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Topics In Medical Ethics I & II (Module)

Module description

Below are the indicative topics that can be taken. Any two of the topics listed below can be selected for Topics in Medical Ethics I (20 credits); any two topics not already selected can be taken for Topics in Medical Ethics II (20 credits). These modules provide you with a knowledge and critical understanding of key topics in medical ethics.

Justice & the Allocation of Health Care Resources
In a situation of permanent scarcity of health care resources but with a National Health Service, many difficult moral problems arise about how the resources we have should be used. This module addresses these issues by examining what social justice requires and whether considerations of justice can give us a practical resolution of the problem of scarce resources. It looks at some of the decisions made by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) and at the cost-benefit analysis behind its decision-making. You will also consider some of the problems associated with other countries' approach to these issues.

Reproductive Ethics
This module covers the central issues in reproductive ethics by addressing a number of key topics such as abortion, and disability and in so doing it familiarises you with the key ethical arguments in this context. The main theme concerns the scope of the moral interest in having or not having a child or children.

Reproduction & Genetics
This module covers the central ethical issues in genetic selection practices by addressing key topics in relation to selection by means of pre-implantation diagnosis (PGD), prenatal diagnosis (PND) and selective abortion and by identifying and clarifying the key ethical arguments in this context.

Autism, once thought to be a rare condition, is now estimated to affect 1 in every 100 people (some estimates are 1 in 68). As a complex neurodevelopmental condition autism manifests itself very differently from one person to another, ranging from very high functioning to very low functioning abilities and all the points in between. This course will consider what we actually know about autism spectrum conditions and how best we should understand them. The ethical questions are correspondingly complex. The topic will address some of these, including the crucial question of whether autism is best understood as a disability in all cases or should be understood as an acceptable cognitive difference. Other key issues include the surprising association between autism and talent and how this might affect our thinking about disability, reproductive decision-making and the search for a “cure” for autism.

Recent advances in the brain sciences offer new ways of learning about ourselves and others, using powerful technologies. These developments raise a range of ethical questions, some that are versions of familiar questions in bioethics, and others that are completely new. This topic addresses both kinds of question, providing a survey of this emerging field. The issues covered include the ethics of incidental findings in the context of neuroscience research; issues arising in the context of new technologies for detecting minimally conscious states; the use of neuroimaging in the courtroom; and the implications of cognitive science for our understanding of morality and freedom.

Autonomy and Public Health
Public health ethics is concerned with justifications for public health programmes, policies and law. Work in this area addresses population-level questions about the promotion and protection of health. This topic focuses on the core tension between individual autonomy and health. The appropriate limits of state action in promoting or preserving health are considered through the examination of: interventions that “nudge”; the use of health incentives; supported decision-making and a relational understanding of autonomy; and what should be done in the context of contagious disease.

Understanding Mental Disorder

This is the first of two topics in mental health ethics. They are distinct and can be taken alone, or they can be taken together. Psychiatric practitioners and other mental health professionals face a set of distinctive ethical questions that link into deep philosophical issues to do with the mind and the self. This topic covers central issues in the classification and identification of mental disorder and its treatment including: values and psychiatric categories; psychiatry and neuroscience; authenticity, personal identity and treatment. It will also involve a case study (not part of assessment) at the King’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience. 

Mental disorder and agency

This is the second of two topics in mental health ethics. They are distinct and can be taken alone, or they can be taken together. This topic covers a range of central issues concerning the impact of mental disorder on agency: ethical dilemmas about autonomy and mental disorder, particularly in relation to substituted decisions and advance directives; and the question of why mental disorder is taken to be relevant to moral and criminal responsibility. 

Staff information

Ms Pat Walsh, Professor Rosamund Scott and Dr Jillian Craigie

Teaching pattern

Not applicable

Module assessment - more information

Not applicable

Key information

Module code 7FFLG905 (Topics In Medical Ethics I) 7FFLG906 (Topics in Medical Ethics II)

Credit level 7


Credit value 20

Semester Semester 2 (spring)

Study abroad module No