Syllabus for Bioethics
IS-322, Spring, 2000
Meets TT 9:30 - 10:45pm in Peck Hall 2304
Contemporary Issues in Bioethics by Beauchamp & Walters (B&W, 4th ed.)
Classic Philosophical Questions by Gould (8th ed.)
Prof. William Hamrick
Department of Philosophy
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Prof. Douglas Eder
Department of Biological Sciences
Office of Undergraduate Assessment -&- The Undergraduate Research Academy
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Both professors are available 24 hours a day via electronic mail. In addition, there will be specific times announced in class when the professors will monitor the Bioethics homepage and Electronic Forum in order to provide rapid [virtual] consultation.
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Outline of this section
Course Goal & Format
Prerequisites, Expectations, and Attendance
Exams and Written Work
Missing or Incomplete Performance
The Singular Commandment
The purpose of this course is introduce students to bioethics as an interdisciplinary subject through critical thinking, writing, and discussing contemporary issues. Bioethical thinking is neither biology nor ethics but, rather, a melding of both of them. Interdisciplinary thinking is solidly rooted in the processes of scientific thinking and, simultaneously, is solidly rooted in the processes of philosophical thinking. As the piers of a suspension bridge stand solidly on firmament to support the span between them, so also do the disciplinary ways of knowing biology and ethics serve as solid foundations to support the interdisciplinary thinking of bioethics.
By the end of this course you should have demonstrated your capacity to:
- Recognize, compare, and contrast the general "ways of thinking" of science (biology) and of philosophy (ethics).
- Approach bioethical problems, break them into smaller, component parts (analysis), and discuss those analyses through oral and written communication, both individually and in groups.
- Approach bioethical problems and propose solutions to them that transcend the disciplines of biology and philosophy, yet are solidly rooted in their respective ways-of-knowing.
- Acquire and separate factual knowledge from opinion in the areas of science and philosophy.
- Demonstrate good critical thinking (that is, clear, logical (coherent and relevant), broad, deep, and discriminating) in bioethics through speaking and writing.
This is a 300-level IS course taught in an active learning format. Writing is presented as a way to make thinking visible; interdisciplinary thinking is approached through staged writing (see hypertext link below). Student preparation, therefore, should emphasize reading and thinking prior to class so that reasoned dialog in class occurs regularly.
Junior/senior-level skills in written and spoken English are assumed. Experience in University library search procedures is expected (see pedagogy below). Upper level (junior or senior) standing is required.
Satisfactory performance in University courses generally asks for two hours of study outside of class for each hour in class. This estimate applies to an "average" student expecting an "adequate" (=C) grade. Students aiming higher or those with academic problems should expect to spend more effort than the minimum.
Class attendance is expected. Although some good reasons exist for missing a class, a student missing more than 10% of class time is subject to reduction of grade.
Grades for the course are based on two exams (40%), several written projects, oral presentations, quizzes, essays (50%), and participation (10%). In general, the overall expectation for grades is the following:
An outline of grading standards used to assess and evaluate written work can be examined by clicking here.
- A = Outstanding in all regards, well beyond all expectations. Factual and philosophical control of subject matter presented with fluency and eloquence.
- B = very well done, beyond normal expectations. Factual and philosophical control of subject matter is obvious.
- C = Adequate in all regards, major concepts well controlled. Presentations organized and disciplined; only minor details missing.
- D = Major problems and misunderstanding with central ideas. Lack of control and discipline in presentations.
- E = Evidence showing lack of coherence and discipline. Evidence of motivation lacking.
Exams will emphasize factual knowledge and content. Multiple choice, short answer, and essay questions may arise. Exams focus on what happens in class as supplemented and amplified by the readings.
Major outside written work should be typed on plain white paper, double-spaced, single-side with one-inch margins and pages stapled together. The student's name(s) should appear only on the title page, which is separate within each manuscript, or on the back side of the last sheet (prof will select). Variation from this format is not permitted without advance consultation with the professors. Students present written ideas in their own words. Quotations are limited to 10% of the paper; use of quotations and ideas not the student's own requires proper citation. Written work is evaluated as 70% content (ideas, reasoning), 20% style (English, structure), and 10% format (care, neatness, references). A "fatal error" policy exists: Any paper or chapter that contains three or more spelling or grammatical errors (e.g., run-on, capitalization, indefinite reference) may not be graded. Therefore, use a computer spell/grammar checker and proofread. The paper may be resubmitted within two class periods; a substantial grade penalty accompanies a paper with fatal errors. Minor outside written work (e.g., overnight essays) must be typed. The student's name should be written only on the back side of the single sheet.
A single missed assignment must be made up within three calendar days or
at some mutually agreeable time for professor and student. It is the student's responsibility to initiate this process. A second missed assignment cannot be made up and will be assigned a grade of zero. A grade of Incomplete may be recorded only in cases of verifiable medical distress, must be negotiated before the final exam, and must be made up
within one academic semester. Individual contracts will be negotiated in the event of incomplete performance.
We want you to do well. Regardless of the pressures you may feel upon yourself, THOU SHALT NOT LIE, CHEAT, OR STEAL. This includes not using ideas of other persons without proper citation. Students engaged in such activities are subject to a failing grade for the course.
Outline of this section
The Nature of Science
The Nature of Bioethics
The Readings and the Issues
In contrast to art and religion, which have existed in human history for perhaps 30,000 years, science as a way of knowing is relatively new. Scientific practice in its present form is only about 400 years old. Galileo is credited with introducing into modern scientific thought the idea that evidence of the senses, rather than divinely inspired insight, is primary. Notions about science continue to change. Science has been defined as the study of reproducible events, a definition that unfortunately leaves out such important fields as ecology and evolution, which are not repeatable because we cannot repeat ecosystems or the universe. Today we regard science as the testing of falsifiable hypotheses, that is, the formation and study of guiding principles which, if opposing evidence were discovered, could be disproved. Because scientific hypotheses always have the possibility of being proved false (they can never be proven true), certainty does not exist in science. The best, most solid ideas in science are theories.
In contrast, ethics is the study of proper behavior. Ideas about what constitutes proper behavior have proliferated for thousands of years. Many people, especially in today's political climate, are certain that they know what proper behavior is, especially for other people. We humans have found ourselves amidst a complicated universe, and there's no manual to reveal to us rationally how everything works. With respect to the environment and its ecology, there's no way to start it all over and watch it develop...nor is there any evidence that, if we could do this, things would turn out the same a second time. So, scientists who observe the environment carefully are trying to construct a usable owner's manual so that we can understand this place and perhaps get better use out of it.
Ten thousand years ago, when there were fewer of us around, things weren't any easier but the consequences of mistaken understanding were not global in scope. Now consequences do spread globally and that makes understanding science much more important. It also makes the study of bioethics much more important because the foundation of good behavior underlies the making of good decisions. To whom, for instance, do we have duties? Patients? Neighbors? Animals? The environment itself? Do we act properly if we achieve good consequences, even if the means we use to obtain those consequences are rude and crude? Or must the processes we use to arrive at desired consequences also be good? To what extent do duties or potential bad consequences interfere with scientific freedom to investigate the unknown? Do scientists act properly if they pursue lines of inquiry that have the obvious, but derivative, potential to
produce bad consequences? What if the bad consequences aren't so obvious? In short, what kind of owner's manual needs to be written for scientists in order to assist with these kinds of decisions?
Ethical theory deals with what ought to be while science tells us what is, at least at the moment. One may be tempted to think that science, with its rigorous thinking and factual basis, might be the best foundation upon which to build an ethical theory. So, how sensible is it to construct ideas of proper behavior on a foundation that is falsifiable? One might also be tempted to think that humans are free to choose any foundation from which to select a proper behavior. But, according to discoveries in genetics, neurobiology, and psychology, isn't much of our behavior determined by our biological endowment and, therefore, out of our control? Finally, for oneself or for specified others, one might be tempted to claim rights such as health care, research support, or protection from use in experimentation or exploitation. On what basis can rights be claimed? If resources are limited, how and by whom are they to be allocated?
Students in the late 20th century are not the first to encounter questions such as these. We can read the printed thoughts of wise men and women who have previously contemplated these ideas and use their assistance in our own ponderings. The readings listed in this course syllabus serve as a minute introduction to those before us who
have worried about what constitutes proper behavior and how we can recognize and practice it.
Outline of this section
Purpose of the Order
The purpose of the early part of the course is to pose some tangles in science in order to demonstrate the need for a foundation in ethical thinking. For instance, if promise-keeping and truth-telling are ethical virtues, how can a biologist ignore the plain behavioral evidence that creatures that cheat (cuckoos) and lie (viceroy butterflies) can do very well in competitive environments? Can biologists in particular reconcile enduring scientific observations with ephemeral societal expectations? Class discussion will proceed through classic philosophic questions such as: Do we have free will? Are there absolute right and wrong behaviors? What does it mean to possess personhood and claim rights? What is the meaning of life? Moreover, there is a biological spin to these questions. A biologist holding an evolutionary perspective may envision a far different meaning for life than someone else who has never studied the subject of evolution. Therefore, the first five weeks will provide ideas from which to build an intellectual platform for making bioethical decisions.
This is not a course in biomedical ethics; therefore, most patient-related issues such as abortion, living wills, right to die, and access to health care will not occupy central attention. This is also not a course in environmental ethics. Many issues in environmental ethics are conceptually distinct from those in bioethics, although there is an obvious overlap between them. What will occupy attention includes research resource allocation, transplantation, reproductive technology, genetic screening, genetic engineering, animal and human experimentation, the ethics of teaching biology and its underlying evolutionary theory, and eco-ethics.
As a 300-level class in Interdisciplinary Studies, this course implies junior- and senior-student level capabilities for enrollment and success. The amount of scaffolding surrounding student work will be commensurate with that appropriate for upper division standing. However, students who are less experienced in the use of library facilities such as Silver Platter, Biological Abstracts, and Science Citation Index, for example, need to ask for appropriate instruction. Pedagogy emphasizes informed discussion and active learning rather than mostly lecture.
The intent of the instructors, as revealed through the syllabus, is to lead students into increasingly sophisticated bioethical thinking through staged thinking and staged writing. Thus, there is no term paper but there is the expectation of communication through discussion, writing, and revision. In order to reinforce the staging, there may also be several smaller papers of 1-3 page magnitude. This arrangement permits multiple opportunities for feedback and should avoid the more common habit of procrastination followed by a crunch at the end. Refer to the Ground Rules for grading practices.
The syllabus is arranged to begin by introducing three realms of ethical theory: virtue ethics, deontology, and utilitarianism. Concurrently, the course will pose questions that require both biological and ethical solutions. As thinking is developed, additional ethical theories will be introduced. This richer ethical context in turn permits consideration of more complex bioethical situations and more complex writing about them as well. Thus, a theoretical foundation in bioethical thinking is formed not in isolation but in the context of scientific and societal issues --- and with a supporting staged pedagogy.
Class discussion is intended to serve as a prelude to writing; writing is used as a tool for thinking. Whereas the exact position on any issue taken by students is irrelevant, the reasoning marshaled by students in support of that position is crucial. In order to provide multiple chances for feedback, several writing assignments are included. In order to provide an opportunity for deeper argument and synthesis, group consultation is strongly encouraged.
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