LEH 300: Biopolitics

F10 Syllabus

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.
While it is not expected that you know much about science entering the class, you will learn enough basic genetic science to make sense of the pitfalls and promises of ART and hESC research. Thus, in order for you to gain some mastery over the controversies surrounding human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research and assisted reproductive technologies (ART), we’ll begin with the basics of these technologies.
Once you are expert (!) in the science and technology, we will spend the rest of our time examining 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.  We will also consider 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.
The course concludes with an attempt to write regulations to cover both hESC and ART research and technologies. Whether we are successful, of course, remains to be seen.

How this works: While the bulk of class time will be given over to discussion, there is a fair amount of reading, both online and in books, required for the course. It is recommended that you read the material prior to class, so that you can participate fully in the discussions.

Required reading (books available at the bookstore or online):
Liza Mundy, Everything Conceivable, 2008, 9781400095377
Erik Parens, ed. Enhancing Human Traits, 1998, 0878407030

You will also be required to read selections from online readings, listed on the back, and linked on the website. These readings are <bracketed>; and a number require AdobeReader.

Course requirements:
Attendance & participation: 20%
Science quiz, September 23: 20%
Two papers (2500-2750 words each, due October 28 & December 9, respectively): 60%

Papers MUST be in hard-copy format: no electronic copies will be accepted—NO EXCEPTIONS.
Class 1 August 26: Introduction; A bit of background. . .
Classes 2-3 September 2-16: Into the cell!
*<Dept of Energy Human Genome Project Information: The science behind the HGP>
*<National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI): Deoxyribonucleic acid          >
*<National Bioethics Advisory Commission, Ethical Issues in Human Stem Cell Research, Vol I, ch. 2>
*<National Institutes of Health (NIH): Stem Cell Basics >
*<President’s Council on Bioethics (PCB), Monitoring Stem Cell Research, ch. 4>
*<PCB, Reproduction and Responsibility, ch. 2 §I; ch. 3 §I; ch 4 §I; ch. 5 §I>
*Suggested: <NHGRI Chromosomes; A Brief Guide to Genomics; Genetic Mapping; A Brief History of the Human Genome Project>

*September 9: Rosh Hoshanah—NO CLASS*

Classes 4 & 5 September 23-30: So, how to think about all this?            Science quiz
*<The Belmont Report >
*<NBAC, Ethical Issues, Vol I, ch 4>
*<PCB, Monitoring Stem Cell Research, ch 3>
*Parens, ‘Is Better Always Good?’ in Parens, pp. 1-28
Class 6 October 7 Ethics, cont., and religion and stem cells
*Juengst, ‘What Does Enhancement Mean?’, in Parens, pp. 29-47
*Cole-Turner, in Parens, ‘Do Means Matter?’, pp. 151-161
*<NBAC, Ethical Issues, Vol III Religious Perspectives>
Class 7 October 14 Stem cell policy: history
* <NBAC, Ethical Issues, Vol I, ch. 3 >
*<PCB; Monitoring, ch 2; appendices B, C, & D >
Class 8 October 21 Assisted reproductive technologies: why?
*Mundy, prologue, chs. 1-4
*<PCB, Reproduction & Responsibility, ch. 2 §II  >
Class 9 October 28 ART, variations and complications                Paper 1 due
*Mundy, chs. 5-9
*<PCB, Reproduction & Responsibility, ch. 3 § II>
Class 10 November 4 Variations & complications, cont.
*Mundy, chs. 10-13
*<PCB, Reproduction & Responsibility, ch. 4 §II>
Class 11 November 11  Complications, and then some
*Mundy, ch. 14, epilogue
* <PCB, Reproduction & Responsibility, ch. 5 §II; ch. 6 – all>
Class 12 November 18 Policy! Ethics! Policy!
*Brock, ‘Enhancements of Human Function’, in Parens, pp. 48-69
*Frankford, ‘The Treatment/Enhancement Distinction’, in Parens, 70-94
*Silver, ‘A Fatal Attraction to Normalizing’, in Parens, pp. 95-123

*November 25-28: Thanksgiving Break—NO CLASSES*

Class 13 December 2 Policy! Ethics! Policy—or not
*<NIH Guidelines on Human Stem Cell Research >
*<PCB, Reproduction & Responsibility, ch. 2 §III; ch. 3 §III; ch 4 §III; ch. 5 §III>
*Suggested: <PCB, Monitoring, appendix E>
Class 14 December 9 How to think, what to do                    Paper 2 due
*Winkler, ‘Devices and Desires’, in Parens, pp. 238-250


About proftp

I teach political science and bioethics as an adjunct at a CUNY school.
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