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Campus offering

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PHIL511 Philosophy and the Moral Life

Teaching organisation

This unit involves 150 hours of focused learning. The total includes formally structured learning activities such as lectures, tutorials, online learning, video-conferencing, or supervision. The remaining hours typically involve reading, research, and the preparation of tasks for assessment.

Unit rationale, description and aim

This unit explores one or more topical issues in biomedical ethics, as chosen by the lecturer(s) at time of offering. Candidate issues for exploration include (but are not exhausted by) the following: palliative care; antenatal screening; stem cell research; developments in genomics and gene therapy; organ donation and transplantation; xenotransfusion and xenotransplantation; human performance and/or cosmetic enhancement; infertility treatments; and nanomedicine.

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 - articulate the nature and scope of the bioethical issue/s under investigation and its clinical implications (GA8);

LO2 - bring to bear relevant, clinical, scholarly literature on the problem/s, and evaluate some major schools of thought on the issue (GA3; GA4; GA8);

LO3 - apply new insights to realistic clinical cases that present difficult challenges for judgement (GA3; GA4; GA6);

LO4 - evaluate the actual and potential future impact of the issue/s on healthcare practice (GA4). 

Graduate attributes

GA3 - apply ethical perspectives in informed decision making

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA6 - solve problems in a variety of settings taking local and international perspectives into account

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


The content of the unit will depend on the topic chosen to explore. The list of candidate topics above indicates something of the scope of bioethical issues suitable for examination in this unit.

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit involves 150 hours of focused learning. 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 a blend of collaborative learning and project-based learning approaches, combined with direct instruction to introduce and draw out new and unfamiliar concepts and theories. The collaborative context of the unit is focused especially on the small group discussion of the weekly readings. The project-based aspect relates to the research project on which students work throughout the second half of the unit, culminating in their research essay.

Assessment strategy and rationale

The assessment strategy for this unit is designed to facilitate broad engagement across the topics covered, while also requiring deeper engagement with one of the unit topics in particular. The tutorial oral and accompanying short written task requires students to demonstrate skills in attentive and accurate reading of a key text, and to explicate it in clear and concise oral and written formats. The short written task that follows requires students to explicate and analyse another text at greater length. Finally, the research essay task provides students with the opportunity to undertake sustained philosophical reading and research, culminating in an extended piece of formal writing that examines their capacity to develop a coherent argument in response to an important philosophical question.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Tutorial oral and associated short written task  

Requires students to demonstrate skills in written and spoken exposition and analysis of a text. 




Written analysis task 

Requires students to demonstrate understanding of key concepts and debates.


LO1, LO2

GA3, GA4, GA8

Argumentative/Research Essay

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


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO4

GA3, GA4, GA6, GA8

Representative texts and references

Texts will be chosen (and communicated to students) as appropriate to the specific topics under investigation. Representative texts include the following:

O’Rourke, K. (2011) Medical Ethics: Sources of Catholic Teachings. (4th Ed) Georgetown University Press.

Pence, G, (2007) Medical Ethics: Accounts of the Cases that Shaped and Define Medical Ethics (5th Ed), New York: McGraw-Hill Humanities.

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

Sulmasy, D.P., (2008) “What is Conscience and Why is Respect for it so Important?”.Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics, Vol 29 (3): 135-149.

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