Dr Tom Kerns
North Seattle Community College


Introduction to Bioethics

Dr Tom Kerns
North Seattle Community College


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This introductory Bioethics course deals with ethical questions surrounding clinical medical practice, with ethical issues entailed by biomedical research, and with more general ethical questions about the maintenance and improvement of the health and well-being of communities on both the local and global levels.

Required reading for the course includes:

  • Lisa Belkin, First Do No Harm, Fawcett Books
  • Freeman & McDonnell, Tough Decisions: Cases in Medical Ethics, Oxford University Press
  • David Feldshuh, Miss Evers' Boys, Dramatists Play Service Inc
  • Kerns, Environmentally Induced Illnesses: Ethics, Risk Assessment and Human Rights, McFarland
  • Kerns, Jenner on Trial: The Ethics of Vaccine Research in the Age of Smallpox and the Age of AIDS, University Press of America (full text available free on the web)
  • Henrik Ibsen (Arthur Miller adaptation), Enemy of the People, Viking Press
  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, The Nuremberg Code, The World Health Organization's International Ethical Guidelines for Biomedical Research Involving Human Subjects, and several other articles and documents that will be made available online

Some topics the course explores:

  • Introduction to basic concepts in human health and disease, including some basic human biology, the elements of communicable disease, the fundamentals of environmentally and occupationally induced illness
  • Case studies of clinical and research ethical questions (including a possible online visit by Dr Edward Jenner, discoverer of the smallpox vaccine in 1796)
  • Introduction to the fundamentals of ethical decision-making, including teleological, deontological, characterological, etc foundations of ethical thinking
  • Detailed case studies in current medical-ethical decision-making, e.g., in "newly emerging" infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, etc
  • Examination of ethical issues surrounding environmentally induced illnesses such as cancers, chemical sensitivity disorders, and asthma and other respiratory diseases
  • The conflicts and synergies in the effort to protect both public health and human rights
  • Exploration of some historical analogs for today’s newly emerging epidemics, such as the Black Death, the Plague of Athens, Smallpox epidemics, Cholera epidemics, etc.

Business stuff

Course materials

Lectures and discussion questions

Research resources


Books available in full-text on the web