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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Law : Law

Postgraduate Course: Fundamentals in Bioethics (LAWS11390)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Law CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate)
Course typeOnline Distance Learning AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course serves as a foundation for critical engagement with the core elements of doing bioethics. It will introduce students to three pillars of rigorous bioethical analysis: (i) defining and distinguishing concepts, (ii) understanding theories, and (iii) recognising and constructing robust arguments. It will equip students with the skills to develop and defend ethical arguments, and to apply these to legal, regulatory and policy issues in health, medicine and the biosciences.
Course description At the beginning of this course, students will be introduced to an ¿ethical toolbox¿, outline the importance of the pillar of good bioethical reasoning: (i) the skills of sound argumentation (ii) the importance of conceptual clarity (iii) the relevance and limitations of ethical theory.

The following nine weeks will explore several key areas in bioethics, as outlined below. Each week will be an opportunity to engage with the various aspect of bioethical reasoning. Topics will include:

Who matters? The significance of moral status
Examining the question of what kinds of beings are the proper object of moral concern and introducing the concept of personhood.

What makes human life worth living?
Comparing a range of accounts that seek to characterise what wellbeing or a worthwhile life consist in and highlighting the different perspectives from which this question may be approached.

Introducing theories about what makes something good or right
Introducing the core precepts of the most prominent ethical theories (e.g. utilitarianism, deontology etc.) and critically engaging with the limits of the use of theory in practical bioethics

¿ A moral difference between acts and omissions?
Exploring whether there is a moral distinction between acting and refraining from acting in the context of health care.

Why worry about justice and inequality?
In what ways do questions of justice apply to ethical questions arising in various areas of health care, research and public health?

Fairness and justice in health
Exploring the ways in which we might approach questions of fairness in health care and in access to health, with the help of key theoretical approaches.

¿ What is autonomy and does it matter?
Introduction to theories of autonomy and the limitations of autonomy as a guiding principle

¿ To what extent am I my body?
Encouraging students to think critically about the ways in which we are and are not our bodies, and the extent to which a worthwhile life or good outcomes are synonymous preserving a healthy or normal body.

Beyond the person
Broadening our ethical lens beyond individuals to think about collectives, structures and power in the context of health.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements Please contact the online learning team at
Additional Costs Students should have regular and reliable access to the Internet.
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2023/24, Not available to visiting students (SS1) Quota:  None
Course Start Semester 1
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 40, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 156 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) The coursework will consist of one 4,000-word essay (100 %)

Requirements for the assessment will be outlined to students at the start of each semester.
Feedback Students will have the opportunity to obtain formative feedback over the course of the semester. The feedback provided will assist students in their preparation for the summative (graded) assessments.

Details of the School's feedback policy will be available at the start of the course.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Demonstrate critical understanding of the principal concepts, theories, and methods of bioethical reasoning and argumentation.
  2. Identify, conceptualise and analyse ethical problems and issues.
  3. Deal with complex issues and make informed judgements in situations characterised by dilemmas and plurality of values.
  4. Communicate ethical ideas and positions, appropriately and effectively, using a variety of methods, and to a range of audiences, taking into account the complex and sensitive nature of many bioethical topics.
Reading List
There is no set text for this course.

A proportion of the core readings will come from:
- Ashcroft, R. et al. (eds). (2007) 'Principles of health care ethics'. John Wiley & Sons. (available as an e-book from University of Edinburgh library).

- Farrell, A. M., & Dove, E. S. (2023). Mason and McCall Smith's Law and Medical Ethics. Oxford University Press. (availability as an e-book tbc).

- Kuhse, H, & Singer, P (eds). (2012). 'A companion to bioethics: second edition'. Wiley Blackwell. (available as an e-book from University of Edinburgh library)

- Schüklenk, U. and Singer, P. (eds.) (2021) 'Bioethics: An Anthology'. 4th edn. Wiley-Blackwell. (available as an e-book from University of Edinburgh library)

- Rogers, W. et al. (eds.) (2022) 'The Routledge Handbook of Feminist Bioethics'. Routledge.

- Wilkinson, D., Savulescu, J., and Herring, J. (2019) Medical Ethics and Law: A Curriculum for the 21st Century. Elsevier (scanned copies of relevant chapters will be made available in the course Resources list)

A detailed list of key resources will be available at the start of the course.
Additional Information
Course URL
Graduate Attributes and Skills 1. Cognitive skills. The course will enable the student to select and deploy appropriate research techniques; they will critically analyse and evaluate key issues in the subject area, and formulate coherent arguments relating to key issues in the subject area.

2. Communications. Students will be able to summarise and communicate information and ideas effectively in oral and written form. Students are also expected to interact with each other and with tutors online, and this forms part of the overall assessment.

3. Autonomy, accountability. Students will exercise personal autonomy and intellectual initiative in, and take responsibility for, the conduct of their own work.

4. Working with others. They will engage with others through participation in online discussion: articulating and supporting a line of argument and formulating critical analyses of arguments presented by others.
Special Arrangements This course is taught by online learning.
Additional Class Delivery Information This course is taught by online learning.
Keywordsbioethics,medical ethics,moral philosophy,medical law,medical jurisprudence
Course organiserMs Emily Postan
Course secretaryMs Clare Polson
Tel: (0131 6)51 9704
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