February 2018. Register for free.

The event is hosted by Brunel University London's Global Lives Research Centre, Knowing Our Rights research project and Britain in Europe think tank.

Reported by:

Joe Buchanunn, Media Relations
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