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Department of Law

Law theses of the month: Niall Coghlan

In the 'Theses of the Month' series, the EUI Law Department presents the remarkable work of its researchers and their impactful contributions to the field of law. This month, the Department features Niall Coghlan who defended his thesis on 25 March 2024 under the supervision of Professor Joanne Scott.

03 April 2024 | Research

Coghlan_Law theses of the month

Having read history and law, Niall Coghlan practised as a barrister in London between 2015 and 2019. He then took a career break to delve into law’s academic side, ultimately defending his thesis in March 2024. This legal historical and doctrinal thesis, entitled Union humans? The EU’s prohibitions on eugenics, reproductive cloning and heritable genome editing, studies seven little-known lines of law. Whilst few in number, these bioethical provisions have wide implications for the EU’s past and humanity’s future.

Niall’s research shows that EU law on bioethics is not advancing, driven by the rise of rights, but rather peaked during a period of acute political concern with human genetics. The EU’s constitutional prohibitions on eugenics and cloning are a result, not the cause, of this peak. Since 2004, bioethics has been seen as reserved solely for the Member States. Yet the prohibitions remain potentially powerful in law, with deep constitutional implications. As heritable gene editing and related reproductive technologies become a reality, this tension between politics and law will become ever more taut. Niall develops three paths open to the legislature faced with this tension.

Niall cannot recall how he originally became interested in EU bioethics. The archival record (of his emails) suggests he stumbled across some scattered existing work on the subject. He quickly found the area fascinating because of its combinations: human rights and market law, ethics and science, legislation and subsidiarity, Strasbourg and Luxembourg, the individual and the species. From here he came to the perpetually captivating puzzle of the constitutional prohibitions.

Niall returned to practice in October 2023. He now works in the legislative procedures he spent four years studying, advising and representing the Council and the European Council as a Member of the Council Legal Service.

Last update: 04 April 2024

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