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This edited volume covers new ground bybringing together perspectives from symbolic legislation theory on the onehand, and from biolaw and bioethics on the other hand.
Symbolic legislation has a bad name. It usually refers toinstances of legislation which are ineffective and that serve other politicaland social goals than the goals officially stated. Recently, a more positivenotion of symbolic legislation has emerged in legislative theory. From thisperspective, symbolic legislation is regarded as a positive alternative to themore traditional, top-down legislative approach. The legislature no longer merely issuescommands backed up with severe sanctions, as in instrumental legislation.Instead, lawmakers provide open and aspirational norms that are meant to changebehavior not by means of threat, but indirectly, through debate and socialinteraction.
Since the 1990s, biomedical developments have revived discussionson symbolic legislation. One of the reasons is that biomedical legislationtouches on deep-rooted, symbolic-cultural representations of the biologicalaspects of human life. Moreover, as it is often impossible to reach consensuson these controversial questions, legislators have sought alternative ways todevelop legal frameworks. Consequently, communicative and interactive approachesto legislation are prominent within the governance of medical biotechnology.
The symbolic dimensions of biolaw are often overlooked. Yet,it is clear that the symbolic is at the heart of many legal-political debateson bioethical questions. Since the rise of biomedical technologies, human bodymaterials have acquired a scientific, medical and even commercial value. Thesenew approaches, which radically question existing legal symbolizations of thehuman body, raise the question whether and how the law should continue toreflect symbolic values and meanings. Moreover, how can we decide what thesesymbolic values are, given the fact that we live in a pluralistic society?