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Bioethics and Medial Humanities Minor

Tackling the big questions

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What is the minor?

The Rock Ethics Institute, working with faculty across several colleges and campuses, has recently established an undergraduate minor in Bioethics and Medical Humanities. Students in this program address fundamental issues in bioethics about when life begins and ends, and how to resolve tensions between a physician's clinical judgment and the patient's wishes. They also explore the novel ethical challenges posed by recent technological advances in fields such as stem cell research and brain implant surgery. However, Penn State students go beyond what is often called “quandary ethics,” and consider broader questions of health policy and global health. They learn to tackle the big questions in bioethics. For example, is there a human right to health care, and if so, what are the limitations on such a right and on whom does the obligation fall to satisfy it?

Should we use medical science to produce “designer children” or to enhance our mental and physical performance? Where does therapy end and enhancement begin? Do we have a right to choose the time and means of our own death—and should medical personnel be permitted to assist us? Can we have a meaningful discussion about physician-assisted suicide in a country without universal access to health care? Do we have a right to health care and what does this mean for health care rationing? What demands does social justice make on public health, and what challenges does discrimination pose—whether on the grounds of race, gender, sexual orientation or disability? What do we owe the developing world, particularly when we rely on its population as research subjects for the development of new drugs? How can we ensure that academic research is truly independent when it’s funded by pharmaceutical companies or others in the private sector? What role should religion play in debates about stem cells, abortion and end of life issues? What are the implications of recent developments in medical science for “cognitive liberty” and “genetic privacy”?

Why should I take this minor?

These are just some of the questions that bioethics—a relatively new and fast-growing discipline—seeks to ask and answer. Students taking the BMH minor will have the opportunity to probe these questions, drawing on literature and on recent scholarship from a wide range of disciplines (including philosophy, medicine, law, psychology, sociology, anthropology, public policy, international studies and environmental studies).

What are the specifics of the minor?

Students electing the BMH minor are required to have a basic background of biology coursework, and will take a curriculum that includes 18 credit hours, beginning with an introductory course on basic ideas and concepts in bioethics, followed by a choice of other relevant bioethics and humanities courses, and capped with an integrative course involving original research by the student. The minor will be suitable for students in almost any major, especially students going on to further academic work or careers in medicine, law, the health sciences, the life sciences, informatics or forensics.

Where can I find more information?

More information can be found the Bioethics Program website.