Medical Ethics

Humanities & Social Sciences
Course Code
PHIL 1121
Semester Length
15 weeks
Max Class Size
Method(s) Of Instruction
Course Designation
Certificate in Global Competency
Industry Designation
Typically Offered
To be determined


Course Description
This course examines the rights of patients and clients and the obligations of medical and other health care practitioners. Students will be briefly introduced to the fundamentals of ethical theory and decision-making, and will examine the ways in which moral decisions are made in practice. Issues to be addressed include disclosing information to patients, interfering with a patient’s liberty for their own good, limits to the protection of patient confidentiality, end-of-life decision-making, protections for humans and animals in experimentation, respect for cultural diversity, and fairness in the allocation of scarce health care resources. The ethical dimensions of topics such as refusal of medical treatment, genetic testing, safe injection sites, the autonomy of elderly and mentally challenged patients, and the growing dominance of the medical model of health may also be considered.
Course Content

1. The nature of ethics - including the relation between ethics & morality, and morality & law; a simple introduction to the basic types of ethical theories: such as, consequentialism (e.g. utilitarianism), deontological theories (e.g. Kantian or moral intuitionism); and rights theories. An elucidation of basic ethical concerns and concepts in the health care context, such as autonomy and paternalism, and of relevant principles pertaining to them. The application of such ethical theory to the resolution of moral issues related to the delivery and practice of medical care.
2. The ethical dimensions of the relation between medical care practitioners and client & patients - including such topics as codes of medical ethics, the ethical nature of the provider-patient relationship, the physicians’ “duty to treat”, hospitals and patients rights, and hospital ethics committees. This may encompass a consideration of such moral topics as autonomy, truth-telling, informed consent, confidentiality, and the resolution of conflicting obligations.
3. Ethical concerns regarding research with human participants, and animal experimentation. This may include an examination of historical failures of moral regard in research involving humans, and of contemporary protections for research participants. It may also include consideration of animal welfare and whether it is ever justified to sacrifice animal welfare for human ends.
4. Ethical concerns regarding the status and rights of vulnerable and marginalized populations, including adults with less than full autonomy, children, the elderly, and others. This may include an examination of overlap (or its absence) between ethics and the law.
5. Ethical dimensions of decisions involving life and death, including issues such as suicide, assisted suicide, and suicide intervention, refusal of life-sustaining treatment, abortion and infanticide, and the moral relevance of the distinction between killing and letting die. (Although special issues pertaining to abortion may be covered in this course, they will not be covered in depth as they are generally a focal point in another course, Phil. 1102.)
6. Ethical issues regarding human reproduction and genetics, including such topics as technologically assisted reproduction, reproductive risks, medicalization of conception and birth, privacy and ownership of health information in the genomic age, and the promise and risk of altering the genome for health and enhancement.

7. Society’s obligation to provide adequate health care to individuals, and the fair distribution of available health care, including such topics as equitable access, wait-listing and rationing, the encroachment of privatization, organ shortages and xenotransplantation, unproven medical therapies, and justice for an aging population. 

Learning Activities

The course will employ a variety of instructional methods to accomplish its objectives, including some of the following:
A combination of lecture and discussion (possibly including student presentations). Some class sessions may involve formal lectures for the entire time (allowing time for questions), in which case a later class session will allow discussion of the lecture and reading material. Other class sessions may involve a combination of informal lecture and structured discussion.

Means of Assessment

Evaluation will be based on course objectives and will be carried out in accordance with Douglas College policy. The instructor will provide a written course outline with specific evaluation criteria at the beginning of the semester.
Any possible combination of the following which equals 100%:
(No one evaluation component within each category may exceed 40%) 

  Range Example  
Tests, Quizzes, Short Written Assignments 20 - 50% three 10% tests 30%
Written Class Presentations, Essays, Essay Exams 30 - 60% two 30% essays 60%
Instructor’s Evaluation (may include attendance, class participation, group work, homework, etc.)  0 - 20% attendance/participation 10%
Learning Outcomes

Successful students will be able to: 

  1. Explain the ethical theories and concepts covered in the course.
  2. Demonstrate an understanding of the moral controversies covered in the course.
  3. Reflect in a critical way about the moral issues which arise in the delivery and practice of medical care.
  4. Develop more effective methods for making up their minds about moral issues related to the delivery and practice of medical care.
  5. Apply ethical theory to the resolution of moral issues related to the delivery and practice of medical care.
  6. Explain the moral reasoning involved in viewpoints directly opposed to one another.
  7. Develop their own reasoning about the moral controversies.
Textbook Materials

Texts will be updated periodically. Some typical examples are:
Baylis, F; Downie, J; Hoffmaster, B; Sherwin, S. (2004). Health Care Ethics in Canada. Harcourt Brace. 

Collier, C.; Haliburton, R. (2011). Bioethics in Canada: A Philosophical Introduction. Canadian Scholars’ Press.
Mappes, Thomas A. & Degrazia, Daniel (Eds.). (2001). Biomedical Ethics, (5th. ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Veatch, Robert M. (2009). Patient, Heal Thyself: How the New Medicine Puts the Patient in Charge. Oxford: Oxford University Press.



No prerequisite courses.


No corequisite courses.


No equivalent courses.

Course Guidelines

Course Guidelines for previous years are viewable by selecting the version desired. If you took this course and do not see a listing for the starting semester / year of the course, consider the previous version as the applicable version.

Course Transfers

These are for current course guidelines only. For a full list of archived courses please see

Institution Transfer Details for PHIL 1121
Athabasca University (AU) AU PHIL 335 (3)
Capilano University (CAPU) CAPU PHIL 209 (3)
College of New Caledonia (CNC) CNC PHIL 1XX (3)
College of the Rockies (COTR) COTR PHIL 2XX (3)
Columbia College (COLU) COLU PHIL 1st (3)
Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) KPU PHIL 3010 (3)
Langara College (LANG) LANG PHIL 1105 (3)
North Island College (NIC) NIC PHI 1XX (3)
Simon Fraser University (SFU) SFU PHIL 1XX (3)
Thompson Rivers University (TRU) TRU PHIL 2310 (3)
Trinity Western University (TWU) TWU PHIL 2XX (3)
University of British Columbia - Okanagan (UBCO) UBCO PHIL 233 (3)
University of British Columbia - Vancouver (UBCV) UBCV PHIL 1st (3)
University of Northern BC (UNBC) UNBC HHSC 201 (3)
University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) UFV PHIL 1XX (3)
University of Victoria (UVIC) UVIC PHIL 2XX (1.5)
Vancouver Community College (VCC) VCC NURS 4168 (2)
Vancouver Island University (VIU) VIU PHIL 232 (3)

Course Offerings

Summer 2023