Newcastle Law School

Staff Profile

David Lawrence

Postdoctoral Fellow


I joined Newcastle Law School in November 2016 as a postdoc research fellow supported by the University's Research Excellence Academy. From 2013-2017, I have been completing my PhD studies at the Institute for Science Ethics and Innovation, at the University of Manchester. Prior to that, I undertook an LLM in Biotechnological Law and Ethics at the University of Sheffield. Once upon a time I studied neuroscience, but I didn't much like all the maths.

My PhD research largely focussed on human enhancement technologies and the ways in which they are likely to affect both society and what it means to be human. For instance, where some argue that we are rushing headlong into changing ourselves irrevocably, I have been investigating why this might actually matter (spoilers: it doesn't).

In pursuing this research I became interested in Artificial Intelligence and the prospect of the creation of novel types of being and consciousness, and the societal implications they might have . My research in Newcastle will aim to explore this more fully, and examine how the law and policy might be affected by their emergence. 

I have other research interests in bioethics and the medical law more generally.  I have published by myself and with others on a range of recent issues including Mitochondrial Replacement Therapy, CRISPR, and germline editing; as well as topics from paleoanthropological bioethics to the philosophy of the doctor's white coat to how society views the superhero.

I am also a founding alumnus member of the Institute of Medical Ethics' Postgraduate Students Committee, which arranges the annual Postgraduate Bioethics Conference as well as various other events for PGRs in bioethics and medical law. You can find out more about the IME at their website and the PGBC site and twitter for information about that. 

I tweet in a semi-professional manner @biojammer.


Within the literature surrounding nonhuman animals on the one hand and cognitively disabled humans on the other, there is discussion of where beings that do not satisfy the criteria for personhood fit in our moral deliberations. In the future we may face a different but related problem, that we might create (or cause the creation of) beings that not only satisfy but exceed these criteria, such as ‘posthumans’ and superintelligent AI. The question becomes whether these are minimal criteria, or hierarchical, such that those who fulfill them to greater degree should be afforded greater status and protection.

Ought these novel beings be considered different to us? If so, serious societal and legal questions are raised that must be answered. Regulation of the creation of these novel beings is one important aspect, which deserves our attention as soon as possible with the feasibility of these technologies looming ever closer. Extant legislation may not suffice to address advanced technologies which simply did not exist even only a few years ago, and it is possible that attempting to utilise it for such may be harmful. For instance, it is one thing to apply intellectual property law to machinery, but what of machinery with a consciousness, an advanced artificial intelligence?

Would it be possible to apply human rights law to an artificial person? Might a self-aware android invoke Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights in its own defence from observation by a potentially distrustful Homo sapiens? One major question that needs to be asked is the way (or lack thereof) in which the ‘human’ is positioned and framed in law. Whilst legal personhood is well defined, the same is not necessarily true for ‘human’.

My research aims to provide new insights into the ethical and policy dimensions of the emergence of novel sapient beings, and to help to guide our regulatory response to the technologies behind them.

A few other projects I have been involved with include:

Wellcome Strategic Programme in the Human Body, its Scope, Limits and Future (2008-2015)

Supported by a prestigious Wellcome Trust Biomedical Ethics Strategic Award, this project was led by Professor John Harris and colleagues in iSEI and enables an exciting new collaboration with Sarah Cunningham-Burley, Professor of Medical and Family Sociology at the University of Edinburgh. Building on established research groups with diverse expertise, this multidisciplinary programme followed a number of strands of innovative research around the human body:

Human biomaterialsGenethicsReproductionEnhancementMethods in bioethics

‘Costumed Visions of Enhanced Bodies’ (2015-16)
Wellcome- funded Research collaboration with the University of Edinburgh Mason Institute into enhancement technology and its depictions in popular culture, particularly the ‘superhero’; examining what these interactions of theoretical technology with society may tell us about our attitudes to the human body, ability, disability, and identity. These investigations included a successful workshop and the ongoing development of a multidisciplinary international research network bringing together academia and the arts, as well as a forthcoming book.

“Medicine and Medical Manslaughter: Problems and Solutions” (2016)

An ongoing research network examining the increase in cases of medical manslaughter and the increasing propensity for charges to be upheld against doctors.