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Medical Ethics

Course Code: PHIL 1121
Faculty: Humanities & Social Sciences
Department: Philosophy
Credits: 3.0
Semester: 15 weeks
Learning Format: Lecture, Seminar
Typically Offered: TBD. Contact Department Chair for more info.
course overview

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. 

Methods of Instruction

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.

curriculum 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 schedule and availability
course transferability

Below shows how this course and its credits transfer within the BC transfer system. 

A course is considered university-transferable (UT) if it transfers to at least one of the five research universities in British Columbia: University of British Columbia; University of British Columbia-Okanagan; Simon Fraser University; University of Victoria; and the University of Northern British Columbia.

For more information on transfer visit the BC Transfer Guide and BCCAT websites.


If your course prerequisites indicate that you need an assessment, please see our Assessment page for more information.