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Professor Isabel Karpin


Professor Karpin  researches on the bioethical implications of laws governing reproductive technologies, genetic testing and disability. She explores the challenge posed by new biotechnological developments on legal understandings of normality, disability, individuality, and family.
She has a BA and LLB from Sydney University, a Masters of Law from Harvard University and a Doctorate (JSD) from Columbia University.  Professor Karpin joined the UTS Law faculty in February 2009 having previously worked at the University of Sydney from 1994 to 2008. 
Professor Karpin is the author and co-author of  articles, book chapters and books including recently Perfecting Pregnancy: Law Disability and the Future of Reproduction 2012 (with K Savell) published by Cambridge University Press and edited collections such as Nisker, Bayliss, Karpin, McLeod and Mykitiuk “The Healthy Embryo” (Cambridge 2010). She is currently involved in two major ARC projects, one exploring the regulation of behaviour as a disability and the other examining family formation using reproductive technology both inside and outside law and across borders.
Image of Isabel Karpin
Distinguished Professor, Faculty of Law
LLB (Syd), BA (Syd), LLM (Harv), JSD (Col.)
+61 2 9514 3179

Research Interests

Isabel is currently involved in several major research projects in the areas of reproductive technology, disability and emergent genetic technologies including:

  • ARC Discovery Grant, "Regulating Relations: Forming Families Inside and Outside Law's Reach" 2015-2019 (with Jenni Millbank and Anita Stuhmcke). For further information on this research, visit: www.regulatingrelations.com

    'Regulating Relations: Forming Families Inside and Outside Law’s Reach’ – a major 4 year project (2015-2018) exploring the Australian experience of cross border reproductive treatment, looking particularly at surrogacy, egg donation and sex selection. The research is funded by an ARC Discovery grant and is taking place with colleagues Jenni Millbank and Anita Stuhmcke.
  • ARC Discovery Grant, "The Legal Regulation of Behaviour as a Disability" (with Dr Karen O'Connell). People who exhibit socially challenging behaviour are increasingly defined in law as having a disability. This project addresses the problem of how law should respond to this growing cohort, a problem that becomes more acute as advances in genetics and the brain sciences expand the set of socially unacceptable behaviours that are identified as biologically based. Using detailed case studies of the regulation of genetic screening of embryos for disability and the application of disability discrimination law to behavioural traits, this project will determine how, if at all, law should regulate variant personality and behaviour.

Recently completed projects include:

  • ARC Discovery Grant, "The legal meaning of "serious disability" in prenatal and neonatal decision-making" 2009-2011 (with Kristin Savell)
  • ARC Discovery Grant, "Enhancing Reproductive Opportunity in Australia: Reconsidering Consent, Altruism and the Legal Status of Embryos" 2009-2011 (with Jenni Millbank and Anita Stuhmcke).
Can supervise: Yes
Available for undergraduate, postgraduate coursework and higher degree research supervision in:
  • Regulating Reproduction
  • Disability and the Law
  • Genetics and the Law
  • Health Law
  • Feminist Legal Theory
  • Law and Cultural studies
  • Australian Constitutional Law
  • Disability and the Law
  • Genetics and the Law
  • Health law


Karpin, I.A. & Savell, K. 2012, Perfecting Pregnancy - Law, Disability and the Future of Reproduction, 1, Cambridge University Press, United States.
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Prenatal and preimplantation testing technologies have offered unprecedented access to information about the genetic and congenital makeup of our prospective progeny. Future developments such as preconception testing, noninvasive prenatal testing, and more extensive preimplantation testing promise to increase that access further still. The result may be greater reproductive choice, but it also increases the burden on women and men to avail themselves of these technologies in order to avoid having a child who has a disability. The overwhelming question for legislators has been whether and, if so, how to regulate the use of these technologies in the face of compelling but seemingly contradictory claims about the advancement of reproductive choice and the dangers of eugenic or discriminatory effects. This book examines the evolution of this legislative oversight across a number of jurisdictions and explores the tensions and ambiguities that inform these laws.
Nisker, J., Baylis, F., Karpin, I., McLeod, C. & Mykitiuk, R. 2009, The 'Healthy' Embryo Social, Biomedical, Legal and Philosophical Perspectives, Cambridge University Press.
This multidisciplinary book explores the concept of a 'healthy' embryo, its implications on the health of children and adults, and how perceptions of what constitutes child and adult health influence the concept of embryo 'health'.


O'Connell, K. & Karpin, I. 2017, 'Social determinants of health and the role of law' in Farrell, A., Devereux, J., Karpin, I. & Weller, P. (eds), Health Law. Frameworks and Context, Cambridge University Press, pp. 34-47.
O'Connell, K. & Karpin, I. 2017, 'Human genetics and the law' in Farrell, A., Devereux, J., Karpin, I. & Weller, P. (eds), Health Law. Frameworks and Context, Cambridge University Press, pp. 269-281.
Karpin, I.A. 2015, 'Regulating Reproduction: A Bioethical Approach' in Arras, J.D., Fenton, E. & Kukla, R. (eds), The Routledge Companion to Bioethics, Routledge, New York, pp. 370-380.
Karpin, I.A. 2015, 'The regulation of PGD for medical sex selection and the gendering of disability in the UK and Australia' in Horsey, K. (ed), Revisiting the Regulation of Human Fertilisation and Embryology, Routledge, pp. 185-199.
Karpin, I.A. & Millbank, J. 2014, 'Assisted Reproduction and Surrogacy in Australia' in Eekelaar, J. & George, R. (eds), ROUTLEDGE HANDBOOK OF FAMILY LAW AND POLICY, Routledge, Oxford, pp. 201-214.
Karpin, I.A. 2014, 'The Economic Value of Human Relationships: Cattanach v Melchior Revisited' in Douglas, H., Bartlett, F., Luker, T. & Hunter, R. (eds), Australian Feminist Judgments Righting and Rewriting Law, Hart, Oxford, pp. 155-159.
Karpin, I. & Millbank, J. 2014, 'Regulation of assisted reproductive technology and surrogacy in Australia' in Routledge Handbook of Family Law and Policy, pp. 201-214.
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Karpin, I.A. & Mykitiuk, R. 2011, 'Feminist legal theory as embodied justice' in Fineman, M.A. (ed), Transcending the Boundaries of Law: Generations of Feminism and Legal Theory, Routledge, Oxon, UK, pp. 115-130.
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This chapter examines a shift within feminist legal theory from a central concern with sexual difference to one of embodied difference. The subject at the center of this theorizing is marked by bodily (as opposed to sexual) difference from the normative, self-actualizing individual of legal subjecthood, Bioethical and biotechnological inquiries too are concerned with bodily differentiation, Bodies discussed in these contexts are often anomalous or pathologized. They are brought under scrutiny, when they deviate from what is often regarded as "normal)" that which is both valorized for its "species typicality" and) by exten~ ion, held out as the "natural)' state of being (Buchanan et al. 2000).
Karpin, I.A. 2010, 'Taking care of the health of the preconceived embryos or constructing legal harm' in Nisker, J., Baylis, F., Karpin, McLeod, C. & Mykitiuk, R. (eds), The Healthy Embryo, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 136-150.
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Karpin, I.A. & Ellison, D. 2009, 'Reproduction without women: Frankenstein and the legal prohibition of human cloning' in Catherine Kevin (ed), Feminism and the Body, Interdisciplinary Perspectives, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Cambridge, pp. 29-48.
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Putting events in Genesis to one side, the most famous nonconventional act of creation recorded in Western literature occurs in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.' Painstakingly assembled in Victor's "workshop of filthy creation", the life that emerges from this gothic setting is not confined to the plot of the novel, but oddly for a creature doomed to sterility and apparent death, produces innumerable copies across a variety of genre and media. Significant among the novels, films, cartoons, games and toys that perpetuate the creature's existence, is its presence as a rhetorical device employed in the language of ethical restraint. When legislators or advocates of varying stripe call for science to just stop, now, Frankenstein (in monster or progenitor form) makes his inevitable appearance
Karpin, I.A. 2008, 'Constructing the Body Inside and Out:genetic and Somatic Modification' in Bennett, B., Carney, T.R. & Karpin, I. (eds), The Brave New World of Health, Federation Press, Sydney, Australia, pp. 73-92.
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Bennett, B., Karpin, I.A., Ballantyne, A. & Rogers, W. 2008, 'Gender Inequities in Health Research: An Australian Perspective' in Michael Freeman (ed), Law and Bioethics, Oxford University Press, New York, USA, pp. 409-431.
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Karpin, I.A. & Mykitiuk, R. 2006, 'Regulating Inheritable Genetic Modification or Policing the Fertile Scientific Imagination a Feminist Response' in Basko, J., O'Sullivan, G. & Ankeny, R. (eds), The Ethics of Inheritable Genetic Modification: A Dividing Line, Cambridge University Press, New York, USA, pp. 193-222.
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The past few years have seen an explosion of legislative activity around developments in genetics and assisted reproduction. In this chapter we examine recently passed legislation in Australia and Canada in the area of genetic modification technologies and reproductive genetics. We demonstrate that legislative control in this area has a twofold purpose. Less controversially it is aimed at providing limits to scientific innovation for the purpose of ensuring safe and ethical research and experimentation. More controversially it is concerned with what should be the proper "nature of reproduction," namely) how it happens (sexually). between whom (a man and a woman. both human). in what kinds of relationships (heterosexual). such that progeny. the product of reproduction. inherit the blood/genes (bodily substances) of only two biological progenitors. It IS to this latter purpose that we turn our attention in this chapter, analyzing the role of law in limiting, determining, and constituting reproductive possibilities in an age of genetic modification. Our focus is on new and potential technologies that enable inheritable genetic modification (IGM) of humans. but we ~ead these, and their legislative limits, in the context in which they appear medically and legally. namely alongside other assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) such as reproductive cloning. We ask what is at stake in the new legislative limits. who benefits. who loses, and what kinds of humans are we left with?
Karpin, I.A. 2005, 'Genetics and the Legal Conception of Self' in Shildrick, M. & Mykitiuk, R. (eds), Ethics of the Body:Postconventional Challenges, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, pp. 195-216.
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The provocative contention of the postmodernist and feminist essays in Ethics of the Body is that conventional bioethics is out of touch, despite its growing profile. It is out of touch with an ongoing phenomenological sense of bodies themselves; with the impact of postmodernist theory as it problematizes the certainties of binary thinking; and with a postmodern culture in which bioscientific developments force us to question what is meant by the notion of the human self. The authors demonstrate that the conventional normative framework of bioethics is called into question by issues as wide ranging as genetic manipulation, disability, high-tech prosthetics, and intersexuality. The essays show how both the theory and practice of bioethics can benefit from postmodernism's characteristic fluidity and multiplicity, as well as from the insights of a reconceived feminist bioethics. They address issues in philosophy, law, bioscientific research, psychiatry, cultural studies, and feminism from a "postconventional" perspective that looks beyond the familiar ideas of the body, proposing not a bioethics about the body but a radical ethics of the body. After exploring notions of difference in both feminist and postmodernist terms, the book considers specific issuesâincluding HIV, addiction, borderline personality disorder, and cancerâthat challenge the principles of conventional bioethics. The focus then turns to questions raised by biotechnology: one essay rethinks the traditional feminist ethics of care in the context of new reproductive technology, while others tackle genetic and genomic issues. Finally, the book looks at embodiment and some specifically anomalous forms of being-in-the-body, including a consideration of intersex infants and children that draws on feminist, postructuralist, and queer theory.
Karpin, I.A. & O'Connell, K. 2005, 'Speaking into a Silence:The Australian Constitution and the Rights of Women' in Beverley Baines (ed), The Gender of Constitutional Jurisprudence, Cambridge University Press, New York, USA, pp. 22-47.
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Karpin, I. & Oconnell, K. 2004, 'Speaking into a silence: Embedded constitutionalism, the Australian constitution, and the rights of women' in The Gender of Constitutional Jurisprudence, pp. 22-47.
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© Cambridge University Press 2005 and 2010. The Australian Constitution is a document that is mostly silent about rights. It has no comprehensive set of enumerated rights in the form of a bill of rights. Instead, it sets up a federal system and the basic framework of a representative democracy, with a few specific rights scattered throughout. Federal and state legislation provide the express means of protection of equality. Yet, the Constitution is a crucial part of the framework for understanding women's rights in Australia. Not only does it provide the source of federal legislative power with respect to equality but also, in recent years, a minority view on the High Court has asserted that equality is the underlying principle upon which the Constitution is founded. In this chapter, we explore the way that the Australian Constitution, without an explicit set of enumerated rights, can and should be used to establish and protect women's rights in practice. We consider how women have shaped the Australian Constitution both in its creation and throughout its development to the present day and argue that the federal system reinforces the traditional division of public and private life to the detriment of women. Looking at the formal mechanisms that exist for pursuing equality and antidiscrimination claims in Australia with reference to international covenants, domestic, federal, and state legislation, we show that Australian constitutional rights are embedded into a larger institutional, bureaucratic, and cultural framework.
Karpin, I.A. 2002, 'She's Watching the Judges:media Feedback Loops and Judicial Notice' in Margaret Thornton (ed), Romancing the Tomes: Popular Culture, Law and Feminism, Cavendish Publishing, London, pp. 47-68.
Karpin, I.A. 1999, 'Peeking Through the Eyes of the Body: Regulating the Bodies of Women with Disabilities' in Jones, M. & Marks, L.A.B. (eds), Disability, Diversability and Legal Change, Kluwer International Law, The Netherlands, pp. 283-300.
Karpin, I.A., Fineman, M.A. & McCluskey, M. 1997, 'Pop Justice: TV, Feminism and the Law' in Fineman, M. & McCluskey, M.T. (eds), Feminism, Media and the Law, Oxford University Press, New York, pp. 120-135.

Journal articles

Millbank, J., Stuhmcke, A. & Karpin, I. 2017, 'Embryo donation and understanding of kinship: the impact of law and policy.', Hum Reprod, vol. 32, no. 1, pp. 133-138.
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STUDY QUESTION: What is the impact of law and policy upon the experience of embryo donation for reproductive use? SUMMARY ANSWER: Access to, and experience of, embryo donation are influenced by a number of external factors including laws that impose embryo storage limits, those that frame counselling and approval requirements and allow for, or mandate, donor identity disclosure. WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: To date only three qualitative studies in Australia and New Zealand have been completed on the experience of embryo donation for reproductive purposes, each with a small cohort of interviewees and divergent findings. STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: Embryo donors, recipients, and would-be donors were interviewed between July 2010 and July 2012, with three additional interviews between September 2015 and September 2016, on their experiences of embryo donation. The sampling protocol had the advantage of addressing donation practices across multiple clinical sites under distinct legal frameworks. PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTINGS, METHODS: Participants were recruited from five Australian jurisdictions and across 11 clinical sites. Twenty-six participants were interviewed, comprising: 11 people who had donated embryos for the reproductive use of others (nine individuals and one couple), six recipients of donated embryos (four individuals and one couple) and nine individuals who had attempted to donate, or had a strong desire to donate, but had been prevented from doing so. In total, participants reported on 15 completed donation experiences; of which nine had resulted in offspring to the knowledge of the donor. MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: Donors positively desired donation and did not find the decision difficult. Neither donors nor recipients saw the donation process as akin to adoption . The process and practice of donation varied considerably across different jurisdictions and clinical sites. LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: Because the pool of donors and recipi...
Jackson, E., Millbank, J., Karpin, I. & Stuhmcke, A. 2017, 'Learning from Cross-Border Reproduction.', Med Law Rev, vol. 25, no. 1, pp. 23-46.
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Drawing upon the preliminary findings of an Australian empirical project on cross-border reproduction (CBR), this article argues that regulators and policymakers could learn from the experiences of those who travel overseas in order to access fertility treatment and surrogacy. It makes four principal observations. First, the distinction between so-called 'altruistic' and 'commercial' gamete donation and surrogacy is increasingly unsustainable and is not experienced as meaningful by many participants in CBR. Secondly, the status of the law in CBR is profoundly equivocal; for participants it is often there and not there at the same time. Thirdly, self-sourced information, from the internet and more specifically social media such as Facebook, is now the principal source of information and peer support for reproductive travellers. Fourthly, and relatedly, domestic reproductive services providers are often sidestepped. If one of the goals of regulation is to minimise the risk of harm to participants, it is not clear that it is currently achieving this aim, and this article argues that any reforms will only work if they are more responsive to the reality of CBR.
Mykitiuk, R. & Karpin, I. 2017, 'Fit or fitting in: deciding against normal when reproducing the future', Continuum, vol. 31, no. 3, pp. 341-351.
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© 2017 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. 'Normal' is a contentious term. Descriptively, 'normal' represents 'what is' as a statistical average. However, the term also represents normative or prescriptive content about what is 'right' or 'what should be'. Correspondingly, abnormality is a deviation from the norm. It is both a factual exception to the average and a value judgement about what is a 'wrong' state of being. Pursuing 'normal' or deciding against it can be a defining moment in the high technology environment of assisted reproduction. Here, we explore notions of normalcy articulated through legal and policy regimes around screening and testing of gamete and embryo donors. We draw on the work of disability scholars and the diversity of responses to the idea of normal that were registered by four women interviewed in our studies. Three of the interviewees had used or were intending to use donated gametes and the fourth had intended to donate her embryos. We demonstrate how the choice of a particular donor may reveal ingrained or structural prejudice that reconstructs difference as disability. Equally, however, it may reveal a multitude of ways in which difference or deviation from a normative standard is incorporated as a normal part of family formation.
Karpin, I.A. 2016, 'Protecting the future well: access to preconception genetic screening and testing and the right not to use it', Griffith Law Review, vol. 25, no. 1, pp. 17-86.
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© 2016 Griffith UniversityIn this article, I assess the ethical and legal implications for a progressive and inclusive approach towards people with disability, of providing publicly funded and universal access to carrier testing and expanded carrier testing. In answering this question I focus on two main concerns namely whether such access (1) involves a neoliberal individualisation of risk and responsibility away from the State and (2) might impinge on the reproductive and other rights of people with disability. With respect to this last question I ask specifically is it possible to provide whole-population preconception genetic carrier screening while legally guaranteeing the reproductive rights to conceive of prospective parents, both women and men, who test positive as a carrier for an inheritable genetic condition?
Sibbritt, D., Millbank, J., Stuhmcke, A., Kaye, M., Karpin, I. & Wardle, J. 2016, 'The failure of contemporary law and regulation to keep pace with growing complementary medicine (CM) use: The significance of examining 'hidden' gaps in Australia's current regulatory and legislative infrastructure', Advances in Integrative Medicine, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 43-44.
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Karpin, I. 2016, 'Regulatory Responses to the Gendering of Transgenerational Harm', Australian Feminist Studies, vol. 31, no. 88, pp. 139-153.
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© 2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. Laws and regulatory guidelines dealing with assisted reproductive technology in Australia and elsewhere typically operate on the principle that the physical and psychological well-being of the person who might be created using the technology must be an active consideration. An ethical/legal problem arises when future persons are protected at the expense of existing persons. This occurs when women, who create and gestate these future persons, are socially, legally and medically positioned as transgenerational vectors of harm, and are subject to pressure to act for the benefit of people who do not yet and may never come to exist. This paper explores the way women are understood, in science and law, as subject to situational and environmental harms as well as constituting a (prenatal) environment for the perpetuation of those harms. Finally, recognising that harm is itself actively gendered, this paper also explores how gendered assumptions are smuggled into legal explanations of disease and its causes and how this might impact regulatory responses.
Karpin, I. & O'Connell, K. 2015, 'Stigmatising the 'Normal': The Legal Regulation of Behaviour as a Disability', University of New South Wales Law Journal, vol. 38, no. 4, pp. 1461-1483.
Chandler, E.R., Millbank, J., Stuhmcke, A.G. & Karpin, I.A. 2013, 'Rethinking Consent, Information Giving and Counselling Concerning Stored Embryos in IVF treatment', Journal of Law and Medicine, vol. 20, no. 4, pp. 759-772.
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This article presents findings on consent practices drawn from a larger research project about the impact of law, ethical guidelines and clinical policies and practices upon the decisions that people make about their stored embryos created during IVF. In exploring the process of decision-making about stored embryos, participants reflected upon their earlier experiences of clinic information-giving and counselling, particularly at the outset of treatment. The study found that the type and timing of the information given and the range of options presented by clinics in typical consent processes did not meet many participants needs. Informed consent processes in IVF involving the storage of embryos require a number of key changes. Consent to treatment and subsequent decisions about storage and further outcomes for stored embryos need to be addressed separately. To be effective, embryo directive forms should be accompanied by plain language explanations of their legal effects, including what elements are binding, the source of the rules governing decisions, and available formal and informal dispute resolution avenues. Consent and embryo directive forms should be made available on clinic websites to allow greater opportunity for reflection, as well as enabling patients to compare the options available at each clinic. Greater availability of ongoing counselling as well as other external sources of information are crucial to enable informed decision-making.
Millbank, J., Chandler, E.R., Karpin, I.A. & Stuhmcke, A.G. 2013, 'Embryo Donation for Reproductive Use in Australia', Journal of Law and Medicine, vol. 20, no. 4, pp. 789-810.
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The authors interviewed 10 people who had actually donated embryos for the reproductive use of others and four people who were recipients of donated embryos. In addition, another nine interviewees had attempted to donate, or had a strong desire to donate, but had been prevented from doing so. The article places the present findings in the context of Australian and international research on widespread unwillingness to donate for reproductive use of others. The article then examines why the donors interviewed here were willing and able to donate, and presents findings concerning the donation process and models in operation, including matching and counselling practices and the contentious question of `directed donation. The article also reports the experiences of several `would-be or thwarted donors and examines the rationales for some of the external barriers to donation identified in the course of the study.
Karpin, I.A., Stuhmcke, A.G., Millbank, J. & Chandler, E.R. 2013, 'Analysing IVF Participant Understanding of, Involvement in, and Control over Embryo Storage and Destruction in Australia', Journal of Law and Medicine, vol. 20, no. 4, pp. 811-830.
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This article examines patient responses to the issues of embryo storage and destruction in IVF
Stuhmcke, A.G., Karpin, I.A., Chandler, E.R. & Millbank, J. 2013, 'Use of Stored Embryos in IVF Following Separation or Death of a Partner', Journal of Law and Medicine, vol. 20, no. 4, pp. 773-788.
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This article examines legal and policy restrictions on the use of stored IVF embryos after relationship separation and death.
Millbank, J., Karpin, I.A. & Stuhmcke, A.G. 2013, 'Towards facilitative regulation of assisted reproductive treatment in Australia', Journal of Law and Medicine, vol. 20, no. 4, pp. 701-711.
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This editorial introduces four articles reporting on the results of a four-year ARC-funded research project undertaken at the University of Technology Sydney. The study explored how Australian laws and policies across States and Territories affected the decisions of assisted reproductive treatment users with respect to their frozen embryos. In this editorial we offer some conclusions about the impact of the law which we argue fundamentally fails to take account of the diversity of ways in which embryos have meaning for the women and men who created them. We believe that informed choice and autonomy in the area of reproduction is vital. This goes beyond "consent" to a particular outcome and involves an active and ongoing process of selection. State intervention in decisions about family formation should only occur in pursuit of legitimate objectives, justified by evidence, and intrude only to the extent that is absolutely necessary. Therefore, we conclude that there must be a fundamental rethinking of the role of the state in the regulation of assisted reproductive treatment towards one of facilitative regulation. Major reforms that follow from this reconceptualisation include the provision of external information-giving and dispute resolution body or bodies to assist genuinely informed decision-making.
Karpin, I.A., Millbank, J. & Stuhmcke, A. 2013, 'Editorial: Towards Facilitative Regulation of Assisted Reproductive Treatment in Australia'.
Karpin, I.A. 2012, 'The Legal and Relational Identity of the 'Not-Yet' Generation', Law, Innovation and Technology, vol. 4, no. 2, pp. 122-143.
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Over the last two decades, biotechnological innovation in the field of assisted reproductive technology (ART) has significantly altered the regulatory landscape in Australia. Laws controlling the development and use of embryos created outside the female body concern how embryos may be 'made',' who may make them,^ for what purpose,' how long they may be stored,"* the manner of their disposal and destruction,^ and the genetic conditions for which they may be tested
Ellison, D. & Karpin, I.A. 2011, 'Embryo Disposition and the New Death Scene', Cultural Studies Review, vol. 17, no. 1, pp. 81-100.
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Ellison, D. & Karpin, I.A. 2011, 'Death without Life: Grievability and IVF', The South Atlantic Quarterly, vol. 110, no. 4, pp. 795-811.
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Although in vitro fertilization patients faced with the problem of surplus cryopreserved embryos have a number of disposition options, we focus on one procedure known as compassionate transfer. In this scenario the thawed embryo is placed in the patient's vagina, where it will not develop further, or it is transferred to the uterus without the benefit of fertility-enhancing hormones at a point in the menstrual cycle unreceptive to implantation. The embryo destined for disposal is removed from the realm of technological possibility and returned to the female body for a homely death. Arguably this is consistent with related mourning rituals that rely on embodied contact between the living and the dead such as the practice of wearing a lock of hair from a child or loved one. We document some contemporary practices that reconstitute the dead in keepsake form, where they may reside both inside and outside the body of the mourner. Our focus, though, is on the commemoration of embryo disposition in the form of compassionate transfer, as a ritual confounding the conditions of grievability: this is not-yet-life succumbing to something that resembles death. While debates continue over the embryo's status as life, new forms of disposition practices such as compassionate transfer are developing in response to the emotional experience of embryo loss. As a death scene in progress, we take the measure of its fabrication, considering its form, significance, and legal and cultural complexity.
Bennett, B. & Karpin, I.A. 2008, 'Regulatory Options for Gender Equity in Health Research', International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 80-99.
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It is clear that where a disease affects men and women differently, research on potential therapies or cures should include both men and women and should examine whether the therapy is effective and safe for both sexes. In this paper we consider whether there is an appropriate role for law in regulating to ensure an examination of these sex- and gender-specific aspects in health research. We consider the relative advantages and disadvantages of pursuing a regulatory approach to achieving gender equity in the field of women's health by exploring first, the meaning of gender equity, and second, the regulatory mechanisms that might be best suited to promoting the goal of gender equity. Within our examination of different regulatory forms and mechanisms, we also interrogate the shift from gender-neutral provisions relating to sex in favor of generalized notions of fairness that remove any specific consideration of sex.
Karpin, I.A. & Bennett, B. 2008, 'Freedom to Choose? Embryo Selection, Reproductive Decision Making and the Role of the State', Precedent, vol. 88, pp. 4-8.
Savell, K. & Karpin, I.A. 2008, 'The Meaning of "Serious Disability" in the Legal Regulation of Prenatal and Neonatal Decision Making', Journal of Law and Medicine, vol. 16, pp. 233-245.
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The concept of "serious disability" appears to play a significant role in circumscribing treatment-limiting decisions in neonatal care, prenatal counselling, preimplantation genetic diagnosis, and abortion following prenatal diagnosis. However, there is no legal definition for this concept and its meaning varies among members of the community and the medical profession. Legal and policy responses to "serious disability" consist of an assortment of ethical guidelines, specific legislative frameworks and longstanding provisions of the criminal law, some of which were neither enacted nor developed with modern medical practices and dilemmas in mind. In addition, many of these regulatory frameworks and prohibitions vary between State and Territory jurisdictions. This leaves service providers, families wishing to utilise (or avoid utilising) diagnostic technologies and the broader community uncertain about the legal limits. This uncertainty has implications for women's autonomy in reproductive decision-making. For instance, services may be withheld, or their use encouraged, depending on differing understandings of the concept of "serious disability". The time has arrived for governments to consider whether it is appropriate to introduce a uniform set of guidelines and/or regulations across Australia for guiding clinical determinations of "serious disability".
Karpin, I.A. & Mykitiuk, R. 2008, 'Going Out on a Limb: Prosthetics, Normalcy and Disputing the Therapy/Enhancement Distinction', The Medical Law review, vol. 16, no. 3, pp. 413-436.
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The development of genetic technologies, nano-technologies and technologies related to artificial intelligence have provoked discussion about the different uses to which they may be put; namely, their potential for therapeutic and non-therapeutic use. Resisting claims that individuals should be free to use these technologies as they see fit to alter their own physical, psychological and intellectual capacities, lifespan and morphologies or those of their existing or future children, some authors contend that both ethical and regulatory limits should be placed on this exercise of free choice.1 A number of academics have suggested that the therapy/enhancement distinction can perform both moral and regulatory work in assisting us with resolving the tricky issue of which uses of these technologies to permit and which to discourage or ban.
Karpin, I.A. 2007, 'Choosing Disability: Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis and Negative Enhancement', Journal of Law and Medicine, vol. 15, no. 1, pp. 89-103.
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Instances where preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) is used to select an embryo for the presence of a particular disease or disability - the child would share characteristics with the parent - in Australia there appears to be consensus that PGD should only be used to select against serious disability - how we define disability - ethical issues surrounding "negative enhancement".
Karpin, I.A. 2006, 'The Uncanny Embryos: Legal Limits to the Human and reproduction without Women', Sydney Law Review, vol. 28, no. 4, pp. 599-623.
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Law through both regulation and prohibition carries us forward in the imaginary leap that is necessary to take us from the embryonic being to the post-human being. Such beings include the hybrid, the chimera, the genetically enhanced, the inheritably genetically manipulated, the embryo with three genetic progenitors and the embryo produced by the fusion of same sex gametes. In this paper I explore how the law, by prohibiting the creation of certain kinds of embryos, is nevertheless giving legislative life to entities that are yet to be made. I consider how the law currently defines these entities and how it would define them if they were developed from the embryo to a fully birthed (human) being.
Karpin, I.A. 2006, 'Finding a place for altruism in Australian stem cell debates', Human Rights Defender, vol. 15, no. 3, pp. 17-19.
Karpin, I.A. & Bennett, B. 2006, 'Genetic Technologies and the Regulation of Reproductive Decision-Making in Australia', Journal of Law and Medicine, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 127-134.
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This article provides a critical analysis of the current Australian regulatory landscape at the interface between genetics and reproductive decision-making. The authors argue that a comparative analysis with other countries and international law and a contextual examination of the way law regulates concepts such as disease and health, abnormality and normality is necessary before we can develop appropriate policy and legislative responses in this area. Specific genetic testing technologies are considered including prenatal genetic testing, preimplantation genetic diagnosis and inheritable genetic modification. An increasing number of members of the Australian community are using genetic testing technologies when they decide to have a baby. The authors argue that as concepts of disease and health vary among members of the community and the potential to test for traits other than illness increases, a new tension arises between an ethic of individual choice and a role for government in regulating reproductive decision-making.
Karpin, I.A. & O'Connell, K. 2002, 'Intimate Strangers: law, genetics, Globalisation and the 'Human Family'', Australian Feminist Law Journal, vol. 17, no. December, pp. 63-82.
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MatriLineTM, one of the services offered by the Oxford Ancestors project, a genetic mapping exercise carried out by Professor Brian Sykes of Oxford University, offers women the opportunity of using 'the proven power of mirochondrial DNA to probe into the deep past') MatriLine analyses individual DNA to locate women in relation to a framework of European maternal ancestors, linking them 'to one of seven women: Ursula~ Tara, Helena, Katrine~ Velda, Xenia or Jasmine'
Karpin, I.A. 2000, 'The Genetic Connection - Owning our Genetic Heritage', Journal of Law and Medicine, vol. 7.
Karpin, I.A. 1994, 'Reimaging Maternal Selfhood: Transgressing Body Boundaries and the Law', Australian Feminist Law Journal, vol. 2.
Karpin, I.A. 1992, 'Legislating the Female Body: Reproductive Technology and the Reconstructed Woman', Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 325-349.


Millbank, J., Stuhmcke, A.G., Karpin, I.A. & Chandler, E.R. UTS Printing 2013, Enhancing Reproductive Opportunity Report, Sydney.
This report presents the results of a four year study about law, policy and practice concerning frozen IVF embryos in Australia. The report drew on the experience of over 400 past and present IVF patients in over twenty clinical sites across Australia, spanning two decades of experiences.
Karpin, I.A. York Institute for Health research 2008, Better than Normal: choosing to Self Construct, Toronto.
Karpin, I.A. York Institute for Health Research 2008, The Uncanny Embryos: Revisited after the Passing of the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Act(2006)' and 'Better than Normal: choosing to self-construct' including commentary, pp. 1-49, Toronto, Canada.
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Research Background This research paper developed from a two part invited lecture series for the York Institute for Health Research (YIHR) Spotlight On Health Research Seminar Series. It includes two articles with separate commentary by experts in other disciplines. The first article revisits earlier research (published in Sydney Law Review) examining amendments to the Prohibition of Human Cloning [for Reproduction] Act (2002) and the Research Involving Human Embryos Act (2002). The second article brings together two areas separately considered elsewhere; regulatory regimes around the use of PGD to choose an embryo with an abnormality and the use of body modification technologies for non-therapeutic or enhancing purposes. Research Contribution The first paper explores the legal regulation of biotechnologies that make it possible to create varying embryonic forms including clones and hybrids. It raises questions about the meaning of legal "personhood" and the role of women in the gestation of prohibited embryos. The second paper explores the role for law in regulating the use of genetic and cosmetic modification technologies where it is to achieve outcomes that do not conform to traditional ideals of normalcy. Research Significance This research interrogates the values we apply when regulating to limit or prohibit production of certain kinds of humans. The legal and ethical dilemmas posed by this regulatory task are novel and require a new degree of scrutiny that explores the underlying assumptions and motivations behind the law. This research begins an important international and cross-disciplinary discussion about the appropriate role for law in this context. The report appears both online and in CD form and has been distributed through the Canadian YIHR network. Further development of the ideas appears in Australia as part of Chapter 5 in B Bennett, T Carney and I Karpin (eds) The Brave New World of Health (Federation Press, Sydney 2008).