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Moral Medicine: Questions in Bioethics at the Cutting Edge

Course enrollment will be available for this course once it is scheduled.

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Course Description

Medical science has brought enormous advantages in the 21st century: cloned sheep, life-prolonging technology, cognitive and physical enhancement, widespread vaccination, and organ transplants for example. Just because we can do something, however, doesn't necessarily mean we should. What are the major issues that arise with scientific progress? How do we frame, re-frame, and decide these controversial issues as ethicists, doctors, and as a society?

In this three-week course, students will develop an understanding of both the hard science as well as the philosophical debates underlying difficult questions stemming from new discoveries in medicine.

Over the course, we will explore and debate a number of newsworthy issues: Why is abortion controversial? What's the deal with GMO foods? Should to-be-parents from the U.S. and Europe be allowed to use women in Bangladesh to carry their child? Should we use gene editing technologies to alter the genome of the fetuses of the next generation? Should individuals be paid for donating organs? Why tax soda? With health care as a scarce resource, should we ration across society and if so, could everyone benefit equitably?

These question hit at fundamental ethical questions about being human: the right to privacy, what cost we are willing to bear for scientific progress, whether we should pursue perfection, differentiating a treatment and an enhancement, and how we create an equal and just society.

Students will also come to understand the fundamental biology and clinical knowledge through the course. We will explore the science of abortion, embryo transfer, cloning and in vitro fertilization. How does Deep Brain Stimulation prevent brain disease? How can we use hormones to change someone's sex? How are foods "genetically modified" through molecular targeting? What immunological mechanisms allow organs to be transplanted into another's body?

Classes will be interactive, with the curriculum consisting of presentations, class discussion, multimedia, and group projects. Students will read academic articles from both scientific and philosophical journals, watch relevant films, and read excerpts from literature and journalism. Bioethics case studies will allow students to analyze, research, and critique, along with formal debates.

This course will be of interest to students who want to study to be a doctor, nurse, scientist, lawyer, or work in public policy or public health.

By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • Understand philosophical, historical, social, political and cultural context for the ethical issues that shape and transform healthcare and biomedical sciences
  • Assess or analyze bio-ethical issues and make recommendations and moral arguments
  • Develop robust moral arguments, by stating clear positions and providing compelling justification
  • Communicate via the written word and verbal presentations
  • Be able to read scientific papers and understand emerging scientific concepts with a value proposition in mind
  • Hone your critical thinking skills, learning to engage charitably in discussion about moral issues and how to critically consume moral arguments

There are no prerequisites for this course, but a strong interest or some background in the subject material is expected.

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