Pol 150 Contemp pol issues


What makes us human? Is it our genes? Our minds? How we look and how we act? And if it’s any (or all) of these things, what does it mean for our humanness when we change them?

Biological and technological advances of the past forty years have opened up possibilities for changing how we look, how we reproduce, and how we think. Gene transfer (also know as genetic engineering or gene therapy) has been used to treat a variety of diseases, and stem cell research may lead to the growing of replacement organs and other body parts. Reproductive technologies have allowed infertile people to have children, and there are some children alive today who have three genetic parents. And then there are all of the experiments in neuroscience: attempts to use the brain to move objects, implants to allow those with paralysis to walk again, research on allowing people to remain awake for long periods of time, and studies on how to manipulate memory.

In this class we’ll range widely across enhancement biotechnologies, touching on human experimentation, cosmetic surgery, gene transfer, cloning, performance-enhancing drugs, medical implants, and mood-altering drugs. We’ll also consider the histories behind these techs, as well as the at-times horrific abuses associated with thinking of humans as “better” or “worse” kinds of people. Running throughout the course will be considerations of what can, ought, and ought not to be done, how do decide what is right and wrong, how much does or should religion play in these discussions, and how much control anyone ought to have over themselves—or the future. By the end of the course you will have learned what kinds of questions to ask about biotechnology, how to analyze ethical arguments about biotech, and how to begin a research project, including how to search for and document sources and to organize a prospectus.

Required reading: Reading packet, distributed by College Now

It is expected that you will complete the readings during the week they are assigned; as part of your participation grade, you may be called on in class to offer a question or comment on those readings.

Students are expected to attend all class meetings as scheduled, and are responsible for all class work missed as a result of late registration or absence. Excessive absences in any course may result in a lower final grade.

Attendance & participation: 15 pts
Approaches papers, due October 10, 15 pts
. . . Assignment 1 due October 29, 10 pts
. . . Assignment 2 due November 19, 15 pts
. . . Assignment 3 due December 10, 15 pts
Final, due December 19 30 pts

You will be given further written instructions for all assignments.
No extra credit will be available.

ALL assignments are due IN CLASS as HARD COPY on date due. Late work will be penalized.

Regarding tablets/computers: You may use for notes as long as WIFI IS TURNED OFF; please stow cell phones.

Note regarding food and drink in the classroom: Something to drink is fine, something to eat is not.


Days 1-2 September 10-12 What’s it all about?
*Readings 1-3; begin Readings 4-5

Days 3-4 September 17-19 History & theories
*finish Readings 4-5; begin Readings 6-9

Days 5-6 September 24-26 History & theories, Science of making us
*finish Readings 6-9; Readings 10-11

***NO CLASSES October 1 & 8: High Holidays ***

Days 7-8 October 3 & 10 Science of making us; birthin’ babies Approaches papers due
*Readings 12-14; begin Readings 15-18

Days 9-10 October 15-17 Birthin’ babies, commerce of parenthood
*finish Readings 15-18

Days 11-13 October 22-24, 29 Constructing and donating life: What do you own? Who owns you?
*Readings 24, 19-20 Assignment 1 due

Days 14-16 October 31, November 5-7 What can you make, what can you sell, what can you give away
*Readings 26-29
NOTE: High school is closed Nov 5, but College Now classes are in session.

Days 17-18 November 12-14 Science of what makes us, us
*Readings 21-23, 25

Days 19-20 November 19-21 When is better good and when is it not Assignment 2 due
*Readings 30-34; begin Readings 35-36

Days 21-23 November 26, December 3-5 Better and better. . . ?
*finish Readings 35-36; Readings 37-44

*** NO CLASS November 28: Thanksgiving***

Days 24-25 December 10-12 Death and dying Assignment 3 due
*Readings 45-48

Day 26 December 17 Death and (not) dying; What’s it all about, redux
*finish Readings 49-50

December 19 (no class) Final due



Required readings (in order of syllabus)

1. Lisa Ko, Unwanted Sterilization and eugenics programs in the United States
2. James Q Whitman, Why the Nazis studied American race laws for inspiration
3. Derek Ayeh, Bioethical silence and black lives
4-5. BBC Consequentialism; deontological ethics
6. Thomas R. McCormick,  Principles of Bioethics
7. CE Harris, The Ethics of Natural Law
8. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Virtue Ethics
9. David P. Schmidt, Casuistry
10. President’s Council on Bioethics (PCB), Reproduction & Responsibility, ch. 2
11. National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), Cloning Fact Sheet
12. Sirpa Soini, et. al. The interface between assisted reproductive technologies and genetics
13. Carson Strong, The ethics of human reproductive cloning
14. PCB, Staff Working Paper, The Ethics of “Reproductive Cloning”
15. Karen Clark, Norval Glenn and Elizabeth Marquardt, My donor’s name is daddy: Recommendations
16. PCB, Reproduction & Responsibility, Exec summary, §§ III-IV
17-18. ESHRE Task Force on Ethics and Law: Gamete and embryo donation | Surrogacy
19. Rina Hakimian & David Korn, Ownership and use of tissue specimens for research
20. R Alta Charo, Body of research—ownership and use of human tissue
21-23. NHGRI: Chromosomes | Deoxyribonucleaic acid | A brief guide to genomics
24. National Institutes of Health, Stem Cell Basics
25. Brad Plumer, et al, A simple guide to CRISPR
26. Thomas George, The case against kidney sales
27. C Erin, J Harris, An ethical market in human organs (w/Savelescu & Radcliffe commentaries)
28. Aseda Tena, Xenotransplantation: Can pigs save human lives?
29. Tim Lewis, Could 3D printing solve the organ transplant shortage?
30. PCB, Staff Working Paper, Distinguishing Therapy and Enhancement
31. J Savelescu, Genetic interventions and the ethics of the enhancement of human beings
32. F Baylis & JS Robert, The inevitability of genetic enhancement technologies
33. PCB, Beyond Therapy: Superior Performance (ch 3)
34. Darrin Belousek, Professional baseball & performance-enhancing drugs
35. Marek Kohn, Smart and smarter drugs
36. V Cakic, Smart drugs for cognitive enhancement
37. Adrienne Asch, Disability Equality and Prenatal Testing
38. Thomas Koch & Peter Singer, Ethics and disability point/counterpoint
39. Rock Ethics Institute, Disability: Prenatal Genetic Testing
40. N Curtis, Would the deliberate creation of a deaf child be morally defensible?
41. Charlotte Greenfield, Should we fix intersex children?
42. PCB, Staff working paper, Remembering and Forgetting
43. Cody Delistraty, The ethics of erasing bad memories
44. Carl Elliott, The tyranny of happiness
45. Lars Johan Materstvedt, et. al., Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide
46. Timothy Quill & Bernard Sussman, Physician assisted death
47. Richard Radtke, A Case Against Physician-Assisted Suicide
48. George Annas, ‘Culture of life’ at the bedside
49. John Harris, Immortal ethics
50. PCB, Beyond Therapy: Ageless Bodies (ch 4)


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