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Durham University

Faculty Handbook 2022-2023

Module Description

Please ensure you check the module availability box for each module outline, as not all modules will run each academic year.

Department: Philosophy

PHIL3211: Biomedical Ethics Past and Present

Type Open Level 3 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2022/23 Module Cap None. Location Durham


  • Either Moral Theory (PHIL2041) or Philosophy of Science (PHIL2151) or History, Science and Medicine (PHIL2191).


  • At least one other 'Year 3' module in Philosophy.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To understand biomedical ethics in historical and present contexts and to see how ethical standards have developed in certain fields of Western Medicine.


  • The following main topics will typically be studied: professional conduct and its codifications from the Hippocratic oath to the codes of the nineteenth century and the General Medical Council, the controversy over animal experimentation since the seventeenth century, the development of guidelines for research on human beings, changing attitudes towards death and euthanasia, abortion and reproductive technologies, the issues of informed consent and medical confidentiality.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • By the end of the module students will have knowledge and understanding of the historical aspects and current key arguments regarding the following ethical issues in medicine:
  • Codes of professional medical conduct
  • Animal experimentation
  • Research on Human Subjects
  • Death and Euthanasia
  • Abortion and Reproduction
  • Informed Consent
  • Medical Confidentiality
Subject-specific Skills:
  • grasp, analyse, evaluate and deploy subject-specific concepts and arguments
  • locate, understand, assess and utilise pertinent philosophical and historical sources
  • Interpret and criticise relevant texts.
Key Skills:
  • express themselves clearly and succinctly in writing and discussion
  • comprehend complex ideas, propositions and theories
  • defend their opinions by reasoned argument
  • seek out and identify appropriate sources of evidence and information
  • tackle problems in a clear-sighted and logical fashion

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Seminars will provide the opportunity for students to present their own work in progress, to test their understanding of the course material, and defend and debate different opinions on theories and questions presented in that material.
  • Guided reading provides a structure within which students exercise and extend their abilities to make use of available learning resources.
  • The summative essays test knowledge and understanding of the course material, and the ability to identify and explain philosophical questions raised by the natural and medical sciences, and, using relevant research material, to present relevant philosophical theories and arguments that claim to answer those questions, and to make reasoned judgements on the merits and demerits of such theories.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 22 weekly 2 hours 44
Preparation and Reading 156
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 33.34%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 1, including footnotes but excluding bibliography 2000 words 100%
Component: Essay Component Weighting: 33.33%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 2, including footnotes but excluding bibliography 2000 words 100%
Component: Essay Component Weighting: 33.33%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 3, including footnotes but excluding bibliography 2000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

An oral presentation (20min short paper) in class on one of the three essay topics.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University

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