Bioethics: Syllabus

Required Text: Bioethics: Principles, Issues, and Cases, Third Edition. Author: Lewis Vaughn ISBN: 9780190250102

*This is also available as an ebook [ electronic ISBN-13: 9780190250164 ]


Week 1: Intro to Bioethical Principles

  1. Introduction, Syllabus, Expectations, Arguments. Quiz 1 Due before Wednesday’s class.
  2. Read p. 5-13. Skim Utility. Stop at Ethical Relativism. 
  3. Ethics Committee: 
    1. No pre-reading or prep necessary beyond a working understanding of p. 5-13.
    2. Discussion and application questions 

Week 2:  Bioethical Principles

  1. No Class: Labor Day
  2. P. 239-247 Incl article on Tuskegee and Women in Clinical Trials
  3. Ethics Committee: 
    1. Read Part 1 only of Subject 13 Case Study.
    2. Reading and discussion questions

Week 3: Bioethical Principles

  1. P. 247-251: Stop before Applying Major Theories
  2. P. 260-266. (Cases 1 and 2 in-class)
  3. Ethics Committee:
    1. Read Subject 13 Commentaries (Part 2 and 3)
    2. Reading and discussion questions

Week 4: Bioethical Principles 

  1. P. 196-203 Stop before Applying Major Theories. Skip both In Depth sections.
  2. P. 199-201 In Depth Sections; AND P. 209-211.”The Concept of Informed Consent” by Faden and Beauchamp. 
    1. Understand Sense 1 and Sense 2 then
    2. Skim: The Relationship between Sense 1 and Sense 2
  3. Ethics Committee: “God Knows Where I Am” by Rachel Aviv
    1. Reading and discussion questions
    2. Optional: Movie: 

Week 5: Bioethical Principles

  1. P. 81-87 Skip all In Depth sections.
  2. P. 144-149 Skip In Depth Sections
  3. Ethics Committee:
    1. God Knows Where I Am” by Rachel Aviv Part 2
    2. Reading and discussion questions

Week 6: Bioethical Principles

  1. P. 107-109; P. 123-127
  2. Exam 1 Review
  3. EXAM 1

Week 7: Bioethical Principles

  1. Dworkin: Skim P. 94-97 to the end of IV. Read V p. 97-99 carefully. (Historically important article on paternalism)
  2. P. 99-103
  3. Ethics Committee: 20/20 video segment on Dax Cowart 
    2. Reading and discussion questions

Week 8: Bioethical Principles

  1. P. 110-114 (“Why Doctors Should Intervene” by Ackerman)
  2. P. 144-146 Paternalism and Deception (case studies to be assigned in class)
  3. Ethics Committee: 
    1. P. 147-150 Paternalism and Confidential Truths:
    2. Pick Carlos Case, Case  2, or Case 3.

Week 9: Genetic Choices

  1. Skim P. 539-541 Read carefully from the last sentence of P. 541-545.
    1. Stop before Reproductive Decisions.
    2. Time permitting Case 1 p. 152.
  2. P. 545-P. 552 Skim Fact File sections.
  3. Ethics Committee: 
    1. Read p. 558 Case 2 and Case 3 from the textbook  
    2. Selection “Imbeciles” from The Gene: An Intimate History
    3. Reading and discussion questions

Week 10: Designer Babies

Watch the movie Gattaca by Friday: 

  1. Designer Babies:
    1. TED talk
    2. Skype Guest: Dr. Jerrel Davis from Versant Ventures
    3. Walter Veit. Procreative Beneficence and Genetic Enhancement Read p. 75-79 and 85-89 of the linked article
  2. Designer babies:
    1. Michael Sandel, “The Case Against Perfection.”  
    2. Case 3: Cosmetic Embryo Selection p. 558 (in class)
  3. Ethics Committee: 
    1. Watch the movie Gattaca
    2. Re-read this short section from Sandel
    3. Reading and discussion questions

Week 11: Nov. 5-9: Justice and Health Care

  1. P. 719-725 Incl. In Depth. Stop before A Right to Health Care
  2. P. 725-731 All.
  3. Ethics Committee:
    1. What’s Behind America’s Maternal Death Rate” by Martin and Montagne;
    2. Two selections from
      1. Clip 1
      2. Clip 2 (Episode 3): 
    3. Reading and discussion questions

Week 12: Nov. 12-16: Justice and Health Care

  1. No Class: Veterans’ Day
  2. P. 757-763 Health Care Reform: Lessons from Canada.
    1. Case 3, p. 734 (Time permitting).
    2. Skype guest Dr. Priya Gupta, Canadian physician. 
  3. Exam 2: Review Session
    1. Term Paper Assigned 

Week 13: Nov. 19-23

  1. EXAM 2
  2. No Class: Thanksgiving
  3. No Class: Thanksgiving

Week 14: Nov. 26-30: Death and Dying

  1. P. 625-630. Stop before Autonomy, Mercy, Harm
  2. P. 630-634. Read all sections.
  3. DUE: Complete version of your final paper. 
    1. Bring TWO hard copies to class. 
    2. Mandatory Attendance. Peer Editing Session. 
    3. Peer Review Sheets
    4. Peer editing due Monday in class.

Week 15: Dec. 3-7: Selected Topics

  1. “My Right to Death with Dignity at 29” (Video) by Brittany Maynard 
    1. Peer Editing DUE in Class 
  2. Selections from Pharmaceutical Freedom. Jessica Flanigan. Right to Try.
  3. Right to Self-Medication/Right to Try law.

Exam Week: Dec. 10-14: Final Exam Tuesday Dec. 11 from 8am-10:30am.

Final Paper Due on Day of Final Exam.


Course Description

Medical ethics focuses on the intersection between ethical theory and medical practice. Within its purview are a variety of topics including patient autonomy, informed consent, guidelines on human research, mental health, pediatric decision making, abortion, genetic manipulation, permissible end-of-life options, allocation of scarce resources, and a right to health care.

Of these topics, this course will survey a select few and evaluate the relevant issues by utilizing the four fundamental principles of medical ethics: Respect for Autonomy, Beneficence, Non-Maleficence, and Justice. These principles are frequently in conflict, and in most ethical scenarios we cannot satisfy all four principles at the same time. This course will discuss moral problems in medicine as they relate to these four principles.

Course Learning Outcomes

  • Demonstrate the ability to articulate and critically evaluate the theories and reasoning in medical ethics as applied to the values and norms of contemporary medical practice.
  • Demonstrate the ability to critically evaluate theories and arguments with philosophical rigor in both writing and discussion.
  • Demonstrate a comprehension of the social and cultural contexts in which medical ethics arose and is currently practiced.
  • Demonstrate the ability to communicate one’s own arguments in medical ethics in both written and oral form, including an ability to engage in reasoned and respectful discourse of historical and controversial ethical problems in medicine and healthcare.

In-Class Etiquette

  1. Be respectful of all views.
  2. Object to/challenge arguments and ideas, not people.
  3. Challenge your own views.
  4. Interpret opposing views as charitably as possible.
  5. Cellphones must be in your bag during class. Not in your pocket. Not on your desk. Not on your lap. In your bag.
  6. Show up on time ready to learn.
  7. Be kind.

Grading Policy

  • Reading Quizzes – 30%
  • Exam1-15%
  • Exam2-15%
  • Paper – 15%
  • Bioethics Committee  – 25%

Important note on grades: In a perfect world everyone would get the grade that they want. This world isn’t perfect so you’re going to get the grade that you deserve not the grade that you want. However, you can make these two categories align by attending class and being attentive, going to office hours when you are unsure about something, studying hard for exams, completing the assigned readings and assignments. In short, do the things that you’re supposed to be doing anyway. At the end of the semester do not email me with some sob story about why you need an A. My reply will be to copy and past this paragraph. If you need an A in this course, start working tonight. If you’re ever confused or unclear about anything, I’m more than happy to help you during office hours.

  1. A=90%
  2. B=80%
  3. C=70%
  4. D=60%
  5. F=Below 60%


Reading Quizzes

Once or twice a week, you will answer questions based on what you have read. These questions will highlight important information and will ensure that you have an understanding of the material.


There will be two exams.

The exams will include multiple choice, True/False, and short answer questions. The second exam will be comprehensive.


You are required to submit one paper (4-6 pages).

This paper will be an extended analysis of one of your bioethics committee discussions, and can be submitted at any point during the course.

Bioethics Committee


Each week you will be asked to read a contemporary essay, to submit an analysis of the case, and to discuss the case with your group members. Each group member will typically receive the same grade, based on the overall quality of the group discussion. However, if there is significant discrepancies in quality of work, points will be deducted from individuals who don’t do the work or do poor quality work.


Notes on Attendance and Reading Quizzes:

There is a very strong correlation between attendance and performance. I don’t take attendance but there will be up to 2 short reading quizzes (3-5 questions) each week in the first 5 min of class.

You cannot make up quizzes…sort of…You are able to take each quiz twice: Once at the beginning of class. Second, anytime between 10am Friday until noon Sunday. Your score will be an average of both attempts. So, if you miss the in-class attempt, your score will be the average of 0+(2nd attempt score)/2. There is no obligation to take the quiz the 2nd time if you’re happy with your first score.

The quizzes are intended to be easy so long as you’ve done the reading.

Fair game for quizzes:

1. The meanings of any bold terms or section headings.

2. The main point of a section or article.

3. The main reason someone supports a position on an issue.

The point of quizzes is not to trick you. It is to reward you for reading and showing up to class (i.e., for doing what you’re supposed to be doing anyway…except I give you a cookie for being a good student).

Important: I will drop the 5 lowest scores. In other words, in consideration of the fact that this is an 8:30am class, you get 5 unpenalized absences. I don’t care whether the reason is legitimate or not. I don’t want to be put in a position where I have to determine if a student is lying or telling the truth. You get the 5 unpenalized absences regardless of the reason. If you miss for a legitimate reason that still counts as one of your 5. If you miss because you’re hung over, that also counts for one of your five. Don’t email me about it. An absence is an absence. I don’t want to be an inquisitor.

Discussion: How would you like me to handle missing Bioethics Committee work (i.e., group work)?

Bioethics Committee Work

You will be assigned a case study for every Friday class. Before coming to class you must read the case study and turn in the following to your group discussion board:

  1. In one paragraph, describe the ethical (as opposed to legal) problem in the case in a way that someone who hasn’t read the case would be able to understand.
  2. Explain the case in terms of whichever of the 4 bioethical principles are relevant and/or conflict. Justify your assessment. E.g., In this case beneficence is relevant because the doctor neglected to advance the patient’s well-being…  Most cases will have conflicts between 2 or more principles.
  3. Suggest which bioethical principle should be given priority. Justify your position with at least one reason.

In class you will discuss each other’s answers and submit a group consensus answer to (2) and (3). As a group will will also submit a few application questions that incorporate the week’s readings.

In the first half of the course we will examine each case study twice to incorporate new information. The second time you encounter a case you will be given in-class application questions.

Each case is only graded once regardless of how many times we examine it in class.

Grading Committee Work: I will at random pick one or two questions from each group. The group’s grade depends on how they score on the questions I select.

Deductions: If you don’t complete and submit the individual portion before class, your grade will be the group’s grade minus 5 points. (Each group assignment is out of 20pts).

If you don’t show up for group work, you lose 15/20 points.


If you miss an exam without advance arrangements (at least 24 hours notice) you get 0. I will make every accommodation if, in advance, you provide me a legitimate reason (religious, funeral, school function) and supporting evidence.

Plagiarism Policy

Plagiarism is passing off somebody else’s writing or ideas as your own. There is nothing wrong in consulting any number of sources to help you understand what we are studying (whether an article in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy or a web site or Cliffs Notes) but it is stealing to take material without first paraphrasing it completely into your own words, or without placing it in quotation marks.

  • Rule of thumb: if you take more than two consecutive words from a source, put them in quotation marks, and if the idea behind a sentence comes from an outside source, acknowledge that source! (Even if it is Wikipedia or!!!)
  • Any time you consult and draw on ideas from a source, you need to cite your source. Taking ideas from another person and pretending that they are your own original thoughts is also plagiarism. The fact that your source was an assigned text for the course does not mitigate or lessen the seriousness of plagiarism.
    Students sometimes claim unintentional or accidental plagiarism . It is difficult for an instructor to judge whether the plagiarism was intentional or unintentional. Basically, the latter occurs when a student reads a secondary source or takes notes, writes a paper without looking at the source or the notes, and accidentally uses phrasing and ideas from that source. Or a student may attempt to paraphrase an author’s ideas, but fails to put it completely into his or her own words. (If you paraphrase and don’t cite your source, that’s evidence of intentional plagiarism.)
    If evidence demonstrates that you have plagiarized any part of any written assignment for the course, disciplinary action will be taken in accordance with BG policies and you will receive a failing grade for the course.
    In short, if you use an outside source, simply provide footnotes or citations in parentheses where appropriate.

Course Policies
Codes of Conduct & Academic Dishonesty: The instructor and students in this course will adhere to the University’s general Codes of Conduct defined in the BGSU Student Handbook. The Code of Academic Conduct (Academic Honesty Policy) requires that students do not engage in academic dishonesty. For details, refer to:
• BGSU Student Handbook ( t-Handbook.pdf )
• The Academic Charter, B.I.G. ( r/B-I-G-Academic-Honesty-Policy.pdf )

Disability Policy: In accordance with the University policy, if the student has a documented disability and requires accommodations to obtain equal access in this course, he or she should contact the instructor at the beginning of the semester and make this need known. Students with disabilities must verify their eligibility through the Office of Disability Services for Students, 38 College Park Office Building.

Phone: 419-372-8495. ( )

Religious Holidays : It is the policy of the University to make every reasonable effort allowing students to observe their religious holidays without academic penalty. In such cases, it is the obligation of the student to provide the instructor with reasonable notice of the dates of religious holidays on which he or she will be absent. Absence from classes or examinations for religious reasons does not relieve the student of responsibility for completing required work missed. Following the necessary notification, the student should consult with the instructor to determine what appropriate alternative opportunity will be provided, allowing the student to fully complete his or her academic responsibilities. (As stated in the Religious Accommodation Policy, ious-accommodation-policy.pdf )

Student veteran-friendly campus : BGSU educators recognize student veterans’ rights when entering and exiting the university system. If you are a student veteran, please communicate with your instructor so reasonable accommodations can be made for absence when drilling or being called to active duty (See for more information).

*I reserve the right to change this syllabus or the course schedule at any time, but will endeavor to ensure you are aware of any changes*