Biomedical Ethics

Course Description: In this course, we will explore several hotly debated issues in biomedical ethics.  We will begin with a set of questions concerning moral agency and autonomy that arise with the creation of advance directives and with research subjects. We will then turn to moral issues that concern the beginning of life, focusing on the ethics of abortion, stem cell research, and cloning, paying close attention to recent developments in research methods.  Our next topic will be genetic screening, performance enhancement, and perfection, and we will ask questions such as “to what extent, if at all, should we choose the traits of future children?”  Finally, we will examine the challenging topic of justice in health care.  

Throughout the course, we will aim to focus on the practical issues before us, and also on the larger moral and political frameworks from which we can best approach our particular questions.   Certain larger issues will emerge from the various more specific ones, including the role of autonomy in morality, the value and meaning of life, and distributive justice.  Our aims will be two-fold: (i) to gain an understanding of a variety of positions on each of the pressing ethical issues at hand, and to come to reasoned and well-informed views about them, and (ii) to hone our reasoning skills and knowledge of fundamental moral and political positions so that we will be in a good position to adjudicate all sorts of other debates within, and even beyond, bioethics.   



Class Presentations available at WebCT

A Guide to Arguments

CMA Advance Health Care Directive Kit


Executive Order Regarding Abortion Restrictions (2010)

NIH Stem Cell Basics

NIH Stem Cell Guidelines

Lamont and Favor, “Distributive Justice” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)



Summary of Recent Health Care Legislation (White House)

Summary of Recent Health Care Legislation (

Provisions By Year (

The Debate Over Costs and the House Bill, “Repeal of the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act”

Senator Cantor’s Case

White House Response

Congressional Budget Office Preliminary Analysis


In Attack’s Wake, Political Repercussions (NYT 1/8/11)

US Alters Rule for Paying for End of Life Planning (NYT 1/5/11)

Presidential Memo on Advanced Directives (NPR 4/16/2010)

“The Legacy of Terri Schiavo”



Midterm Study Questions

Paper Topic

Final Essay Prompt and Study Questions