Matthias Herdegen (Bonn): The International Law of Biotechnology: Personhood and Human Rights, Risk Management and International Trade


The international law of biotechnology reflects a complex interplay of legal values, individual rights and social interests. The debates on in vitro fertilization, cloning, stem cell research, gene therapy or transgenic crops highlight conflicting normative concepts and societal perceptions. Human rights, individual autonomy as well as traditional concepts of personhood and family life inspire regulatory models in the field of bio-medicine and reproduction techniques. Human dignity, referring to the individual person or to mankind at large, operates as common roof for legal and ethical standards. In international trade and environmental law, scientific corroboration of risks, commercial interests and different approaches to precaution compete and often conflict with socio-cultural considerations, especially in highly risk-averse societies. Patents may bar access to genetic resources as encoded information and to transgenic organisms. Human rights treaties as well as free trade regimes have become the battleground for political choices in heterogeneous societies and for different regulatory approaches adopted by states. Current discussion is driven by conflicting claims to ‘rationality’ and the difficult quest for value judgments based on an international consensus.

Prof. Dr. DDr. h.c. Matthias Herdegen

Curriculum Vitae

Matthias Herdegen is Director of the Institute of Public Law (Institut für Öffentliches Recht) and Director at the Institute of Public International Law (Institut für Völkerrecht) of the University of Bonn. His main areas of research are, inter alia,  in the fields of German and foreign constitutional law, European law, international business law, international law and biotechnology law.

After studying law at the Universities of Heidelberg and Cambridge, Matthias Herdegen gained his doctorate in Heidelberg in 1983. For his habilitation treatise “Gewissensfreiheit und Normativität im positiven Recht“ (Freedom of Conscience and Normativity in Positive Law), he received a special award for constitutional law from the German Federal Ministry of Science. Following his work as a research fellow for foreign and international law at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg, he took on a professorship at the University of Bonn and, shortly after, was appointed professor at the University of Konstanz. Since 1995, Matthias Herdegen holds the chair for public law in Bonn. He has been a visiting professor at, inter alia, New York University (Global Law School), the University of Paris I (Sorbonne), the Universidad Autónoma de Mexico (UNAM) and the University of Tel Aviv, as well as adjunct professor at the City University of Hong Kong. Matthias Herdegen is honorary professor at the Pontifical Javeriana University and at the university Colegio Mayor de Nuestra Señora del Rosario in Bogotá. He is Director at the Interdisciplinary Latin America Center of the University of Bonn, executive co-editor of the Grundgesetz-Kommentar Maunz/Dürig (Maunz/Dürig Commentary on German Basic Law) and member of the Human Rights Committee of the International Law Association.

From October 2012 to April 2013, Matthias Herdegen was fellow at the Käte Hamburger Center for Advanced Study in the Humanities “Law as Culture” and continued his fellowship in October 2013. Since October 2017 he is again Fellow at the Käte Hamburger Center.