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Genetics & the Law

Guide to support students in Genetics and the Law (Law H520) and Legal Ethical, And Social Issues in Public Health Genetics (Law H504, cross-listed in PHG, MHE, and HSERV).

Secondary Sources

No matter what your topic, it is a good idea to begin your research with secondary sources - books or journals that can provide you with an overview of an area. The authors will cite relevant cases, statutes, regulations, and so on to speed along the rest of your research.

Many authors also comment on the law, advocating positions. Reading different views may give you ideas for your own approach to a problem.

Genetic issues are in the news. You will probably want to watch for coverage of your topic: is there a new bill? some scientific initiative? someone urging reform?

(For more on secondary sources in law, see the Secondary Sources guide.)

Tips for Searching

  • Consider broad and narrow terms.Search icon
  • Searching for "law" and "genetics" as keywords will retrieve very general works that might have a chapter or a few pages on your topic.
  • Searching for "use of mitochondrial DNA in criminal investigations" might get too few sources.
  • Generally, you'll use broader searches in library catalogs and narrower searches in periodical indexes.
  • Use a broader search in an index then when you search a full-text database (e.g., Nexis Uni).
  • Experiment with different combinations of terms.
  • Once you find something, pay attention to its footnotes, bibliography, and links.
  • Whatever database you're in, look for help screens.

Books in the Law Library

Why would you use them?

  • Topic overview
  • Citations
  • Analysis
  • Point of view

How can you find them?

Search law library catalog using keywords or using subject headings such as:

  • Genetics -- United States -- Legislation
  • Medical genetics -- Law and legislation
  • Medical genetics -- Law and legislation -- United States -- Congresses
  • Genetic engineering -- Law and legislation
  • Human genetics -- Government policy

(Tip: to search this way, copy and paste any of these headings as is into the law library catalog search bar.)

Law Journal Articles

Why would you use them?

  • In-depth analysis of narrow topics, major cases, or legislation.
  • Citations. (Mine the footnotes!)

How can you find them?

Books from Other Disciplines & Libraries

Why would you use them?

  • To learn factual and scientific context.
  • To gain perspective from other fields (e.g., ethics, public policy, public health).

How can you find them?

Search the UW Libraries catalog using keywords or one or more of the following subject headings:

  • Genetics
  • Human Genetics
  • Genetic engineering
  • Genetics, medical
  • Genetics -- Social aspects
  • Human Genetics -- Moral and ethical aspects

(Tip: to search this way, copy and paste any of these headings as is into the UW Libraries catalog search bar.)

Journal Articles from Other Disciplines

Why would you use them?

Photo of Journals

  • Scientific and technical information
  • Analysis
  • Point of view

(Note: non-legal articles generally have fewer leads to primary law than law journal articles.)

How can you find them?

Need help using PubMed and Web of Science?

Oxford Handbooks

Oxford Handbooks (from Oxford University Press) are scholarly collections of original articles. The Law Library and the University Libraries have some in print, but we have licensed many more via Oxford Handbooks Online:

You can search across all the handbooks, or you can find a relevant handbook and browse its contents.

Examples of Oxford Handbooks:

Chapters tend to be 15-30 pages long. Each one has references to give your research a boost.