Module Details

PY428-6-SP-CO: Philosophy And Medical Ethics

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Year: 2017/18
Department: Philosophy
Essex credit: 15
ECTS credit: 7.5
Available to Study Abroad / Exchange Students: Yes
Full Year Module Available to Study Abroad / Exchange Students for a Single Term: No
Outside Option: Yes

Supervisor: Dr Joerg Schaub
Teaching Staff: Dr Joerg Schaub
Contact details:

Module is taught during the following terms
Autumn Spring Summer

Module Description

This module will introduce students to a wide range of philosophical questions that are raised by everyday medical practice and recent developments in medical science. It will show how the resources of moral philosophy and philosophy more widely can help us to develop a better understanding of these questions, and enable us to critically assess the ways in which these issues are currently dealt with. The exact range of topics addressed will vary from year to year. Amongst the issues explored in this module will be questions of life and death, questions raised by bringing people into existence (reproductive medicine, cloning etc.), just resource allocation (between patients and on the level of healthcare budgets), the ethics of medical research, the ethics of confidentiality, informed consent and patient autonomy, the ethics of enhancement, and the future of human nature. Finally, this module will familiarise students with Foucault's notion of "biopolitics" and explore its relevance for developing a critical understanding of the context in which medical-ethical questions arise.


By the end of the module, students should be able to:
* identify the ethical and philosophical issues raised by a selection of medical matters.
* explain the debates concerning these issues
* critically assess the merits of the conflicting arguments.

Students should also have acquired a set of transferable skills, and in particular be able to:

* define the task in which they are engaged and exclude what is irrelevant;
* seek and organise the most relevant discussions and sources of information;
* process a large volume of diverse and sometimes conflicting arguments;
* compare and evaluate different arguments and assess the limitations of their own position or procedure;
* write and present verbally a succinct and precise account of positions, arguments, and their presuppositions and implications;
* be sensitive to the positions of others and communicate their own views in ways that are accessible to them;
* think 'laterally' and creatively - see interesting connections and possibilities and present these clearly rather than as vague hunches;
* maintain intellectual flexibility and revise their own position if shown wrong;
* think critically and constructively.

Learning and Teaching Methods

1 x two hour lecture and discussion session each week followed by a one-hour seminar at which issues covered in the lecture will be discussed in more detail. Week 21 is Reading Week.


100 per cent Coursework Mark


1 x Essay of 3,000 words (weighting 50%) 1 x Presentation on Secondary Literature (25%) 5 x 150-200 word reading responses (20%) Participation (5%)


  • H. Kuhse and P. Singer (eds.), 2006, Bioethics. An Anthology, 2nd edition, Oxford: Blackwell.
  • N. Daniels, 2007, Just Health: Meeting Health Needs Fairly, New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • H. Habermas, 2003, The Future of Human Nature, Oxford: Polity Press.
  • J. Savulescu and N. Bostrom (eds.), 2009, Human Enhancement, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • T. Lemke, 2011, Biopolitics: An Advanced Introduction, New York: New York University Press.

Further information