24.06J | Spring 2009 | Undergraduate



Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1 hour / session

Recitations: 1 session / week, 1 hour / session


Many difficult ethical questions have arisen from the explosive growth of biomedical technology and the health-care industry since World War II. When should we initiate or withdraw life support? Who should make the decision — individuals? doctors? hospitals? families? How should organs be allocated to transplant candidates? Should parents be given control over the genetic make-up of their children? Should the rights of fetuses trump those of pregnant women? How can we justly distribute scarce and expensive medical resources? While some of these are new questions precipitated by rapid changes in biomedical capabilities, others have been debated for centuries. Drawing on philosophy, anthropology, and history, this course will explore how problems in bioethics can be approached from a variety of perspectives, with the aim of understanding how we have gotten where we are, and how we should decide where to go next.



Carefully read the assigned texts in advance of each class. Some of the texts are dense and difficult. If you do not understand a text first time around, then read it again.

Attendance - Lectures

There will be two one hour lectures each week. You must attend all the lectures.

Attendance and Participation - Recitation Sections

This subject is designated Communication Intensive. CI subjects offer students substantial opportunity for oral expression. Each of you will be assigned to a weekly one hour discussion session, where you will be expected to participate actively. Enrollment in these sections is capped at 18.


Each of you will give a formal presentation, 10-15 minutes long, on a subject determined in discussion with the instructor leading your recitation section. You will be strongly encouraged to coordinate your presentation with one of your papers.


CI subjects require at least 20 pages of writing divided among a number of assignments, at least one of which will be revised and resubmitted. In this class you will write three 4-6 page papers, and one 8-10 page final paper, for a minimum of 20 pages. You will revise and resubmit your second paper in consultation with your recitation instructor. Topics for the first three papers will be assigned to you. You will be free to choose the topic of your final paper.

Late Papers

The TAs will follow standard procedure in dealing with late papers—a third of a letter grade comes off for every day the paper is late. Please plan accordingly.


As you surely know, all your writing must be your own. This means that anything quoted verbatim must appear within " " quotation marks and be accompanied by a footnote that identifies its source. You must use properly formatted footnotes. It also means that you may not paraphrase a person’s writing without making it explicit that you are doing so: changing the words does not make it your writing. And it means that whenever another person’s insights or ideas appear in your paper you must credit that person in a footnote. If you are in any doubt about whether something you are writing amounts to plagiarism, talk about it with your TA before you hand in your paper. You should also review MIT’s Academic Integrity Handbook. (PDF)


Your grade will be determined in the following way:

Attendance and participation 15%
Paper 1 (4-6 pages) 15%
Paper 2 (4-6 pages) 10%
Rewrite (4-6 pages) 10%
Paper 3 (4-6 pages) 15%
Paper 4 (8-10 pages) 30%
Oral presentation 5%

Course Info

Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments