Philosophy 221: Biomedical Ethics
MWF 8:45-9:50 AM
Professor: Matt Tedesco
Office Hours: MWF 11:15-12:15, and by appointment
Office: Morse-Ingersoll 210
Textbook: Bioethics: An Anthology (2nd ed.), edited by Helga Kuhse and Peter Singer (Blackwell, 2006)
The purpose of this course is to critically examine a range of philosophical questions in the areas of bioethics and medical ethics. From abortion to cloning, from euthanasia to human and animal experimentation, issues in biomedical ethics are topics of consistently intense debate. As a philosophy class, our emphasis will be on the analysis of concepts and the critical evaluation of arguments. Beyond gaining a familiarity with some of the core literature in biomedical ethics, students should expect to develop their analytic and evaluative skills through in-class discussion, debates, and a range of writing assignments.
Your grade in the class will be determined as follows:
I. TWO EXAMS (2/5)
There will be two in-class written exams in this class, each worth 1/5 of your overall class grade. The first exam of your grade and will be administered on February 12th; the second exam will be administered on April 30th at 9 AM (our assigned time during the finals period). This means, for planning purposes, that you should not plan to leave campus earlier than the time and date of this second exam. On the exams, anything discussed in class or assigned as class reading is fair game for a question topic. Note that these two will largely, but not entirely, overlap.
I will, in special circumstances, allow the two exams to be replaced with one significant research paper of 3000-4500 words in length. This option is intended primarily for advanced philosophy majors—i.e., those who have completed at least three units in philosophy prior to this semester. For a student to take this option, they will have to demonstrate to me (ordinarily by a conversation early in the semester) that they are capable of successfully completing a project of this size and detail.
II. FORMAL PAPER (1/5)
There will be one 1400-1800 word paper in this class, due on March 19th. Details (regarding specific guidelines and expectations) will be passed along as the semester progresses. For you to receive a passing grade in the class, this paper must be satisfactorily completed.
III. PHILOSOPHICAL DEBATES (1/5)
Throughout the semester, we will engage in four philosophical debates as outlined in the class schedule (below). Early in the semester, each of you will be assigned to a team of 3-4 students that will participate in one of the debates. Each debate will concern a specific question or case connected with the topic of the debate, where the two teams will be asked to defend opposing positions. Your debate grade will be generated by both the overall performance of your team, as well as your own individual performance, in the debate. In addition to participating in the debate, you will also be responsible for writing a 2-3 page self-evaluation of your own team, as well as writing two 2-3 page evaluations of any two of the other three debates. These three evaluations are required; failing to satisfactorily complete them will result in a letter-grade penalty on your debate grade for each missed evaluation.
Each debate will begin with the two teams being allotted 15 minutes each to present their main argument(s). After a 5-minute break, we will have a 20-minute period of open philosophical exchange, where the two teams will be expected to raise objections to their opponent’s arguments, and to respond to objections posed to them. This period will be moderated by the professor. The remaining 10 minutes of the class will be devoted to questions from the class, directed to either team, as well as an open discussion after the debate of the philosophical issues raised during the debate if time allows.
The readings assigned for each of the debates deal directly with the debate topics, and so the teams will be expected to be familiar with this material; each team, however, should go beyond these readings at their discretion to bring in any other considerations that they deem appropriate. While every student is required to participate in the debate, and the expectation is that the members of each team will participate roughly equally, it is up to each team to decide how to divide their efforts. Please remember that these are philosophical debates; ad hominem attacks, straw man arguments, and other informal logical fallacies that may score points in popular debates will be penalized, rather than rewarded, here. Also remember that the goal is not to “win” the debate; the goal is to do as good a job as possible defending the position you have been assigned.
IV. REACTION E-MAILS (1/5)
You will be responsible for sending reaction e-mails to me throughout the semester. These e-mails should be at least two substantial paragraphs in length. The first paragraph should briefly summarize what you take to be the thesis, main point, or purpose of the reading being discussed. The second paragraph and beyond should contain your reaction to the reading. Here, you should be critically evaluating some aspect of the reading: what was particularly interesting, convincing, problematic, confusing, etc.? Your reaction e-mails will not be evaluated for correctness, but they should demonstrate a serious engagement with the reading for class. Reaction e-mails that fail to seriously engage the reading will receive no credit.
There are two important rules to keep in mind for this assignment: first, the e-mails must be received before we discuss the reading in class, and second, you can turn in no more than one per week. If you turn in thirteen (one for each week, excluding the first, last, and mid-term break) satisfactorily, you will receive an A for this portion of your grade. For each one not turned in, this portion of your grade will decrease by one-third of a letter grade (so, turning in twelve earns an A-, eleven a B+, etc.). For our purposes, each week ends at the start of our Friday class; any reaction e-mails sent afterwards will count for the next week.
You will need to adhere to three rules in formatting your reaction e-mails. First, the subject of your e-mails should include both the number of the reaction and the name of the philosopher or philosophers to whom you’ll be responding (e.g., Reaction 1: Thomson). Second, don’t send any attachments; your reaction e-mail should be the text of the e-mail itself. And third, don’t include other business (questions about assignments, requests for a meeting, etc.) in your reaction e-mails; send all of that stuff as a separate correspondence.
These reaction e-mails serve a number of purposes. Beyond ensuring your critical engagement with the text throughout the semester, they give me a window into your reading of the text, which in turn directly informs my teaching. I’ll have a sense of what you focused on in the reading, and what needs special attention in class. I will also draw from the content of your reaction e-mails in class, sometimes generally, but also sometimes by referencing particular reaction e-mails. I will do my best to use discretion, but please let me know in your reaction e-mails if there are details in it that you would prefer not to reveal to the rest of the class.
Given the sheer volume of reaction e-mails that I will be receiving from all of you, you should not expect regular feedback on individual reaction e-mails. I will, however, be responding to you on at least two occasions: I will respond to your first reaction e-mail, to let you know that I’ve received it and whether it meets the criteria of the assignment, and I will respond at the middle of the term to provide feedback on the set of reaction e-mails I’ve received to that point. I may also respond to individual reaction e-mails intermittently throughout the semester. Beyond all this, you should regularly be reviewing your reaction e-mails after our class discussions, to see how your understanding of the text has developed.
V. CLASS ACTIVITY (variable)
The final component of your overall class grade encompasses several different elements, including (but not limited to) class participation and classroom behavior in general. This component is unique in that, unlike the other components, it is subjective. Attendance, first of all, is mandatory, and students with excessive absences will be penalized, where excessive absences are understood as those over and above the equivalent of one week’s worth of class time. In accordance with Beloit College policy, I expect everyone to come to class, and I furthermore expect everyone who comes to class to be alert and ready to participate. Participation also is mandatory. Though this requirement is most commonly met by making positive contributions to in-class discussion, it may also be met through e-mail communication or office visits that demonstrate a serious engagement with class material beyond the assigned reaction e-mails. Elements of class activity that may negatively impact your grade include disruptive behavior (e.g., engaging in side-conversations with others, ringing cell phones) or visibly obvious detachment from the class (e.g., reading outside material such as the newspaper or work for other classes, sleeping). Exceptionally strong class activity may raise your overall grade by one-third (e.g., if your final grade is a B, it may be raised to a B-plus), while poor class activity may lower your overall grade by at least one-third (e.g., from B to B-minus or lower). As a rule of thumb, expect to have your class grade lowered by one-third for each hour of class missed beyond three.
Note that, as a matter of class policy, laptop computers will not be allowed to be used in class. If you believe you have a compelling reason to be exempt from this policy, please see me to discuss the matter.
If a situation of prolonged absence is unavoidable, please make sure to contact me about it. Be aware that I will normally request proper documentation should such a circumstance arise.
What follows is the plan for the semester as I see it now. Reading assignments should be completed before the class that they’re assigned, where the days listed in parentheses signal when I expect us to begin discussing the article in question. Note that this schedule is tentative; we may deviate from it as the semester progresses and class discussion takes on a life of its own. If changes are required, they will be announced in class.
If you have specific physical, psychiatric, or learning disabilities and require accommodations, please provide the appropriate documentation to me from the Learning Enrichment and Disability Services office early in the semester so that your learning needs may be effectively met. Be aware that I cannot make special accommodations without direction from the LEDS office.
Week 1 (1/11 - 1/15): Introductions
(W) Class introductions
(F) Glover, “The Sanctity of Life” (266-275)
Week 2 (1/18 – 1/22): Abortion
(M) Tooley, “Abortion and Infanticide” (25-39)
(W) Marquis, “Why Abortion is Immoral” (51-62)
Week 3 (1/25 – 1/29): Abortion, con’d
Thomson, “A Defense of Abortion” (40-50)
Week 4 (2/1 – 2/5): Reproduction
(M) Pence,” The McCaughey Septuplets: God’s Will or Human Choice?” (87-89)
Purdy, “Genetics and Reproductive Risk: Can Having Children Be Immoral?” (115-121)
(W) Parfit, “Rights, Interests, and Possible People” (108-112)
Week 5 (2/8 – 2/12): Reproduction, con’d
(W) DEBATE 1: Using Future Children
Robertson, Kahn, and Wagner, “Conception to Obtain Hematopoietic Stem Cells” (150-157)
King, “Why We Should Not Permit Embryos to Be Selected as Tissue Donors” (158-161)
(F) EXAM 1
Week 6 (2/15 – 2/19): Genetics
(M) Tooley, “The Moral Status of the Cloning of Humans” (162-177)
(W) Glover, “Questions About Some Uses of Genetic Engineering” (187-197)
Week 7 (2/22 – 2/26): Genetics, con’d
(M) Wachbroit & Wasserman, “Patient Autonomy and Value-Neutrality in Nondirective Genetic Counseling” (237-245)
(W) Davis, “Genetic Dilemmas and the Child’s Right to an Open Future” (246-256)
Week 8 (3/8 – 3/12): Advance Directives
(M) Dworkin, “Life Past Reason” (357-364)
(W) Dresser, “Dworkin on Dementia: Elegant Theory, Questionable Policy” (365-373)
Week 9 (3/15 – 3/19): Euthanasia
(M) Rachels, “Active and Passive Euthanasia” (288-291)
Nesbitt, “Is Killing No Worse Than Letting Die?” (292-296)
Kuhse, “Why Killing is Not Always Worse, and Sometimes Better, Than Letting Die” (297-300)
(W) Kuhse,” A Modern Myth: That Letting Die is Not the Intentional Causation of Death” (315-328)
(F) PAPER DUE
Week 10 (3/22 – 3/26): Resources
(M) DEBATE 2: Doctors, Euthanasia, and Assisted Suicide
Callahan, “When Self-Determination Runs Amok” (381-385)
Lachs, “When Abstract Moralizing Runs Amok” (386-390)
Admiral, “Listening and Helping to Die: The Dutch Way” (391-397)
(W) Harris, “The Value of Life” (428-436)
(F) Veatch, “How Age Should Matter: Justice as the Basis for Limiting Care to the Elderly” (437-447)
Week 11 (3/29 – 4/2): Experimentation
(W) DEBATE 3: Priorities in Organ Transplantation
Rescher, “The Allocation of Exotic Medical Lifesaving Therapy” (410-420)
Moss and Siegler, “Should Alcoholics Compete Equally for Liver Transplantation?” (421-427)
(F) Freedman, “Equipoise and the Ethics of Clinical Research” (513-519)
Week 12 (4/5 – 4/9): Experimentation, con’d
(M) Hellman, “The Patient and the Public Good” (520-524)
(W) Singer, “All Animals are Equal” (568-577)
Week 13 (4/12 – 4/16): Autonomy and Consent
(M) Veatch, “Abandoning Informed Consent” (636-645)
(W) SPRING DAY
(F) Savulescu, “Rational Desires and the Limitation of Life-Sustaining Treatment” (646-663)
Week 14 (4/19 – 4/23): Autonomy and Consent, con’d
(M) Macklin, “The Doctor-Patient Relationship in Different Cultures” (664-675)
(F) DEBATE 4: Truth-telling in Medical Practice
Collins, “Should Doctors Tell the Truth?” (605-610)
Higgs, “On Telling Patients the Truth” (611-617)
Week 15 (4/26 – 4/30): Conclusions
(M) Class wrap-up & review
(F) EXAM 2 (9 AM)