Philosophy and Medical Ethics

The details
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 6
Thursday 07 October 2021
Friday 17 December 2021
29 September 2021


Requisites for this module



Key module for

BA VV56 Philosophy, Religion and Ethics,
BA VV57 Philosophy, Religion and Ethics (Including Placement Year),
BA VV58 Philosophy, Religion and Ethics (Including Foundation Year),
BA VV59 Philosophy, Religion and Ethics (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad),
BA VV5P Philosophy, Religion and Ethics (Including Year Abroad),
LLB MV06 Law with Philosophy (Including Foundation Year),
LLB MV16 Law with Philosophy,
LLB MV18 Law with Philosophy (Including Year Abroad),
LLB MV19 Law with Philosophy (Including Placement Year)

Module description

This module will introduce students to a wide range of philosophical questions that are raised by everyday medical practice and recent developments in biomedical science. It will show how the resources of moral philosophy and philosophy more widely can help us to develop a better understanding of these questions, and enable us to critically assess the ways in which these issues are currently dealt with. The exact range of topics addressed will vary from year to year.

In this academic year, we will explore the following issues: the moral significance of health and the just allocation of medical resource (between patients and on the level of healthcare budgets; using the current pandemic as one of the case studies); the ethics of reproduction (e.g. surrogate mothering and sex selection), and the ethics of enhancement. Finally, this module will familiarise students with Foucault's notion of "biopolitics" and racism, to explore their relevance for developing a critical understanding of the wider context in which medical-ethical questions arise.

Module aims

The aims of the module are:

1. to learn about why and how theories of justice bear on the issue of health
2. to be aware of, and become able to critically reflect on, the ethical issues raised by reproductive medicine
3. to become able to identify and critically reflect on the philosophical, ethical and political issues raised by recent advances in life sciences/bioengineering

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students should be able to:

1. identify the ethical and philosophical issues raised by a selection of medical matters.
2. explain the debates concerning these issues
3. critically assess the merits of the conflicting arguments.

Students should also have acquired a set of transferable skills, and in particular be able to:

1. define the task in which they are engaged and exclude what is irrelevant;
2. seek and organise the most relevant discussions and sources of information;
3. process a large volume of diverse and sometimes conflicting arguments;
4. compare and evaluate different arguments and assess the limitations of their own position or procedure;
5. write and present verbally a succinct and precise account of positions, arguments, and their presuppositions and implications;
6. be sensitive to the positions of others and communicate their own views in ways that are accessible to them;
7. think 'laterally' and creatively - see interesting connections and possibilities and present these clearly rather than as vague hunches;
8. maintain intellectual flexibility and revise their own position if shown wrong;
9. think critically and constructively.

Module information

No additional information available.

Learning and teaching methods

There will be a two-hour combined lecture and seminar each week and a separate one-hour class. Week 8 is Reading Week.


  • Foucault, Michel. (2019-11-14) History of Sexuality: 1, London: Penguin Books Ltd.
  • Roberts, Dorothy; Metzl, Jonathan. (no date) Structural Competency Meets Structural Racism: Race, Politics, and the Structure of Medical Knowledge.
  • Savulescu, Julian; Bostrom, Nick. (2009) Human enhancement, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Anderson, Elizabeth. (no date) Is Women's Labor a Commodity?, Philosophy and Public Affairs 19:1 (1990)., pp.71-92
  • (2016) Bioethics: an anthology, Malden, MA, USA: John Wiley & Sons Inc. vol. 40
  • (no date) Triage in the COVID-19 Pandemic: Bioethical and Human Rights Considerations (A Joint Technical Report, 6 April, 2020).
  • Foucault, Michel; Bertani, Mauro; Fontana, Alessandro. (2003) Society must be defended: lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-76, New York: Picador.
  • Daniels, Norman. (2008) Just health: meeting health needs fairly, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Strange, H.; Chadwick, R. (2010) 'The Ethics of Nonmedical Sex Selection', in Health Care Analysis. vol. 18 (3) , pp.252-266
  • Habermas, Jürgen. (2003) The future of human nature, Cambridge: Polity.
  • Lemke, Thomas. (c2011) Biopolitics: an advanced introduction, New York: New York University Press. vol. Biopolitics, medicine, technoscience, and health in the 21st century
  • Justice, Inequality, and Health,
  • Roberts, Dorothy. (2011-06-14) Fatal Invention: New Press.
  • Saini, Angela. (no date) Superior: The Return of Race Science.
  • T. Schramme. (2009) 'On Norman Daniels' Interpretation of the Moral Significance of Healthcare', in Journal of Medical Ethics: BMJ. vol. 35 (1) , pp.17-20
  • Buchanan, Allen E. (c2011) Beyond humanity?: the ethics of biomedical enhancement, Oxford: Oxford University Press. vol. Uehiro series in practical ethics
  • Satz, Debra. (2010) Why some things should not be for sale: the moral limits of markets, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course. The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students. Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   Essay plan (700 words)  23/11/2021  25% 
Coursework   Essay (2500 words)  17/12/2021  50% 
Practical   Presentation    25% 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Joerg Schaub, email:



External examiner

No external examiner information available for this module.
Available via Moodle
Of 1021 hours, 18 (1.8%) hours available to students:
1003 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information

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