PHIL 333 (3 cr): Biomedical Ethics

Course description

Is euthanasia morally permissible? What is the relationship between patient autonomy, competence, and informed consent? When, if ever, is paternalism morally justified? Under what circumstances, if any, is abortion morally wrong? Is it morally permissible for women to obtain and for doctors to provide medically unnecessary Caesarean sections? Should doctors provide alternative, unproven therapies to their patients who request them? When, if ever, is two-tier health care just? What, in general, makes an act morally right or wrong, a person virtuous or vicious, a policy just or unjust?

In Philosophy 333, we will explore answers to these questions from a variety of perspectives. We will, in short, critically examine some leading philosophical theories, and some important, and difficult, ethical issues in health care.

Objectives for this course include:

  1. Acquiring a critical grasp of leading normative ethical theories;
  2. Gaining a critical understanding of some important philosophical literature on some moral problems in health care;
  3. Developing your critical reasoning skills when it comes to identifying arguments in a text, stating those arguments in a precise and clear manner, and raising targeted objections to those arguments;
  4. Encouraging you to consider your own views on selected moral problems in health care, to consider your reasons for your views, to examine your views and reasons critically, and to rethink your views and arguments in the light of criticism.

More generally, the aim of this course is not to tell you what to think, but to give you the skills to think for yourself, while enhancing your philosophical literacy. By successfully completing this course, you will gain a better understanding of moral theory generally; a greater familiarity with specific arguments on specific ethical issues in health care; a deeper understanding of your own views on these issues, and an enhanced ability to identify, articulate, develop, and critically analyze arguments.

Success in this course will require hard work; consistent participation and engagement with the course materials; writing clearly and carefully; being fair but critical of others’ arguments, and of your own arguments; and a willingness to keep an open mind.

Required readings

Debating Health Care Ethics: Canadian Contexts, 2nd edition, Patrick Findler, Doran Smolkin, Warren Bourgeois. Canadian Scholars, 2019

The textbook is available through the UBC Bookstore. Textbook order form

Selected Articles, a selection of influential and important philosophical articles in health care ethics. Copies of these articles are available through the “Course Readings” tab on Canvas.


Grades will be based on the following components:

Participation in online discussions 10%
Completion of 2 essays 60% (30% each)
Final Exam 30%