HCB 501 Compassionate Care, Medical Humanities, and the Illness Experience
This course will introduce students to major interpretations of the illness experience, to several classical biographical and autobiographical accounts of illness, and to the important dynamic of compassionate care in the healing relationship. The patient-as-person will be emphasized throughout, as well as the ways in which respect for and empathy toward the patient impacts diagnostic accuracy, patient adherence, and patient and professional satisfaction. Some emotional dynamics of the illness experience will be addressed, such as hope, through the work of eminent physician-writers such as Jerome Groopman, MD. The dynamics of medical mistakes and forgiveness will be explored through psychiatrist Aaron Lazarre’s influential writings on effective medical apologies. Some philosophical and metaphysical aspects of personhood and self-identity will be introduced.
HCB 502 Landmark Cases in Bioethics
What is a life worth living? How do we decide—and who decides—when to use medical technologies such as incubators, ventilators, transplants and reproductive technologies? This is an intensive introduction to some of the cases in medical ethics that have changed the ways that we are born, cared for, and die in American hospitals. Examples of topics include: vaccination and public health; eugenics and human subjects research ethics; the right of privacy and health care; end-of-life planning and treatment; women’s bodies and fetal rights; disability rights; religious beliefs and health care; triage and allocation of scarce resources; mental illness and individual rights; global clinical trials; and, bioethics and culture.
HCB 503 Traditions and Values in Bioethical Conflicts
This course serves as an introduction to Western moral and religious traditions and to the positions about killing, saving, and enhancing that these traditions have informed. It explores the interface between religion and biomedical ethics and then delves into specific issues in health care in light of more general normative concerns such as justice, love, autonomy and rights, utilitarianism, self-sacrifice, gender, virtue, and community. The issues with which the course deals address the plights of real people, in the concrete, who come from particular backgrounds and whose set of values may make them sometimes recalcitrant to possibilities that technology has made (or is just now making) available.
HCB 504 Special Topic in Biotechnology
Just because we can do it, does this mean that we should do it? This course takes a focused look at controversial practices in health care settings, such as organ donation and enhancements, which have been (and are continuing to be) made available with the advancement of technology. Ought we to regard that which technology makes available as uncontroversially good? If not, why not? What sorts of new issues regarding distributive justice, autonomy, utility, and compassion are ours to consider carefully because of the changing world in which we live?
HCB 599 Capstone Course
This course, to be offered in the Spring semester, is designed to satisfy the “special projects” requirement of our program. The first part of the course will be devoted to readings and discussions that further illuminate the methodologies of the interdisciplinary field of medical humanities, compassionate care, and bioethics. Students will develop an appreciation for the standards of high quality scholarship and research through review of carefully selected readings. This will prepare them for the second part of the course, where they pursue and present their own research based on the existing literature. This “capstone” course will be highly collaborative, entail substantial peer review, and be organized around the development of significant student projects which are intended to represent the beginnings of publishable papers. Our entire faculty will be involved in these projects according to their specific areas of expertise.
HCB 510 Literature, Compassion, and Medical Care
How does literature help us understand the nature of human illness and suffering? Can written works of art, ancient and contemporary, that depict moments of compassion and compassionate acts lay bare the moral, spiritual, psychological, and physical reality of suffering? There is a long association between literature and medicine, from the viewpoint of physician-writers, such as Anton Checkov and William Carlos Williams, whose literary skills have eclipsed their medical backgrounds. Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson were the creations of a physician-writer, Arthur Conan Doyle. Physicians portrayed in literature, such as Dr. Bernard Rieux, in Albert Camus’ The Plague, have also explored the relationship between patient and doctor, the nature of healing. This semester-long course will study these relationships through reading of poetry, drama, fiction, memoir, and essay and reflect on the nature of suffering, the intrinsic human need for compassion, and the implications for health and healing.
HCB 511 Bioethics, Disability & Community
Most people will experience disability at some point in their lives, and for some it will shape their social, personal, family, educational, and employment experiences. Viewpoints on disabilities which have emerged in policy and the broader culture have been explicitly challenged by emerging communities of people with disabilities who seek to speak for themselves and claim full inclusion in society. In this context, bioethicists and disability scholars have found points of both common cause and stark disagreement over issues such as neonatal and end-of-life care, the value and values inherent medical decisions and their outcomes. These bioethical debates occur in the context of debates over the rights of individuals with disabilities to self-determination, accommodations for work and schooling, and the potential for people with disabilities to make unique contributions because of--rather than despite--their disabilities. This course will consider major debates in bioethics in light of recent scholarship in disability studies, drawing on perspectives from philosophy, literature and narrative, history, and sociology.
HCB 512 Altruism and Bioethics
What is altruism, and what are its evolutionary roots as a moral dynamic? What impact does altruistic action have on the human agent? Does it impact flourishing and health? When is it experienced as overwhelming by medical professionals? Where does altruism fit within medical and nursing professionalism? How is it related to compassionate care? What about the duty to treat in time of epidemic, auto-experimentation, pro-bono medical treatment, high-risk provision of healthcare in time of conflict, healthcare activism, and the commitment to the patient’s good as a guiding professional ideal? How does the practitioner strike a balance between the care of patients and the care of the nearest and dearest or the care of the self? How does altruism correlate with pro-social behavior, happiness, and health?
HCB 513 Disease and Society
What is disease? How do the beliefs, politics, and economies of particular societies shape how diseases are defined, experienced, and treated? In this seminar, students will explore these questions by analyzing historical documents, scientific reports, and historical scholarship. We will look at disease from multiple perspectives — as a biological process, clinical entity, population phenomenon, historical actor, and personal experience. We will pay special attention to how diseases have been recognized, diagnosed, named, classified and counted in different times, places, cultures, and settings based on different environmental and social conditions, medical ideas, diagnostic technologies, and available treatments. The course will begin with a review of major approaches to understanding the manifold relationships between disease and society. The remainder of the course will view disease and society relationships through the lens of specific issues, such as epidemic disease, consumption and affluence, globalization, and risk.
HCB 514 Global Bioethics
Bioethics is an American invention. Ideas about medicine and morality, of course, go back to antiquity and are documented as medical ethics in Europe, medical morality in China, and under many other names in cultures around the world. Recently, the process of globalization of ideas, medical practices, clinical trials, and migration of patients has led to clashes of culture around issues such as the appropriate standards and control groups for clinical trials, organ transplantation, brain death, and end-of-life care. Issues of religion, morality, public policy, disability rights and policy, and health system structure and payment all shape how particular societies decide to manage divisive issues such as the beginning and end of life. This course will draw on a growing literature on global and transnational cases, policies, and traditions in the ethics of health, public health, and health care.
HCB 515 Health Policy, History & Ethics
Who gets sick? Who gets health care, what kind, and in what setting? This course covers the major health policy issues of the United States today, including the health status of the U.S. as a whole, the social and economic determinants of health, the role of personal and public health services in affecting health, the organization and financing of health services, and the multiple factors affecting health policies. We will explore the evolution of the US health care system in the past century, and debates about rights to health care or lack thereof, health disparities, conflicts of interest, and the ethics of health policy and practice.
HCB 517 The Problem of Evil: Philosophical, Biological, and Social Dimensions
What is the nature of evil? Can it be the result of brain malfunction, something that is genetically predetermined? Or, is evil something which is part of or at least necessary to know the good? Alternatively, is evil an arbitrary designation, a perspective from which we can wrest ourselves given the right sort of reinvention? In this class, we shall address the problem of evil from scientific, social-scientific, and philosophical perspectives, using fiction and non-fictional sources. Examples of medical evil, such as the Nazi doctors or Tuskeegee, can be introduced as case studies.
HCB 518 Empirical Bioethics: Moral Decision Making
This course will introduce students to some of the major empirical studies that have been done in the area of bioethics. Students will be able to address questions of methodology, and assess the significance of such studies on phenomena such as ethical decision making, informed consent, truth-telling, confidentiality, moral psychology, and the like.
Example Independent Studies
The Role of Virtue Ethics in Medicine
Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and the role virtue ethics are central to many religious traditions including Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, and the philosophical traditions. Key virtues include honesty, courage, generosity, prudence, justice, compassion, benevolence, loyalty, and hospitality. The course will explore real and potential role of virtue on the development of virtuous physicians. The courses texts offer two diametrically opposed views on the role of virtue in medicine, i.e., one is that virtue can be channeled into training of medical professionals, whereas the other is that bioethics has extracted virtue from medicine. Through readings, documentaries, dialogue and active leadership of sessions by students, the course will interrogate the claims as well as possibilities for a role of virtue in medicine. This course includes a brief practicum: students will be asked to pick two virtues to model in their own lives, following the guidelines outlined by the Greeks (e.g., Aristotle) and more contemporary adherents (e.g., Benjamin Franklin).