• Offered by Biology Teaching and Learning Centre
  • ANU College ANU Joint Colleges of Science
  • Classification Advanced
  • Course subject Biology
  • Areas of interest Biology
  • Academic career PGRD
  • Course convener
    • Dr Nathan Emmerich
  • Mode of delivery In Person
  • Co-taught Course
  • Offered in First Semester 2024
    See Future Offerings

Rapid advances in the biosciences, biotechnology and biomedicine represent a challenge to our society and raise some very difficult ethical questions. Since its advent in the mid 20th century the field of bioethics has engaged with such issues and developed a range of responses and proposals. In this course you will consider diverse perspectives through readings, tutorial discussions and lectures.

The kinds of topics we will consider in this course may include: Should vaccination be compulsory or is this an infringement of personal rights? Should we create a market in transplantable organs to save more lives? Can research and experiments on human and non-human subjects be conducted ethically? Is it ethical to edit a baby’s genes? What about the genes of a whole population? Should we let algorithms and artificial intelligence drive our cars, help us make decisions about who to hire, or help us decide who to imprison? Do we owe future generations a liveable planet? Should we seek to enhance human capabilities, such as our cognitive ability, our moral perceptions or our emotions? This course will give you the tools to understand these questions like these and to make clear ethical arguments that point to the right course of action. In other words, this course will teach you how to argue well, and how to translate your scientific knowledge into good decisions both for yourself and for society.


Note: Graduate students attend lectures alongside undergraduates but have a dedicated tutorial and are assessed separately. 

Learning Outcomes

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

  1. Discuss, communicate and engage with the science involved in various bioethical debates and the associated social, cultural and political issues.
  2. Understand and employ a range of approaches to ethical and moral reasoning.
  3. Identify and evaluate relevant bioethical literature.
  4. Assess and analyse the benefits, risks, and societal & ethical implications of developments in the biosciences, biotechnology and biomedicine.
  5. Identify, articulate and defend a personal view in the context of bioethical debates.
  6. Independently research, evaluate and critically engage with facts, values; and ethical arguments about unfamiliar topics.

Other Information

Please email rsb.studentadmin@anu.edu.au to request a permission code to enrol in this course.

Indicative Assessment

  1. Completion of a quiz style assessment (20) [LO 1,2,3]
  2. Short argumentative essay (30) [LO 2,3,4,5]
  3. Plan for extended research essay (5) [LO 2,3,4,5,6]
  4. Extended research essay (35) [LO 2,3,4,5,6]
  5. Tutorial discussions, and submission of reflective questions in tutorials (10) [LO 1,2,3,4,5]

The ANU uses Turnitin to enhance student citation and referencing techniques, and to assess assignment submissions as a component of the University's approach to managing Academic Integrity. While the use of Turnitin is not mandatory, the ANU highly recommends Turnitin is used by both teaching staff and students. For additional information regarding Turnitin please visit the ANU Online website.


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

  • Face-to face component which may consist of approx. 2 hours of lectures plus 1 x 1 hour tutorial per week throughout the semester.
  • Approximately 3 hours of assigned reading per week in preparation for the tutorial.
  • Either two hours of self directed study in the form of reading, preparing assignments, watching documentaries, or listening to podcasts, or a 2 hour workshop per week.
  • Approximately 34 hours of additional self directed study which will include preparing assignments throughout the semester.

Students are expected to actively participate and contribute towards discussions.

Inherent Requirements


Requisite and Incompatibility

To enrol in this course you must be enrolled in one of the following programs: MBIOT/VBIOT, MCHAM/VCHAM, MENVS/VENVS, MNEUR/VNEUR, NSCAI/VSCAI, NSCBS/VSCBS, NSCQB/VSCQB, MPUBH/VPUBH Incompatible with BIOL3191

Prescribed Texts


Preliminary Reading

Tutorials will be based on lectures and weekly readings (articles/book chapters) provided on Wattle. The following books will be drawn on in the first weeks and provide an introduction to (bio)ethics as a disciplined activity, as well as essay writing.

Swartwood J, Stoner I. Doing Practical Ethics. New York, NY, USA: Oxford University Press; https://library.anu.edu.au/record=b7144828

Churchill LR. Ethics for Everyone: A Skills-Based Approach. Ethics for Everyone. Oxford University Press; 2020 https://library.anu.edu.au/record=b7101908


Additional resource: 

Weston, A. A rulebook for Arguments, Fifth Edition. 2017. Hackett publishing, USA. https://library.anu.edu.au/record=b5803517

This ebook is available to read online, for free, from the ANU library.

Assumed Knowledge

No knowledge is assumed but participants should have an undergraduate degree and meet the requirements to be registered on a relevant PG program.


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
Note: Please note that fee information is for current year only.

Offerings, Dates and Class Summary Links

ANU utilises MyTimetable to enable students to view the timetable for their enrolled courses, browse, then self-allocate to small teaching activities / tutorials so they can better plan their time. Find out more on the Timetable webpage.

The list of offerings for future years is indicative only.
Class summaries, if available, can be accessed by clicking on the View link for the relevant class number.

First Semester

Class number Class start date Last day to enrol Census date Class end date Mode Of Delivery Class Summary
3478 19 Feb 2024 26 Feb 2024 31 Mar 2024 24 May 2024 In Person N/A

Responsible Officer: Registrar, Student Administration / Page Contact: Website Administrator / Frequently Asked Questions