Credit points


Campus offering

No unit offerings are currently available for this unit



Teaching organisation

This unit involves 150 hours of focused learning, or the equivalent of 10 hours per week for 15 weeks. The total includes formally structured learning activities such as lectures, tutorials and online learning. The remaining hours typically involve reading, research, and the preparation of tasks for assessment.

Unit rationale, description and aim

This unit explores contemporary ethical debates concerning the provision of healthcare and new medical technologies. The complexities of the issues are elaborated, their practical importance is explored and guiding principles are outlined, including the contributions of the Catholic tradition to this important area of applied moral philosophy. The unit provides students with an opportunity to explore influential perspectives regarding debates in this field. It also enables them to develop reasoned positions of their own on the basis of enhanced capacities in critical analysis and assessment, skills that are valuable across a range of occupations and professions. The unit aims to enhance students' knowledge base in this field, and their ability to critically articulate their positions in constructive ethical dialogue.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 -  identify and accurately explain some of the key dimensions of the bioethical problems                              explored in the unit, and some key scholarly responses to these problems (GA1; GA5); 

LO2 -  critically analyse selected debates in contemporary bioethics, noting the key principles at stake, and         develop coherent and consistent positions in relation to them (GA3; GA4; GA8); 

LO3 - demonstrate appropriate skills in philosophical research, and coherent use of philosophically        effective English expression (GA5; GA9). 

Graduate attributes

GA1 - demonstrate respect for the dignity of each individual and for human diversity 

GA3 - apply ethical perspectives in informed decision making

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 


Topics will include:

  • An overview of key issues in contemporary metaethics (e.g., sources of moral value) and models of normative ethics;
  • the nature, place and limits of key bioethical principles such as autonomy, non-harm, benefit, justice, double effect, proportionality, tutiorism and the sanctity of life;
  • methods of casuistry in bioethics; 
  • beginning and end of life decisions, and considerations concerning ‘quality of life’; 
  • ethical issues in reproductive medicine; 
  • ethical issues raised by advances in the life sciences and medical technologies in areas such as tissue and organ donation, genetic medicine and xenotransplantation;
  • ethical issues around medical resource allocation. 

In addition, topics such as the following may also be included:

  • the ethics of information sharing, privacy, confidentiality, consent, refusal of treatment, etc; 
  • ethical issues in paediatric, geriatric and/or psychiatric medicine;  
  • issues in medical research ethics;
  • technological enhancement and trans-humanism.

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit involves 150 hours of focused learning, or the equivalent of 10 hours per week for 15 weeks. The total includes formally structured learning activities such as lectures, tutorials and online learning. The remaining hours typically involve reading, research, and the preparation of tasks for assessment.

The unit has been designed as a blend of direct instruction and project learning with a strong collaborative component.  The direct instruction ensures that students develop a strong understanding of important philosophical concepts and theories and how they relate to the ethical problems under investigation, while the project learning enables the students to apply those concepts and theories critically and reflectively to the issues at hand. These forms of class room instruction and engagement are designed to support students’ attainment of the learning outcomes. Students will be asked to engage in class discussions, provide written critiques of significant theories, and present their reasoned opinion on distinct philosophical positions, after being introduced to them through readings and lectures.   

Assessment strategy and rationale

The assessment strategy for this unit has been designed to examine students’ understanding of the ethical issues and theories under consideration and deepen their ability to analyse and critically reflect on those issues and theories. It does so through a mix of cooperative/discussion-based and individual projects. The written analysis task examines understanding of key issues, concepts and debates. The oral presentation task examines critical thinking skills applied to this field, as well as skills in both oral and written communication/ engagement. The research essay examines higher level critical analysis and written argumentation skills in the field of bioethics. Given that many of the students taking this unit will not have completed such a task before, the hurdle task is designed to ensure a timely start to this research, as well as providing a formal means for students to gain early feedback on how their work is tracking relative to the learning objectives of the research essay task.   

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Written analysis task

Requires students to demonstrate understanding of key concepts and debates.



GA1, GA5

Oral presentation with written component 

Requires students to demonstrate critical thinking skills  in dialogue with others.  


LO1, LO2

GA1, GA3 GA4, GA5, GA8

Hurdle Task: Research Essay Plan & Bibliography

Requires students to demonstrate initial competency with philosophical research  




Research Essay

Requires students to critically analyse an important debate in the field and to develop a coherent position


LO1, LO2, LO3

GA1; GA3; GA4; GA5; GA8; GA9.

Representative texts and references

Beauchamp, T.L. & Childress, J. F. (2013). 7th Ed. Principles of Biomedical Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Burley, J. and Harris J. Eds. (2004). A Companion to Genethics. Oxford: Blackwell.  

Fisher, A. (2012). Catholic Bioethics for a New Millennium. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

O’Neill, O. (2002). Autonomy and Trust in Bioethics. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press. 

Kuhse, H. and Singer, P. Eds. (2012). 2nd Ed. A Companion to Bioethics. Oxford: Blackwell. 

Levine, C. (ed) (2012). Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Bioethical Issues. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Pence, G. (ed) (2003). Classical Cases in Medical Ethics. New York: McGraw-Hill. 

Walter, J.J. and Shannon, T.A. Eds. (2005). Contemporary Issues in Bioethics: A Catholic Perspective. Lanham MD: Rowman and Littlefield. 

Fisher, A. and Gormally, L. (2002). Healthcare Allocation: An Ethical Framework for Public Policy. Chicago: St. Augustine Press. 

Bloch, S., Chodoff P. and Green, S.A. (eds) (1999). Psychiatric Ethics. New York: Oxford University Press. 

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