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Dev World Bioeth. 2017 Dec;17(3):146-156. doi: 10.1111/dewb.12103. Epub 2016 Feb 12.

From Ethical Exceptionalism to Ethical Exceptions: The Rule and exception Model and the Changing Meaning of Ethics In German Bioregulation.


Germany is an interesting case with respect to the governance of reprogenetics. It has a strong profile in the technosciences and high aims regarding the global bioeconomy, yet her regulation of human genetics, reproductive medicine and embryo research has for a long time been rather restrictive. German biopolitical exceptionalism has often been explained by reference to Catholicism and the legacy of the Nazi past. The Germans, so goes the common story, have learnt the lessons of history and translated them into unconditional respect for human dignity, which in turn translates into unconditional protection of human life, including the human embryo, and the firm repudiation of any eugenic distinction between 'life worth to live' and 'life not worth to live'. This, however, is not the whole story. Alongside deontological strictness we find another strand of governing body politics and reprogenetics in Germany, the rule-and-exception model, running from the mid-1970s abortion law via the 2002 Stem Cell Act to the 2011 regulation of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. In contrast to the former, that strongly draws on Kant and his concept of human dignity, the latter bears resemblances to Carl Schmitt's concept of state of exception. The article will show that the rule-and-exception model builds the exception into the rule and transforms the meaning and mandate of ethics, namely from safeguarding ethical standards to deciding about the exception. Given that the exception has now tended to become the rule, the question is whether the lessons of history will govern German reprogenetics for much longer.


Ethics committees; Germany; Law; State of exception; Stem cell research


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