R. Alta Charo is interested in use and misuse of biology in law. Concepts of “male” or “female,” “alive” and “dead,” of race and ethnicity, and even “human” and “non-human” are neither as clear nor as useful for legal categories as policymakers often assume. Many of these issues have been explored in themselves, but they have not been adequately explored across examples. Clearly biology has failed to capture all the social categories above. But when policy deviates too far from biological definitions, the result can be public confusion (as with brain death). Biology can also be used to fight redefining entire categories of people as non-people (as with slavery). During the fellowship year, Charo would like to develop a structured approach to when and how biological concepts should be used to constrain legal imagination, versus when and how they should be abandoned in favor of social definitions that better serve the purposes of law.
Charo is the Warren P. Knowles Professor of Law and Bioethics at the University of Wisconsin. Previously she was a legal analyst for the congressional Office of Technology Assessment and for the U.S. Agency for International Development. She has also been a senior policy advisor at the FDA. She focuses on governance of emerging biotechnologies, including with respect to national security threats. Charo is a member of the National Academy of Medicine, where she co-chaired its committees on embryonic stem cell research and on genome editing. Most recently Charo was one of the organizers for the Genome Editing Summit in Hong Kong, and was named to the WHO advisory committee on “Developing Global Standards for Governance and Oversight of Human Genome Editing.” In 2019-20, she is a Berggruen fellow at CASBS.