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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

Bioethics is a dynamic and important field, both within applied ethics in general, and for healthcare providers in particular. Ethical debates in this field are complex and constantly evolving as new medical technologies emerge. In this unit, some of these complexities are elaborated, their practical importance is explored, and guiding principles are outlined, including the contributions of the Catholic tradition of thought in this area. The unit provides students with an opportunity to explore influential perspectives and theories 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.

Learning Outcome NumberLearning Outcome DescriptionRelevant Graduate Capabilities
LO1Describe some of the key dimensions of the bioethical problems explored in the unitGC1, GC2, GC6, GC7, GC8, GC9
LO2Critically analyse selected debates in contemporary bioethics, noting the key principles at stake, and develop coherent and consistent positions in relation to themGC1, GC2, GC3, GC8, GC9, GC11
LO3Demonstrate skills in philosophical research and referencingGC3, GC9, GC10
LO4Communicate ideas and arguments effectively through the use of clear English expression and well-structured argumentsGC7, GC9, GC11


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 requires students to demonstrate understanding of key ethical dimensions of contemporary healthcare, in the light of relevant ethical concepts. 

The oral presentation task examines critical thinking skills applied to this field, as well as skills in both oral and written communication/ engagement. This task also requires students to undertake further research, collaborating with peers, and communicating this effectively to others in an integrated way.

The research essay enables students to focus on a bioethical problem of particular interest, and it requires them to apply critical analysis, research and written argumentation skills to craft a clear position in response.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning Outcomes

Written analysis task

Requires students to demonstrate understanding of key ethical dimensions of healthcare provision, in the light of relevant ethical concepts. 


LO1, LO4

Oral presentation with written component 

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


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO4

Research Essay

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


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO4

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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