• Offered by School of Medicine and Psychology
  • ANU College ANU Joint Colleges of Science
  • Course subject Health Science
  • Areas of interest Anthropology, Philosophy, Sociology, Health
  • Academic career UGRD
  • Mode of delivery In Person

This course will provide an introduction to bioethics as an academic field of social, cultural and political significance. Beginning with its inception in the late 1960’s, this course will commence with a historical overview of the fields or disciplines development. Subsequently we will consider a number of substantive topics of bioethical concern, and do so from a range of disciplinary perspectives, thereby attempting to 'go beyond' the limits of applied bioethical thought. Concepts and definitions of life and death will be discussed in the context of contemporary bioethical discourse. We will then explore the phenomenon of medicalisation in which human conditions and problems come to be defined and treated as medical conditions. This will then be taken up in the context of bioethical speculations regarding ‘love drugs.’ Looking to the future, we will explore emerging bioethical challenges brought by rapid advances in technology and medicine as well as interrelated social changes and cultural developments. Having taken this course you will have a good grasp of bioethics as an academic field, as an influential mode of thought that not only shapes the way we understand the life sciences and healthcare but also contributes to the way we shape ourselves and our moral culture(s). You will also be in a position to appreciate the fact that our collective responses to these issues will fundamentally shape our future existence.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

  1. Demonstrate an awareness of the historical and intellectual origins of bioethics and the benefits and limitations of an interdisciplinary approach.
  2. Define historical and current theoretical and conceptual definitions of life and death and their role within contemporary bioethical discourse(s).
  3. Demonstrate increased capacity to critically evaluate bioethical issues from a range of interdisciplinary perspectives as presented in academic and non-academic discourses.
  4. Review, appraise and critically engage with the phenomenon of bio/medicalisation and its relationship with the way human conditions, identities and behaviors are understood.
  5. Identify and reflect upon the bioethical challenges that result from rapid and unpredictable advancements in the biosciences, biotechnology and medicine and their influence on the (bio)political landscape.
  6. Discuss the (bio)political role of bioethics in regulating and governing biotechnologies, biomedical practices and critically reflect upon the way in which these forces shape the socio-cultural contexts we inhabit.

Indicative Assessment

  1. 1 x 1,000 word essay (30) [LO 1,2,3]
  2. Essay plan (800 words) (25) [LO 3,4]
  3. 1 x 2,500 word essay (45) [LO 3,4,5,6]

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The expected workload will consist of approximately 130 hours throughout the semester including:

  • Face-to face component which may consist of 12 x 3 hours seminars (composed of lecture and small group discussions) per semester (36 hours). 
  • Approximately 94 hours of self-study which will include preparation for lectures, presentations and other assessment tasks.

Students are expected to actively participate and contribute towards discussions, as least some of which will be dedicated to developing the essay plan and final assessment. 

Inherent Requirements

To be determined

Requisite and Incompatibility

To enrol in this course you must have completed 72 units towards the Bachelor of Health Science or have successfully completed one of the following courses: SOCY2162, SOCY2010, SOCY3010, ANTH2026, ANTH2138, PHIL2122, PHIL2126, PHIL2082, PHIL3075, LAWS4219, BIOL3191.

Prescribed Texts

Each week there will be one or two assigned readings and a number of additional readings that will provide a starting place for the assessment relating to that week.

Preliminary Reading

In each week there will be around 2 assigned readings. An additional number of suggested readings will also be provided so as to provide a starting point for those writing their essays on that weeks topic. The following references provide a sense of the underpinning literature:

Borry, P., P. Schotsmans, and K. Dierickx. 2005. ‘The Birth of the Empirical Turn in Bioethics.’ Bioethics 19(1): 49–71. [See also: Hurst, S.A. 2010. ‘What “Empirical Turn” in Bioethics?’ Bioethics 24(8): 439–44.]

Caplan, A.L. 1980. ‘Ethical Engineers Need Not Apply: The State of Applied Ethics Today’. Science, Technology & Human Values 6(33): 24–32.

Daniels N. 2000. Normal Functioning and the Treatment-Enhancement Distinction. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics. 9(3):309–22.

Earp, B., A. Sandberg, and J. Savulescu. 2015. ‘The Medicalization of Love’. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 24(3): 323–36. [See associated commentaries and response to critics in same issue, and Emmerich, (2016)]

Emmerich, Nathan. 2016. ‘Limitations in the Bioethical Analysis of Medicalisation: The Case of Love Drugs’. Social Theory & Health. 14(1): 109–128.

Fausto-Sterling A. 1993, The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female are not Enough. The Sciences 33:20–24. (and: Fausto-Sterling A. 2000. The Five Sexes, Revisited. Sciences; 40:18–23.)

Fox, R.C., and J.P. Swazey. 1984. ‘Medical Morality Is Not Bioethics: Medical Ethics in China and the United States’. Perspectives in Biological Medicine 27(3): 336–60.

Giacomini M. 1997. A change of heart and a change of mind? Technology and the redefinition of death in 1968. Soc Sci Med 44(10):1465–82.

Jonsen, A.R. 1998. The Birth of Bioethics. New York: Oxford University Press.

Kaufman, S.R. & Morgan, L.M. 2005. ‘The Anthropology of the Beginnings and Ends of Life’. Annual Review of Anthropology 34(1): 317–41.

Macklin, R. 2003. ‘Dignity Is a Useless Concept’. BMJ: British Medical Journal 327(7429): 1419–20.

Parens, E. 2013 ‘On Good and Bad Forms of Medicalizat


Tuition fees are for the academic year indicated at the top of the page.  

Commonwealth Support (CSP) Students
If you have been offered a Commonwealth supported place, your fees are set by the Australian Government for each course. At ANU 1 EFTSL is 48 units (normally 8 x 6-unit courses). More information about your student contribution amount for each course at Fees

Student Contribution Band:
Unit value:
6 units

If you are a domestic graduate coursework student with a Domestic Tuition Fee (DTF) place or international student you will be required to pay course tuition fees (see below). Course tuition fees are indexed annually. Further information for domestic and international students about tuition and other fees can be found at Fees.

Where there is a unit range displayed for this course, not all unit options below may be available.

6.00 0.12500
Domestic fee paying students
Year Fee
2023 $4320
International fee paying students
Year Fee
2023 $6540
Note: Please note that fee information is for current year only.

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