Next up … Bioethics! … again …


In mid-April the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University (GeorgetownX) began a revised Introduction to Bioethics (PHLX101-03x) course on the edX platform. I attempted the first release and found some of the supplementary material lacking. Confronted with time constraints I decided to set the course aside (unenroll) and complete the archived version when I wasn’t so pressed for time. Having had now the chance to gain more insight on the topic through independent reading and lectures of Greg Dr. Greg Sadler.  I think I’ll probably get much more out of the course. I’ve decided to add David VanDrunen’s Bioethics and the Christian Life: A Guide to Making Difficult Decisions  to enrich my understanding of the coursework

In a nutshell, Introduction to Bioethics will cover five major themes, each lasting two weeks and divided into two units:

  1. Respecting Autonomy: The first theme explores one of the founding issues of modern bioethics: the importance of respecting the autonomy, or self-determination, of patients and research subjects. Why is it so important? What are its limits? And what about the autonomy of doctors and nurses? In Unit 1, we will look specifically at patient autonomy. Unit 2 is about provider autonomy.
  2. Bioethics and the Human Body: The second theme explores issues concerning the human body. Unit 3 will ask us to think hard about what disability – and “normal” – really means. Unit 4 will look at fascinating questions around enhancing the body.
  3. Bioethics at the Beginning of Life: In Unit 5, we’ll look at the fascinating world of “collaborative reproduction” – new ways of creating babies and building families, and some of the ethical issues they raise. In Unit 6, we’ll explore the important and difficult issue of abortion. Good and reasonable people disagree on this topic: we’ll be exploring different views to help all of us think more deeply about it.
  4. Bioethics at the End of Life: The fourth theme explores the other bookend of human life. Unit 7 looks at the end of life for those who can no longer speak for themselves – those in a persistent vegetative state, for instance. What parameters should guide our decision making here? And what is the definition of death, anyway? Unit 8 takes on a critical issue that is hotly debated right now: for those who can speak for themselves as they approach death, does the right to autonomy include the right to request help in hastening one’s death
  5. Global Bioethics: The fifth and final theme explores a variety of bioethical issues in an increasingly globalized world. Unit 9 will take on the urgent and complex issue of climate change: what does the perspective of Environmental Justice add to our understanding of the ethics? Unit 10, the final unit, surveys three issues of emerging growth: medical tourism, outsourcing medical research to developing countries, and ensuring food security in the 21st century.

This is GeorgetownX’s fourth iteration of the course and it is interesting to watch as MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) such as this morph over time Changes in subject matter (issues in bioethics) as well as pedagogical advances (improvements in presenting the subject material and assessing student learning) are apparent in going over past syllabi for this course. Introduction to Bioethics also offers Facebook and Twitter social media for student / instructor interaction as well as the standard edX platform discussion forum. Sounds like it will be an interesting 10 weeks.


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