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Contemporary Issues in Bioethics - PHI00051M

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  • Department: Philosophy
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Stephen Holland
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2020-21

Module summary

This module will explore philosophically the moral implications of advances in sciences related to medicine.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2020-21

Module aims

The aim of the module is to explore philosophically the moral implications of advances in sciences related to medicine, specifically:

• to achieve an understanding of some recent relevant advances in sciences related to medicine;
• to look at the moral implications of such advances;
• to see how philosophical moral theory might help deal with the resultant bioethical issues.

Module learning outcomes

The module is organised around philosophical themes relevant to bioethical problems. Examples of relevant themes include moral status; life, death and killing; personal identity; and the argument from nature. Bioethical problems of the following kinds are discussed in depth: stem cell research, xenotransplantation, euthanasia, brain death, advance directives, prenatal genetic intervention, cloning, and genetic enhancements.

The module will provide students with:

  • the ability to assimilate and engage with both recent advances in biomedicine and relevant philosophical theory.
  • the opportunity to continue the development of their philosophical skills, such as critically reading texts, presenting written material, and engaging in philosophical discussion.


Module content

Students attend relevant UG lectures and seminars (which are research-led) to gain a background in the general area of research, while working with the module convener over the course of the term to define and develop a topic for independent research, on which they will write their assessed essay, which they will work on in parallel with the lecture/seminar course. They will be expected to produce a topic proposal and reading list by week 7, and a plan for their essay by week 10, and will have a minimum of two meetings with the module convener to discuss ideas for an essay topic (before producing the proposal) and to discuss the essay plan (on production of the plan). These meetings are an absolute minimum, and it is expected that in practice students will make use of staff office hours regularly throughout the term to discuss their project with the module convener. Module conveners may also choose to provide feedback on the essay proposal and reading list in person in a further one-to-one meeting, or to meet MA students as a group at the start of term to discuss the subject area and suggest topics for independent research.


Task Length % of module mark
Essay (4,000 words)
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Essay (4,000 words)
N/A 100

Module feedback

Students will receive written or verbal feedback on the essay proposal and reading list at least two weeks after they submit it.

Students will meet their module tutor in week 10 to discuss their essay plan in person.

Students will receive feedback on the 4000 word summative assessment and reassessment four weeks after they submit it.

Indicative reading

Holland, S. 2017: Bioethics: A Philosophical Introduction (2nd Edn). Cambridge: Polity.

Holland, S. (ed.) 2012: Arguing about Bioethics. London: Routledge.

Steinbock, B. (ed.) 2007: The Oxford Handbook of Bioethics. Oxford: OUP.


The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.