Dr Andrew McGee on the therapy and enhancement distinction in regulating germline genome editing

Dr Andrew McGee, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Law, has delivered a thought provoking new paper on the importance of the therapy v enhancement distinction in regulation germline genome editing. This paper has now been published in the leading bioethics journal.

Dr Andrew McGee

Dr Andrew McGee

In a first major study, the UK’s Royal Society found that 76% of people in the UK are in favour of therapeutic germline genomic editing to correct genetic diseases in human embryos, but found there was little appetite for germline genomic editing for non-therapeutic purposes. Assuming the UK (and other governments) acted on these findings, can lawmakers and policymakers coherently regulate the use of biomedical innovations by permitting their use for therapeutic purposes but prohibiting their use for enhancement purposes?

In his paper, Andrew examines the very common claim that the therapy v enhancement distinction does little meaningful work in helping us think through the ethical issues. This claim has significant implications for lawmakers and policymakers who may wish to regulate genomic editing techniques to reflect the findings of this important study.

You can read Andrew’s paper, Using the therapy and enhancement distinction in law and policy, in the bioethics journal.

About Andrew McGee

Andrew is an Associate Professor in the School of Law and is an active member of the Australian Centre for Health Law Research. He has published articles in leading international medical law and ethics journals on palliative care, withholding and withdrawing life-prolonging measures and euthanasia, organ donation, and the ethics of abortion.

You can learn more about Andrew and his research and publications in his staff profile.

Professor Ben White secures ARC Future Fellowship

Professor Ben White, from QUT’s Australian Centre for Health Law Research (ACHLR), is one of four QUT researchers named as Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellows.

Professor Ben White

ARC Future Fellow Professor Ben White

Ben will receive $932,498 to investigate enhancing end-of-life care through a new and holistic regulatory framework. Current regulations are complex and fragmented and can cause distress to patients, families and health professionals.

The project’s aim is to help provide better palliative care, more patient involvement in decisions, reduced patient-doctor conflict and a more efficient health system.

From extensive research, Professor White and ACHLR colleague Professor Lindy Willmott developed and launched the End of Life Law for Clinicians training program. This is a free program to help medical professionals better understand this changing area of law and deal with situations when they encounter them.

We congratulate Ben and wish him continued success as an ARC Future Fellow.

About Ben White

Ben was a foundation Director of the Australian Centre for Health Law Research for six years (2013-2018). He has published extensively in the area of health law, with a particular focus on end of life decision-making.

Ben’s research has had significant impact leading to changes in law, policy and practice. His work has been adopted by parliaments, courts and tribunals, and law reform commissions and has also influenced State and national end-of-life policy and prompted changes to clinical education in universities, hospitals and health departments.

You can learn more about Ben and his research and publications in his staff profile.

Consumer credit, debt, personal insolvency and the laws that protect us

As household debt increases and disposable income falls, more and more Australians are experiencing financial stress.

Senior Lecturer Nicola Howell’s PhD research explores how consumer credit, debt and personal insolvency laws work in practice and whether they provide sufficient protection, particularly for those that are vulnerable or disadvantaged.

“Money issues affect people from all walks of life. I’m hoping my research will help improve our laws in Australia, so that people can recover more quickly from financial difficulties. For example, if someone has declared bankruptcy, did it provide them with a fresh start? Did it improve their financial wellbeing? We want to work out what is working, what is not, and whether changes are needed,” Nicola said.

Nicola’s research article, Shutting the courts out: developing consumer credit law when privatised dispute resolution dominates the landscape, won the Banking and Financial Services Law Association (BSFLA) Research Prize last year, and has been published in the Journal of Banking & Finance Law and Practice.

As part of her research, Nicola spent six months in The Netherlands meeting with Dutch debt counsellors, government officials, academics, and others working on the same types of consumer debt issues we have in Australia. The Netherlands visit was supported by the QUT Faculty of Law, the Australia Awards Endeavour Postgraduate Scholarship, and the Melbourne Law School.

You can contribute to Nicola’s PhD research by completing an online survey – links to the surveys are listed below and eligibility conditions apply. If you have:

Nicola’s findings will be released upon completion of her PhD through Melbourne Law School.

Need help with debt?

If you or someone you know is struggling with debt, assistance is available via the National Debt Helpline.

ASIC’s MoneySmart website also offers valuable guidance for managing debt.

About Nicola Howell

Nicola researches legal and policy issues in consumer financial services, consumer credit and other consumer transactions, and personal insolvency. Nicola teaches in areas including insolvency, commercial and personal property, consumer, and financial services law.

You can learn more about Nicola and her research and publications in her staff profile.

 

What does engagement and impact mean to law academics?

Research engagement and impact have become not only buzz words within the academe and government, but important standards of recognition and achievement for academics who wish to go above and beyond traditional academic roles of teaching, research and administration.

Ilana Bolingford

The Australian Government is set to enter its second iteration of Engagement and Impact (EI), alongside its regular Excellence for Research Australia (ERA) assessment of quality. It is therefore becoming more important to not only understand engagement and impact from a policy perspective but also from the perspective of academics as participants in the research and impact agenda.

As part of her PhD, Ilana Bolingford is investigating how law academics experience forms of research evaluation and performance measures within an Australian context. In particular Ilana is looking at how research engagement and impact is understood by academics and how it is experienced in their day to day working life.

The study is important not only to Law but to other Humanities and Social Science (HASS) disciplines as they tend to engage with end users differently than their counterparts in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines.

Overall, Ilana hopes her research will help law schools (and other HASS schools) understand how their researchers are experiencing research impact which may lead to better training and development resources, cultural changes, better workload practices, and development of appropriate internal university policies.

While Ilana is currently analysing data from 10 semi-structured interviews, she has thus far found:

  • that academics generally have good experiences engaging with end users and community;
  • that workload practices severely impact on their ability to translate knowledge and participate in engagement activities, especially for early career researchers;
  • that they see engagement and impact as much broader than the current definitions as defined by the Australian Government; and
  • that they see teaching and mentoring as significant experiences of impact.

Ilana will be presenting research on her findings in 2020 to several Law Schools across Australia as they prepare for the next Engagement and Impact Assessment in 2024.

Find out more

If you wish to learn more about this research, you can visit Ilana’s published research in e-prints or contact Ilana by email at Ilana.Bolingford@qut.edu.au

Striking to uphold the law?

Dr Rowena Maguire, Dr Bridget Lewis and Dr Hope Johnson from the QUT School of Law discuss recent climate strike action, complacency around the climate crisis, and the need for Australia to have a credible climate policy.

Young people fight for their future

On Friday 20 September over four million people across 163 countries went on strike and marched through their towns and cities to take a stand against a lack of sufficient action to address the climate crisis. The climate strike was inspired by Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who has educated and inspired school children across the globe about the necessity of taking sufficient action now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Thunberg passionately reminded world leaders that they should not be turning to children to find hope and or solutions to the climate crisis.

The school climate strike movement in Australia has three key demands:

  1. No new coal, oil and gas projects, including the Adani mine;
  2. 100% renewable energy generation and exports by 2030; and
  3. Fund a just transition and job creation for all fossil-fuel workers and communities.

These three demands are exceptionally reasonable given that Australia is a signatory to the Paris Agreement which has a long term temperature goal of limiting global warming to well-below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Current predictions suggest that urgent action is needed now if there is to be any hope of meeting this internationally agreed target, as a common sign at the school strike reminded us: Denial is not a policy.

The school children on strike talk about their right to a future, an idea encapsulated in the international environment principle of inter-generation equity. This principle, which is part of most international environmental agreements and included in the Paris Agreement, states that current generations hold the earth in trust for future generations and requires that present generations manage the earth and its resources as custodians, as opposed to dominating or acting as masters over nature. In simple terms, school children are asking for leadership on climate change, so that they have a future to look forward to, a future which has diversity in plants and animals, a future that provides clean air, water and food, and a future that is not totally disrupted by natural hazards such as floods, drought, cyclones and fire.

Recently a group of eight Torres Strait Islanders submitted a petition against the Australian government to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. The petition alleges that Australia is infringing their right to culture, the right to be free from arbitrary interference with privacy, family and home, and the right to life. This is the first climate claim against the Australian government on human rights grounds and first claim internationally filed on behalf of inhabitants of low-lying islands.

Strong sense of complacency in Australia

At the 27th Annual Australian and New Zealand Society for International Law Conference in July 2019, Professor Christina Voigt reminded the audience in her keynote speech that international law does not have a great track record of dealing with international crises (such as war, natural disasters or refugees), thus highlighting the importance of taking action in the next 10 years to reduce emissions while there is still time to do so.

There has a been a strong sense of complacency around the climate crises, often justified by the belief that it is not possible to reverse climate change, that economic interests trump other interests and that it is too hard to change behaviour. Climate change is the product of generations of consumption and fetishized economic growth, and addressing it properly will require radical shifts in the way we think about our relationship with nature and a willingness to change the way we live. Consumption for the sake of consumption needs to be called out and questioned, consumption simply to fuel the economy is a misguided approach that underpins the current neoliberal economic model, which is premised on the need for constant economic growth, a goal which even economists acknowledge as being impossible to achieve.

Climate change is a huge problem but rather than articulate it in terms of its human consequences, it is often couched in methodical scientific and policy jargon, language which removes people from the equation, and allows people (especially politicians) to pretend that it does not exist. It is far too easy for our political leaders to hide behind carefully selected facts and figures or to point the blame in other directions rather than tackle the magnitude of the challenge that is before us. We need to start holding our politicians to account individually and asking them directly which side of history they want to sit on. Politicians need to start behaving like their house is on fire.

Australia needs a credible climate policy guided by Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander knowledge and sovereignty

Australia does not have a credible climate policy, the current mixture of initiatives has been designed with the sole purpose of ensuring “business as usual”. Climate policy in Australia should be guided by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge of country and acknowledge their sovereignty over the land. This policy needs to demonstrate courage and reimagine the future, a future that is not premised upon economic growth, but a future premised on caring for people and the planet. Such a policy would:

  • Build Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership into its development and implementation;
  • Meaningfully represent the interests of future generations in decision-making;
  • Strengthen democratic institutions to ensure transparency and accountability over decisions that impact the climate;
  • Commit to reducing subsidies to fossil fuel projects;
  • Promote and enable renewable energy investments;
  • Support just transitions to a green economy, including through ensuring workers’ rights
  • Identify meaningful ways to prohibit land clearing;
  • Incentivize and support farmers to introduce climate smart agricultural practices;
  • Encourage local governments to introduce food protection zones to protect peri-urban farmland;
  • Invest in interventions to reduce consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions including by up-scaling public transport and promoting sustainable diets;
  • Encourage a shift away from an economy of consumption to an economy based on compassion and care.

Legal breakthroughs in NSW not applicable in Queensland

Promising developments in New South Wales over the last few months suggest that decision-makers in New South Wales agree with the school children that no new coal mines should be approved in Australia. The Rocky Hill coal mine was refused partially on climate change grounds – wrong mine, wrong time and NSW Independent Planning Commission recently refused to approve the Bylong Valley coal mine solely on the grounds of climate change and intergenerational equity, noting that while the economic benefits of the mine would accrue to present generations, the environmental, agricultural and heritage costs would be borne by future generations. These decisions show that when environmental law principles such as inter-generational equity are considered and applied they result in the inevitable conclusion that new coal mines cannot be justified.

Meanwhile in Queensland, the Adani coal mine has been given the tick of approval by both the governments and the courts, and the government recently extinguished native title over the proposed site, meaning that there are now only very low legal hurdles for the mine to jump before having full legal approval to go ahead. Environmental law in Queensland does not give blanket approval for new coal mines, however the interpretation of the law in Queensland has effectively done so in the past. Queensland courts are not bound by the decisions reached in NSW, but the recent decisions from NSW are certainly persuasive and hopefully influential in guiding future decisions of Queensland courts.

Extinction Rebellion, “emergency” defence and civil disobedience

Future climate action appears to be escalating largely led by the Extinction Rebellion, an environmental group using civil disobedience as a strategy to protest against inaction on climate policy. Extinction Rebellion will be leading a range of activities from 7-11 October across Brisbane and many of the protestors are willing to risk arrest and conviction to make their point. The last time that Australia saw this sort of citizen protest was during the movement to prevent building of the Franklin Dam in Tasmania where 1400 people were arresting (a campaign which was ultimately successful). The Queensland Police arrested 72 activists at the August climate strike for various offences including obstructing traffic and breach of peace. When defending these charges in the court, Extinction Rebellion members will test the extraordinary emergency defence  a defence created to respond to rare situations where a person breaks the law because of an emergency. In the context of the climate protests, the argument is that breaking laws, such as breaches of the peace, is defensible because we are in a climate emergency. Dr Nikki Rogers has just published a book which examines the emergency discourse and the extraordinary emergency defence. The relevant question for the court when considering the defence is “what is reasonable”? When determining “reasonability”, it is suggested that the court needs to take into account the structures that limit what an ordinary citizen can do regarding the climate crisis. When our government is failing to act in response to the impending crisis and citizens’ options are limited, is it not reasonable to take strong action through civil disobedience?

The school climate strike movement, unlike previous environmental law movements, shows some awareness of the impact of colonization upon global environmental degradation. The climate strike rally in Brisbane prioritised Indigenous voices and knowledge, a lesson that should be more broadly adopted in all environmental governance forums. With respect to the climate emergency debate, however, it is really important to acknowledge that there are concerns associated with declaring a “climate emergency” under the law. Emergency framing has historically been associated with the granting of significant power to leaders to take extreme action. In Australia, the framing of emergency was used to justify extreme measures against Indigenous populations such as the Northern Territory Intervention in 2007. Groups concerned with climate justice have advocated against the use of the term emergency on the basis that such framing opens the door for the introduction of untested geoengineering solutions becoming justified or seen as the inevitable action required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions when what is needed is systematic behaviour and economic change.

The window for averting climate disaster is closing and the changes we need to make are daunting. The determination of the school strikers and their supporters will only continue to grow until sufficient action is taken. Their commitment ought to spur us on to make changes in our own lives, and to demand stronger action from our politicians. The younger generation has called on us to act now to assure their future. It is up to us to not let them down.

Dr Rowena Maguire, Senior Lecturer, QUT School of Law
Dr Bridget Lewis, Senior Lecturer, QUT School of Law
Dr Hope Johnson, Lecturer, QUT School of Law

Alex Deagon on the necessity and means of protecting institutional religious freedom

Institutional religious freedom is not absolute, but what kind of specific rights or exemptions should exist?

Senior Lecturer Dr Alex Deagon contends that the religious freedom of institutions is a cornerstone of democracy and must be protected, and he discusses this in a blog published as part of a ‘Real-World Approaches: Freedom of Religion or Belief’ series on the ‘Religion and Global Society’ blog for the London School of Economics.

Far from being a threat to liberal democratic states, Alex argues that protecting religious associations preserves the development of the structures, processes and content necessary for the progress of democracy.

Alex explains that “democracy requires the nurture of diverse voices that inform public understanding of human advancement and the common good, and it is precisely within such faith and other communities that people can develop, nourish and deploy their voice.”

“Religious institutions need the space to independently form and develop unique perspectives which they can contribute to public discourse.”

You can read Alex’s blog post, The Democratic Imperative: On the Necessity and Means of Protecting Institutional Religious Freedom, on the Religion and Global Society blog.

About Alex Deagon

Alex’s expertise includes theories of law, law and theology, and freedom of religion, and his research has been published in many prestigious national and international journals.

You can learn more about Alex and his research and publications in his staff profile.

Technology companies and protecting our rights

Professor Nicolas Suzor’s recent book, Lawless: The Secret Rules That Govern Our Digital Lives, examines the power that social media platforms, search engines, and other technology companies have over our lives and the need for new digital constitutions that protect our rights.

The book shows us how our social lives, our news, and our information environments are shaped by a complex web of legal, technical, and social forces.

Drawing on ten years of research, Nic’s book offers a vision of a vibrant, diverse, and flourishing internet that can protect our fundamental human rights. Lawless is a must-read for those that care about the internet and the future of our digital lives.

Lawless is available from amazon.com.au. A free open access full PDF of the book is also available.

About Nicolas SuzorProfessor Nicolas Suzor

Professor Nicolas Suzor researches the regulation of networked society. He is a Professor of the QUT School of Law, and a Chief Investigator of QUT’s Digital Media Research Centre.

Nic is also the Deputy Chair of Digital Rights Watch, an Australian non-profit organisation whose mission is to ensure that Australian citizens are equipped, empowered and enabled to uphold their digital rights.

You can learn more about Professor Nicolas Suzor and his research in his staff profile.

QUT Faculty of Law Journal Law, Technology and Humans publishes first article

Law, Technology and Humans is an international, open access, peer-reviewed journal publishing original, innovative research concerned with the human and humanity of law and technology.

Image by Jon Tyson

Supported by the QUT Faculty of Law, the Journal was launched earlier this year alongside the QUT Law Lab and is one of four QUT-supported scholarly journals.

Ahead of the inaugural issue scheduled for later this year, Law, Technology and Humans has published its first article. Towards the Uberisation of Legal Practice considers ‘NewLaw’, a new business model in the delivery of legal services.   Emerita Professor of Law at the ANU College of Law Margaret Thornton discusses the key features of NewLaw entities and the ramifications for individual lawyers, with some interesting perspectives in regards to gender and age.  Online first at https://lthj.qut.edu.au/article/view/1277

Follow Journal announcements on Twitter @LawTechHum

To learn more about the journal you can visit the website or contact the journal’s General Editor Professor Kieran Tranter at k.tranter@qut.edu.au. 

 

 

Annual research scholarship round – apply now

Applications for our annual research scholarship round are now open for students starting in 2020.

Apply for a research degree and register your interest in a scholarship any time between now and 30 September 2019.

You can help find real-world solutions to a diverse range of topics in law. Possible research topics in the School of Law include:

  • International human rights law
  • Children’s health law
  • Jurisprudence and theories of law
  • New Technology and the law
  • Japanese and Asian comparative law

Find out more about research projects on our website.

An information session will be held on Tuesday 3 September, 10am-11am, at Gardens Point, Z Block, Level 10, the Gibson Room (1064). This will also be a recorded Zoom session. To register your interest in joining the session via Zoom, email research.scholarships@qut.edu.au by no later then Friday 30 August 2019.

 

QUT and Griffith real world collaboration project on Diabetes

Dr Elizabeth Dickson (QUT) and Dr Malcolm Smith (Griffith University) are collaborating on research projects for the Australian Diabetes Education Association and Diabetes Australia. Both organisations are committed to improving the health and well-being of around 1.7 million Australians living with diabetes.

In September 2018, The Australian Government announced that it would allocate 6 million dollars to fund the development of a training program for school staff supporting around 6000 Australian school students with type 1 diabetes. The program will address current inconsistencies in the level of support offered to students in Australian schools.  It is of particular concern that not all Australian students with type 1 diabetes have access to school based assistance with and supervision of insulin delivery and blood glucose monitoring. Elizabeth and Malcolm conducted a review of relevant law and policy applicable to the safe delivery of insulin at school.

In 2019 Elizabeth and Malcolm have been conducting a similar review of law and policy as applicable to the safe administration by carers of insulin to people with diabetes and another disability that prevents self-administration.

This type of research is a great example of academics making an impact in the real world.