Game time

Classes began this week!   To keep you oriented on what I’ll be doing this year, here are some quick facts.

  • Program: MA Bioethics and Society
  • Department: Social Sciences, Health, and Medicine
  • Students: 20 in total– 10 UK / 10 international, 15 full time / 5 part time. Backgrounds include philosophy, sociology, anthropology, biomedical sciences, medicine, theology… and of course engineering 😉  Bios are slowing being added to our program website. Feel free to check it out!
  • Credits: 180 UK credits– 60 credits in both the fall & winter semesters and 60 credits for writing a dissertation in the summer. Just as £1 ≠ $1, 1 UK credit ≠ 1 US credit. From what I’m told, UK credits indicate the number of direct teaching / contact hours in the semester. Then, multiply it by 10 to indicate the amount of time that is required for that course over the whole semester. So a 30 credit course requires 300 hours of work over the semester. At 60 credits and 11 weeks of teaching (a normal course load for UK students) that’s 55 hours a week.  Seems a bit dubious if they also believe in a 35 hour work week…  I’ll try to keep you posted with a more accurate account.
  • Course titles for this semester: Foundations in Bioethics & Society (FBS), Foundations in Social Science, Health & Medicine (FSSHM)
  • Weekly academic schedule: class 2 times a week for 6 hours (split between lecture & discussion), 1 hour of additional discussion, 1 or 2 seminars / film screenings, lots and lots of reading 🙂
  • Evaluation: Required (but not graded) “formative” midterm essay. Required and graded “summative” essay. “Written final” the first week of January where we will write 3 “mini essays” in 3 hours for each course.  This means that my grades will be 50% summative essay, 50% written final. Certainly different from having engineering problem sets, lab reports, and exams!


Foundations of Bioethics & Society  – Week 1: The Origins & Evolution of Bioethics

From the Oxford English Dictionary
From the Oxford English Dictionary

Our readings & discussion for the first week centered around tracing the origin as well as looking to the future of the term bioethics:  Why was this specific term used? What did it mean in the various cases?  What cases have been instrumental in shaping our understanding of bioethics?  What is unique about a program that invites philosophers, sociologists, theologians, and scientists (and an engineer!) into the same discussion?  Why is this diversity so valuable?

Interestingly enough, one of the two main “origin theories” is not published in the Oxford English Dictionary: the establishment of the Joseph and Rose Kennedy Institute for Bioethics at Georgetown University in 1971.


Here is a sampling of some of the (publicly accessible) topics from this week:

  • Nuremberg Code — developed after WW2 in response to the Nazi medical experiments.  Somewhat surprisingly, this didn’t have that much effect on the development of the bioethics in the United States. Medical professionals didn’t think that it was very relevant to their work because the crimes committed by the Nazis were clearly barbaric (not in the grey area).
  • Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment — and yet, here’s an example of history being doomed to repeat itself.  If you are unfamiliar with the 1932-72 case (as I was!) here is a brief synopsis. The Belmont Report  was developed in response to this case in 1978 and a formal Apology to Survivors was issued in 1995.
  • Guatemala Syphilis Experiment — repeating history again, and again… Here is another brief synopsis from the 1946-48 research as well as the full government review published in 2011.

I haven’t yet had my FSSHM lecture this week, but I’ll report back when I do.