Bioethics (PHIL 165.001)

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Instructor: Rebecca Walker. This course meets on Mondays and Wednesdays from 1:00 – 2:15 p.m. in Caldwell 105.

“…a ‘Method of Ethics’ is explained to mean any rational procedure by which we determine what individual human beings ‘ought’- or what is ‘right’ for them- to do, or to seek to realise by voluntary action…”

Henry Sidgwick, The Methods of Ethics, Fifth Edition (London and New York: MacMillan and Co., 1983 [original 1893], p. 1)

This is a course on bioethics methods and concepts that engages with both clinical and research ethical issues and cases as well as broader bioethical topics. While science methods may be familiar, the idea that there are methods of ethics may be new. Bioethics methods offer ways to frame and approach, and sometimes answer, difficult practical moral questions. Examples of bioethics methods include: a principles based approach (respect for autonomy, beneficence, non-malfeasance, justice), case-based (or casuistical) approaches, feminist, narrative, and applied moral theory (such as virtue ethical, utilitarian and deontological) approaches. Other general methods of ethics include philosophical argument and analysis. This course will introduce these different methods in a practical context of considering significant research, clinical and other bioethical questions such as: What do we owe non-human animals that are subjects of biomedical research? What does it mean to be “vulnerable” in the context of biomedical research? Who should decide about continuation of marginally beneficial life sustaining treatment when a patient cannot? How should health care providers address issues of “conscience” in the care of patients? How should we allocate scarce medical resources in a public health crisis? While the topics and questions for this course are wide ranging in scope, the unifying theme of methods for addressing these practical moral problems weaves a thread through these topics and offers a set of tools and perspectives useful regardless of the particular issue under consideration.

Rebecca Walker’s webpage