AP/PHIL3575 3.0 A: Introduction to Bioethics

Offered by: PHIL


Fall 2019






Calendar Description / Prerequisite / Co-Requisite

Should comatose patients be kept alive indefinitely? Should an alcoholic receive a liver transplant? This course explores the philosophical dimensions of bioethics, i.e., the branch of applied ethics that proposes practical responses to moral problems that arise in medical practice and in the development and distribution of health care resources. Course credit exclusion: AP/PHIL 2077 3.00 (prior to Fall 2013).

Course Website

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    Additional Course Instructor/Contact Details

Professor Duff R. Waring


Office Location:  S428 Ross

Phone Number:  (416) 736-2100 Ext.33522

Office Hours:  TBA

    Expanded Course Description

Bioethics can be understood as the branch of applied ethics that investigates and proposes practical responses to moral dilemmas that arise in medical practice and in the development, use and distribution of new technologies in the health care system. The aim of this course is to explore the philosophical dimensions of bioethics by examining moral dilemmas pertaining to the creation, enhancement, and termination human life. We will address various topics of moral concern such as: 1) the moral tension between medical paternalism and patient autonomy; 2) truth-telling and confidentiality between physician and patient; 3) substitute decision-making for mentally incapable persons; 4) biomedical research with human subjects; 5) medical assistance in dying (MAiD); 6) public health, 7) stopping and completing human reproduction, and 8) the allocation of health care resources between patients and across society.

In relating moral theory to practice, we will also examine the philosophical foundations of moral deliberation in bioethics, e.g., utilitarianism, Kantian ethics (deontology) and virtue ethics. We will then examine the different contemporary approaches to bioethical reasoning that have emerged from a critique of these foundational normative theories, e.g., feminist ethics, principlism and case-based reasoning (casuistry). The application of these approaches will be illustrated by selected case studies relevant to our seven areas of concern. By the end of this course, students will have gained a better understanding of how the development of bioethics has contributed to innovative moral deliberation on these controversial topics.

    Required Course Text / Readings

Johnna Fisher, J.S. Russell, Alister Browne, and Leslie Burkholder, Biomedical Ethics: A Canadian Focus, 3rd edition (Don Mills Ontario: Oxford University Press Canada, 2018).

    Weighting of Course

In-Class Handwritten Quiz (1 hour) Wed. Sept. 18: 15%.


Short Paper (1500-2000words max) due Wed. Oct. 9: 30%. Your paper will be graded and with my comments by Wed. Oct. 23.


Longer Research Paper (2500 words max) due Wed. Nov. 13: 35%. Your paper will be returned with a grade and comments by Wed. Dec. 4.


Due dates are firm. The penalty for late submission of essays is 5% of the assignment’s total worth per day including weekends. One hard copy must be submitted to me. In order for me to grade your essay, you must submit an electronic version to www.turnitin.com.


In-Class Test (3 hours) Wed. Nov. 27: 20%. This is a closed book test.


    Organization of the Course

Lecture and seminar discussion format.

    Course Learning Objectives

*To examine the applied interpretation and development of relevant ethical theories and principles to moral dilemmas in bioethics pertaining to relations between physician and patient, the stopping and completing human reproduction, the termination of human life, and the allocation of scarce medical resources.


* To understand the current and historical sources of concern for protecting and valuing human life in a contemporary biomedical context.


* To understand the influence of moral theory on policy and legal analysis pertaining to topics such as the regulation of assisted reproduction, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, and the allocation of medical resources.


* To assess appropriate legal and policy approaches (e.g., statutory, rights-based) to the regulation of biomedical practice in these morally contentious areas.

    Relevant Links / Resources