Biomedical Ethics

Discipline: Philosophy and Religious Studies
Instructor: Harmon
Credits: 3
Day: B
Start: 1415
End: 1530
Field Work: Day 1 | South Africa Download Syllabus

This course will explore a number of philosophical issues bearing on life and death. Topics will include the meaning of life, the significance of death, the meaning of the dying process, the notion of personhood, the ethics of surrogate decision-making on issues of life and death, the various definitions of death, suicide, the morality of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, the issues regarding withholding and withdrawing life-sustaining treatment, the ethics of surrogate decision-making on issues of life and death, the rights of the terminally ill, abortion, stem-cell research, cloning, and human experimentation. Throughout the semester, the course will take a cross-cultural perspective, departing from classical liberal thought and western values that tend to emphasize individual patient autonomy to an exploration of nonwestern world views that operate out of radically different philosophical premises, resulting in radically different biomedical ethics.


Suggested Prerequisite: Introduction to Philosophy or some equivalent course.

Field Work

Country: South Africa
Day: 1

Students will participate in a full-day service visit to the squatters’ camps on the outskirts of Cape Town.  The visit is hosted by Operation Hunger, an NGO whose mission is to “create partnerships between vulnerable households and caring people to combat malnutrition which, when suffered by children, undermines the nation’s health education and economic potential.”  Most of the people living in the squatters camps come from the former homelands in the Eastern Cape.  Originally the migrants came to the city for work, but when there were no jobs, they found themselves without shelter, and with no means of returning home.  They set up shacks made out of tin, cardboard, and plastic sheeting, and settled into a life of extreme poverty.  (Possible areas to be visited are Khayelitsha and Philippi.) Students will participate in some kind of a nutrition surveillance activity in a targeted community, designed to track the growth development of the children in the school.  In addition, the Field Lab will visit a feeding scheme, and also participate in some cultural activities.  Students will witness first-hand the effect of extreme poverty on nutrition and growth in the pediatric population, and will learn about other significant health care issues in South Africa, such as the HIV/AIDs epidemic and tuberculosis. Academic Objectives 1.      To expose students to the realities of what it means to be living in “extreme poverty” 2.      To test whether these conditions observed in the squatters’ camps satisfy the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ guarantee of rights to “an adequate standard of living and health protection,” and to explore what those terms mean 3.      To teach students about the correlation between extreme poverty and nutritional deficiencies, as well to teach students about how those nutritional deficiencies interfere with a child’s health and education; 4.      To learn about the indirect, societal consequences of South Africa being the world’s leading nation in HIV infection---who has the legal and ethical obligation to provide for the food,  shelter, clothing, education, and health care of the many AIDs orphans who inhabit the squatters’ communities? To To ask whether---any why---the international global community has any ethical obligations towards those who live in impoverished circumstances in the developing world?