I am a Professor of Philosophy of Law at the Faculty of Law of Maastricht University and chair of the Department of Foundations and Methods of Law at the Faculty of Law at Maastricht University.

Until August 2022, I was an Associate Professor of Legal Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam Law School and the director of the Paul Scholten Centre for Jurisprudence.

© Kirsten van Santen


Research interests

My research interests revolve around the question of how liberal democracies should deal with cases of colliding fundamental rights or conflicts between fundamental rights and other central ideals within constitutional democracies: the rule of law or democracy. I study fundamental rights both as legal-philosophical concepts and as legally enforceable rights as they have been formalized in human rights conventions, especially the ECHR.

“I’m an analytical philosopher. Let me give you the smaller picture.”

I have analyzed a myriad of such legal disputes and policy dilemmas:

Teaching obligations

At the Faculty of Law of Maastricht University, I am responsible for, or involved in the following courses:


Between 2013 and 2021, my research was primarily oriented toward the legal regulation of vaccination against infectious diseases. Initially, I focused on childhood vaccination. Several (conflicting) fundamental rights are pivotal in these discussions: the freedom of religion and conscience of non-vaccinating parents, the right to bodily integrity, and the right to health of unvaccinated children – particularly Art. 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, stating that in all actions concerning children, their best interests must be a primary consideration of state agencies. Other relevant considerations are the responsibility of the state to protect public health and vulnerable citizens.

In the context of the Covid-19 outbreak, I also analyzed the question of whether more mandatory vaccination programs for adults were morally allowed.

Inducing Immunity

End of 2023, Marcel Verweij will publish our co-authored monograph, Inducing Immunity: Justifying Immunization Policies in Times of Vaccine Hesitancy (MIT Press, Basic Bioethics series). This book analyzes the conditions under which a liberal-democratic government should make vaccination against infectious diseases mandatory. We analyze the case of childhood diseases such as measles, polio, and whooping cough, but also the case of vaccination for adults in the Covid-19 context.

Health Council of the Netherlands

From 2017 to 2022, I was a member of the Health Council of the Netherlands, within which I served on the Standing Committee on Vaccinations (2017-2022), the Temporary Committee on Medical Aspects Covid-19 (2020-2021), and the Temporary Committee on HPV (2017-2019).

Unequal treatment of MSM men in blood donation policies

Together with Marcel Verweij, I have conducted an ethical research project for Sanquin into the recruitment policy of donors. Stricter rules currently apply to men who have sex with men (MSM) than to other donors. Some see this as discriminatory and stigmatizing How can the safety of donor blood be guaranteed without discriminatory donor recruitment policies? Our report was presented to the Dutch House of Representatives by Minister Tamara van Ark on March 11, 2021, and has led to more inclusive donor selection. In May 2022, the next step was made in line with our advice, further relaxing the donor selection policy.

The article Facing difficult but unavoidable choices: Donor blood safety and the deferral of men who have sex with men, which I wrote together with Marcel Verweij, Thijs van de Laar, and Hans Zaaijer is published in the journal Bioethics.

Foto © Annabel Oosteweeghel bij NRC interview van Floor Rusmann: “Twijfelende ouders bereik je niet op Twitter” 27 november 2018. [PDF]

Last modified: 6 augustus 2023

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