Fall 2009

SOCS 645
Leading Issues in Bioethics, Public Policy, and the Law


09/14/2009 - 12/18/2009
Monday 06:00 PM - 08:30 PM

Public Affairs Center 421

Developments in biotechnology and the life sciences have called into question existing legal and policy approaches with respect to reproduction, health care, informed consent, privacy, medical futility and end-of-life decisions, along with a host of other issues. Relentless and rapid change in science and technology influences existing concepts of the self and its boundaries, family structure, property ownership, and the ethical and legal rights and obligations of people with respect to the government.

This course examines leading issues in bioethics, public policy and law in relation to these recent developments in medicine and the life sciences. After tracing the historical background of bioethical issues and law and deciding on methods of legal and ethical analysis, we will examine the ways in which these developments challenge traditional principles and policies.

In addition to key issues involving the physician-patient relationship, reproduction, research and experimentation using human subjects, and the end-of-life, including the special problems raised by Alzheimer's Disease and other dementias, we will consider some or all of the following subjects: genetic testing, screening, and engineering, biotechnology, organ transplantation and allocation, neuroscience and neuroethics, ownership and the commodifying of life, stem cell research, and health care. Recent and ongoing legal cases and controversies will be closely followed along with other current developments in bioethics.

The focus of this course involves critical examination of issues in their legal, ethical, social, economic, scientific, political, and religious context. We will evaluate the ethical questions raised, and explore the feasibility and effectiveness of legal and policy regulation. An important goal of the course is to encourage each student to develop a sound methodology of analyzing bioethical problems from legal, policy, and ethical perspectives.

The principal texts will be Steinbeck, Arras, and London, Ethical Issues in Modern Medicine, Seventh Edition, and Schaller, Understanding Bioethics and the Law: the Promises and Perils of the Brave New World of Biotechnology. Leading court cases in the bioethics field will be studied closely. They include In re Guardianship of Theresa Marie Schiavo (Schindler v. Schiavo); Gelsinger v. University of Pennsylvania; Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California; ; Cruzan v Missouri; and In re Karen Quinlan. Additional reading will be assigned from other sources, including legal and bioethical periodicals as well as professional publications. Readings will include classic expressions of ethical thought, legal cases and legislation, and timely articles and essays that deal with ethical and legal issues in their cultural context. Short works of fiction will explore other dimensions of the field, adding to the texture of the course, with selections drawn from authors such as William Carlos Williams, Alice Munro, Richard Seltzer, and others.

Frequent short papers will be assigned in addition to one major essay of an analytical nature on an approved topic that provides the opportunity for legal, ethical and policy analysis. The course will emphasize analysis and problem-solving of cases and controversies and a portion of nearly every class period will involve individual and group exercises in applying legal and ethical principles to specific controversies.

Course tuition: $2022.

A syllabus for this course is available at:
Course Syllabus

Barry Schaller (B.A. Yale College; J.D. Yale Law School) is justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court, retired, who currently sits on the Connecticut Appellate Court. Barry is author of A Vision of American Law: Judging Law, Literature, and the Stories We Tell (1997, and Understanding Bioethics and the Law: The Promises and Perils of the Brave New World of Biotechnology (2007). Barry received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Quinnipiac Law School in 2008, and currently serves as Chair of the Connecticut Committee on Judicial Ethics.


Consent of Instructor Required: No

Format: Seminar

Level: GLSP Credits: 3 Enrollment Limit: 18

Texts to purchase for this course:
Barry Schaller, UNDERSTANDING BIOETHICS AND THE LAW (Praeger), Paperback

Steinbock, London, Arras, ETHICAL ISSUES IN MODERN MEDICINE (McGraw-Hill), Paperback


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