Graduate Course Descriptions

Select the courses below to read their descriptions.

  • This course is a graduate level introduction to the field of bioethics. Bioethics is a theoretical and practice-oriented field at the convergence of philosophy, medicine, law, humanities, religious studies, and the life sciences. It covers many of life’s deepest questions, albeit with an orientation towards practical problem solving and theorizing in support of that end. Given the breadth and depth of the material, the aim of the course will be to introduce ourselves to this field. Of necessity, much will be left out. We will focus on the history of the field, basic theoretical foundations of the field, and interdisciplinarity in bioethical studies of the beginning and end of life. 

  • The question of the beginning is central to our understanding of the human condition. To be born is to be given to be by a source we do not control, released into life by life itself, a miracle that escapes self-determination and control, while calling, at the same time, for responsibility and care. How do we articulate the difficult balance between reverence for life and stewardship for the conditions that make it more livable, indeed, more human? The course examines bioethical questions that concern the beginnings of life. Topics include the ethics of abortion and maternal fetal conflicts; ethical problems emerging in the field of assisted reproductive medicine -- from in vitro fertilization, to surrogate motherhood, gamete storage techniques, and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis; stem cell research and cloning, together with more recent applications in the field of regenerative medicine; the ethical challenges posed by genetics, including gene therapy, gene editing and human enhancement.

  • Bioethics is concerned with questions about basic human values. Broadly construed, it touches on a wide range of issues that affect us from the beginning until the end of life. The law contributes to public bioethics discourse on a variety of issues, from abortion to assisted suicide and euthanasia, to questions of access to health care. This course looks at the intersection of law and bioethics, relative especially to the study of important legal cases and court decisions. Examples include Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey for abortion, and Quinlan, Cruzan, and Schiavo for end of life issues, etc. Students will be exposed to the ethical reasoning of important legal cases and their jurisprudential developments, thus showing how landmark legal cases have shaped bioethical discourse. We will also consider the ways in which bioethical discourse has and can continue to shape law and policy. 

  • What does it mean to die—in an ICU? What constitutes a “good death”—for the patient, her family, her physicians, the institution, and society-at-large? What does it mean to suffer in the knowledge that you will soon die? What is the nature of embodiment with a diseased or dying body (e.g., one that houses a failing transplanted organ or ventricular assist device)? What is the physician’s role in the face of death? How ought we to think about treatment goals for an incapable patient with progressive neurologic disease? How can family members help decide for those who are no longer able to choose for themselves? What responsibility do we have—if any— to the dying? Can medicine as a profession remain ethically neutral in the face of death—and should it? At the end of life, can medicine still heal? In some circumstances, would it be permissible for physicians to refuse to intervene? What should physicians do with “helpless” cases, when a patient is “overmastered” by disease?

    These and other questions lie at the heart of contemporary debates about ethics at the end of life. At stake are not only specific issues—e.g., the morality of physician-assisted suicide or the ethics of parental withholding decisions for severely disabled newborns, among others—but also broader ones that concern recovering the soul of medicine as a healing profession and rediscovering the humanity of the ill amidst increased medicalization. The dying process poses such ethical problems to health care professionals and patients alike. This course will examine the bioethical problems that arise in this context, with particular attention placed on moral dilemmas that are encountered in the clinic.

  • Clinical bioethics represents a subfield of bioethics, defined by systematic reflection on the ethical components and values involved in decision making at the bedside. Although relying upon the theoretical resources of bioethics as an academic field of study, clinical bioethics can be defined as the ethical hermeneutics of clinical practice, namely, as the interpretation of ethical challenges emerging in the particularity of clinical contexts, institutional settings, and organizational frameworks. Thus, it requires, in addition to a broad theoretical background in ethics, the ability to discern the concrete circumstances and cases that define everyday clinical experience, and the disposition to dialogue with all decision makers involved in the care of patients. The course introduces students to the practice and theory of clinical bioethics, comprising both conceptual dimensions articulated in the classroom and practical interaction with health care professionals at the Bioethics Institute. The course tries to articulate a synergistic approach to clinical bioethics, in which concrete experience and reflective efforts converge in a synthesis of perspectives on classical themes, such as respect for privacy and confidentiality, truth telling, determining decision making capacity, and the process of informed consent. Also, in-class discussions will touch upon main areas of ethical inquiry in clinical bioethics, including beginning and end of life issues, treatment decisions about newborns and children, and questions of economics, managed care, and patient advocacy. 

  • This course analyzes specific topics in bioethics, such as public policy and bioethics, global bioethics, feminist bioethics, the relation between bioethics and environmental sensibility, history of medicine, sociology of medicine, etc. These courses are taught by affiliate faculty of the Bioethics Institute and introduce students to the interdisciplinary dimensions of bioethical questions. Previous elective courses include: Legal & Medical Constructions of Sex, Gender, & Sexual Identity/ Bioethics & the Brain/ Catholic Health Care Ethics/ and Justice and Health Care.

  • In a 2012 article entitled “In Defense of Irreligious Bioethics” published in The American Journal of Bioethics Timothy Murphy writes, “The task of bioethics can be understood, in a sense, as enlarging the prospect for society’s informed consent about its choices, by showing what various religious experiences, creeds and commitments mean in relation to other options. To enjoy the benefits that flow from adversarial engagement, the most valuable approach to religion is to repudiate in all its manifestations the idea that there is a transcendent reality to which the immanent world is beholden.” (8) Murphy’s negative appraisal of religion gives voice to a common if not a prevailing question within the field of bioethics, namely to what extent (if at all) is its project philosophically, conceptually and normatively compatible with the study and practice of religion? The purpose of this course is to engage this question further and sketch out some preliminary answers. Toward that end, it is structured as follows: In the first part of the course, we will take up a meta-ethical analysis of different approaches to religious ethical inquiry and identify what unique metaphysical and normative contributions they offer. As part of this analysis, we will also explore the different historical and intellectual forces that have suppressed religious perspectives within the evolution bioethics and relegated it to the periphery. Next, we will examine, compare, and contrast how bioethics is framed within the context of three different formative religious traditions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Lastly, we will survey how each of these traditions evaluates significant bioethical questions surrounding issues at the beginning of life, end of life, organ transplantation and genetic medicine. 

  • The course introduces students in bioethics to the theories and problems of moral philosophy, comprising both a historical and a systematic component. Main versions of ethics will be studied, including natural law and virtue ethics, deontological and consequentialist theories. Students will understand the function and importance of ethical frameworks for the articulation of bioethical problems. Although the course’s interest is ultimately on the bioethical implications of foundational approaches to ethics, the focus will be theoretical in scope. Classical texts from Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Hume, Kant, Mill, and others will be studied.