Suzanne Holland, Karen Lebacqz, & Laurie Zoloth, eds. The Human Embryonic Stem Cell Debate, 2001, 9780262582087, $27
Liza Mundy, Everything Conceivable, 2008, 9781400095377, $15.95
You will also be assigned readings from the National Bioethics Advisory Council and the President’s Council on Bioethics, all available online.
Here’s information I provided to the college regarding this course; please note that the final syllabus may deviate somewhat from the description:
1. course description
What is—or ought to be—the relationship between ethics and politics? For example, in the area of genetics and stem cell technologies, it is arguably the case that the various bioethics panels have served more to assuage an uneasy public than to move policy in any particular direction, or, for that matter, to affect the course of such research itself. In this course, then, we will tack between the three fields of activity and argumentation: bioethics, the policy-making process, and the laboratory bench. While we will focus on recent battles over human embryonic stem cell research, we’ll detour into related historical and contemporary cases, especially those concerning genetic and reproductive technologies.
2. course objectives
To equip students with the ability to navigate and make sense of the political and ethical debates concerning particular types of biotechnology, in particular, human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research and various assisted reproductive technologies (ART).
3. student learning outcome (what is expected of the students?)
In order for the students to gain some mastery over the controversies surrounding hESC research and ART, I will expect them to learn the basics of these technologies. While it is not expected that they know much about science entering the class, they will learn enough basic genetic science to make sense of the pitfalls and promises of ART and hESC research.
Second, they will learn what are the ethical issues involved in this work, and what are the arguments of the various sides. While ethical issues are often divided into simplistic ‘pro/con’ categories, the partisans in biotechnological research often occupy multiple ethical positions. For example, some accept research for the purposes of X, but not for Y.
Finally, the students will learn how the regulatory and policy-making processes on biotechnology both do and do not take ethical arguments into account, how ideological positions can both enhance and undercut ethical positions, and how little or how much the ethical and political debates affect the actual research.
4. outline of the course and sample texts (what type of material will be covered?)
The course will begin with an overview of the controversies, then concentrate on the science itself. A brief history of the relevant genetic research will follow, along with a history of the regulation (or lack thereof) of this work. This will cover the first quarter of the course.
The rest of the class will be devoted to laying out the current state of the research, regulatory climate, and the ethical and political debates; the history of these debates will be interspersed among the current debates.
Much of the reading material will be available online, with the bulk of it derived from governmental reports. I will rely in particular on material generated by (President Clinton’s) National Bioethics Advisory Board and (President Bush’s) President’s Council on Bioethics.
I may also use Liza Mundy’s Everything Conceivable (on ART), as well as an edited volume on the ethics of hESC research (perhaps Laurie Zoloth’s The Human Embryonic Stem Cell Debate—although I haven’t settled on this).
5. a general schedule to get a sense of how the course will be taught (in terms of the pace).
Given that this course will be taught over the summer—meaning 4 nights a week for 4 weeks, the pace will, of necessity, be pell-mell. (Were I to teach it during the school year, the pace would be more leisurely, and I would likely require more reading.)
There will be a quiz at the end of week one (or beginning of week 2) on the science; this will be a basic fill-in-the-blank/multiple choice quiz, designed solely to reinforce the necessity of knowing the science itself.
There will be two papers (2000-4000 words apiece) assigned, with the second building on the first. The initial paper will require the student to examine a particular line of research or a specific practice and to lay out what exactly is involved in this research or practice and for what the research or practice will be used or is already being used. The second paper will then engage the social issues or controversy surrounding the research or practice covered in the first paper.
In addition to the quiz and two papers, students will be graded on their attendance and participation. While lecture will predominate during the first week’s classes (if only because of the amount of factual information which will be relayed), there will be considerably more discussion in the latter three weeks of the course. Students will be encouraged not only to question me, but to engage in sustained conversation with one another.
It will be an intense course.