Assignment Requirements

The reader should not have to find out what your argument is at the end of the essay, it should be right up front in the introduction. please follow all the instruction listed in essay topic file.

Ethical Issues in the Biomedical Sciences 2014

Essay topics

Word Limit: 2,500 (strict) words,

Due date: Monday, June 23 at 4.00pm


Break the questions up into their various components to make sure that you know what questions have to be addressed. At the end of writing, go back and make sure that you clearly, and at times separately, answer these questions. Check that what you say in the introduction and conclusion lines up with the evidence and argument that you have presented in the body of the essay.

In some places there will be so much information that you have to choose what to cover. If you are choosing from much data and evidence, explain and argue why you select only part of the literature. Be clear to state this- e.g. “There are many criticisms of Peter Singer’s argument. Two of these criticisms, are argued to be of more pressing interest seeing the align with current regulations. They are …” This shows the reader that you are aware of the area and that you have chosen two arguments from a range of arguments to analyse.

1. Recently, donated bodies have been used to educate and entertain via television and touring exhibitions. a) Discuss the ethics of using bodies in this way. b) Is this use different to their more conventional use, for example, in Medical Schools?

Main papers suggested: the ones in the reading, others to be found via google scholar, the web site, and the downloads surrounding donation (US and or European, but be consistent and make it explicit which ones you are using) at

You should demonstrate knowledge of current AUS/SA codes/laws about body donation.

A notable author on the topic is Gareth Jones (texts in BSL, many journal articles)- it is expected that you would have read (at least) some of this author! There are many texts in BSL about body use. Be aware that the term “plastinate” and “plastination” is often used as an indexing term in data bases (including “Summon”, BSL).

Main points to be covered:

– ethics of using bodies in this way (see lecture notes) including the dignity of humanity, educational value, value of aesthetics, value of bringing these issues into the public sphere, value of the format of these exhibitions and broadcasts.

– What the ethical theories say- avoid saying something “is an ethical issue” if you do not exaplin or say why it is (use your knowledge of theory!)

– Comparison to use in medical schools

(gatekeepers: only a select few allowed access, unwarranted elitism? Subscribe to a world view and view of the human body and medical expectations and treatments of that body, a standard of care and respect for bodies maintained. Is this the only standard?)

2. Should the people most affected or most likely to be affected by research outcomes have a say in the design and approval of the research proposal?

Main papers suggested:

McNeill (from readings)

Lumley (from readings)

NHMRC relevant codes

“Justice” Ch 6 Principles of Biomedical Ethics Beauchamp & Childress 2001 (other eds available) BSL reserve and multiple copies (other editions)

Main points to be covered:

What should be the benefits from research, if they are people, who should stand to benefit from research and why

Where does the concept of justice in research fit in to this question

3. a) Compare the intended role, membership and methods of decision making of an Animal Ethics Committee with that of a Human Research Ethics Committee. b) What ethical justifications are there for the similarities and differences?

Main papers suggested: The papers in the reader (particularly those about committee structure and the ways committees work and don’t work)

Suggested perspectives for you to consider


– the membership of the committee- who are there, what do they do, why is this membership used

– the underlying goals of the committee- what are they trying to achieve, how do they do this?

Ethical Issues:

-what are the differences?

-why are they different?

-should they be different? Why?

– differences between humans and animals and the relationship with the role of the committee

– utility of animals versus humans in research, is there a valid comparison, should the committees talk to each other?

-what the ethical theories may have to say

Use the papers from the readers, the workshops about Animal Ethics Research Committees, and HREC’s, search PubMed for references….

4. What are the harms and benefits in undertaking double-blind studies in humans? What ethical issues arise from these harms and benefits?

Main papers suggested:

Chapter 7 “Professional-Patient Relationships” section about clinical trials eg. Principles of Biomedical Ethics Beauchamp & Childress 2001 (other eds available) reserve BSL (other copies).- section in books depend on edition- use index!

Most medical ethics books cover this topic and discuss harms and benefits of clinical trials.

Chapters on informed consent are also important (eg “informed consent- must it remain a fairytale” Katz In: Ethical issues in modern medicine 5th ed (many other eds)

Your answer MUST show you have studied a specific DB study- if you attach a copy of the paper concerned you can use its content for illustration and explanation

Ethical Issues:

-must show you know what a db study is

-why do a db study anyway?- are we so gullible only to see what we want to see?

-must show knowledge why a db study is useful (may be useful to show you can compare db to other types of studies)

-must show understanding of the context of when a db study is used- for example what stages of a clinical trial usually precede getting to a db study

-must show knowledge of relevant codes of practice and ethics statements (NHMRC)

-must show understanding of scientific principles of enrolment of research subjects

-must demonstrate the central problem of informed consent

-must identify the ethical principles which guide the design and justify the undertaking of a db study

5. Explain Singer’s Equal Consideration of Interests principle, and how, as a utilitarian, he applies it in relation to the ethical question of use of animals in scientific research. Is his view defensible? Discuss some of the main criticisms of the view.

Main papers suggested: Singer, P., Chapter 3, Practical Ethics (in reader) + others on research on animals in reader + any papers or replies to Singer. Expect at least one additional paper to Singer’s chapter

Why Singer’s Argument is Utilitarian

– Rests on specifying a greatest good/greatest harm principle (the harm is harm to interests, interests are based on sentience which is the ability to experience suffering)

– Suggests that you can add up harms and weight them against each other

– The outcome of this equation is the morally important thing and the morally correct outcome is the one with the least suffering for ALL things that can suffer

Criticisms: Expect at least two criticisms to be explored.

Several criticisms and answers are covered in the chapter 3 reading including:

– we are different to animals and this is a moral difference

– how do we know animals feel pain?

– Animals eat each other, so why shouldn’t we eat them?

One conclusion that must be reached on the criticisms: Does Singer’s argument stand up to criticism?

Expect to express an opinion regarding the strength or convincingness of Singer’s replies to any of the arguments and this has to be a thoughtful opinion, not “I agree”, but “this is convincing because …” or “this is not convincing because …” or “the argument has not been successfully dealt with by Singer because …”

– The conclusion must be discussed in the body of the essay, and reiterated in the conclusion

6. a) Do doctors ever have a moral duty to warn a patient’s family members about hereditary disease risks? Discuss your answer to this question, b) covering some of the relevant moral and c) technical issues.

Main papers suggested: The two papers in the reader: Offit, K. et al The “duty to warn” a patients family members about hereditary disease risks, and Sankar, P., Genetic Privacy.

But research PubMed as well for other sources

Relevant technical issues:

– harms and benefits to the people being affected

– legal issues including whether we have a serious and imminent threat

– Genetic exceptionalism

– Genetic discrimination

– realities of genetic information versus common perceptions of genetic information

– limitations of genetic testing (evolving knowledge

– is it realistic to expect this duty to belong to doctors? (difficulties in gethering family details. How extensive is the duty to warn? Parents? Children? Siblings? Other relatives? Who pays for the phone calls/letters? Should these people have genetic counseling as well? Who pays for this?

Relevant moral issues:

– under what circumstances should doctors have a oral duty to warn?

– genetic Miranda warnings?

– Consequentialist/deontological/virtue ethics perspectives.

Must include a conclusion to the question: Do doctors ever have a moral duty to warn?

7. Therapy or enhancement? Discuss and develop an argument about a) whether ‘a line can be drawn’, and b) whether or not, and how, decisions about the acceptability (or otherwise) of either therapy or enhancement can be made.

Your answer should demonstrate response to the overall issue, and can also include example(s) about specific ‘interventions’

A core discussion resource is available through:, there are numerous links and citations on this page, including a key issue discussion:

Allhoff, F., Lin, P., Moor, J., and Weckert, J. (2009) Ethics of Human Enhancement: 25 Questions & Answers. Studies in Ethics, Law, and Technology 4: 4 Topic: BFS 4753 Unit I

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