Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 2 hours / session

Course Objectives

This course provides a space for medical students and MD/PhD students, as well as HASTS (History, Anthropology, Science, Technology, and Society) PhD students to discuss social and ethical issues in the biosciences and biotechnologies as they are being developed. Discussions are with course faculty and with leading figures in developing technologies such as George Daley or George Church in stem cell or genomics research, Bruce Walker or Pardis Sabeti in setting up laboratories in Africa, Paul Farmer and Partners in Health colleagues in building local support systems and first world quality care in Haiti, Peru, and Rwanda, and Amy Farber in building patient-centered therapeutic-outcome research for critical but "orphan" diseases. Goals include stimulating students to think about applying their learning in Boston to countries around the world, including using the experiences they have had in their home countries or research experience abroad. Goals also include a mix of patient-doctor care perspectives from medical anthropology, and moving upstream in the research chain to questions of how to move discoveries from basic research through the pipelines into clinical and bedside care.

Course Text

There is no textbook for this course. All required and optional readings are listed on the Readings and Lectures page. Suggested web resources are posted on the Related Resources page.


Course assignments include group presentations in class, and a final paper on a topic covered in class, on research experience abroad, or on solutions to medical issues in resource-poor settings.


HST students are graded on a Pass/Fail basis. Graduate Students in other programs are graded on class participation and final papers.


1 Introduction to social medicine: Concepts, theories, and data visualization of the burden of disease Michael M. J. Fischer, Byron Good, Mary-Jo DelVecchio Good, and David Jones
2 Decision making in cardiac therapeutics: Ethics, history, and policy David Jones
3 Partners in Health and post-earthquake Haiti Joia Mukherjee
4 What was health reform about? David Cutler
5 Setting up labs; Doing epidemiology in Africa Bruce Walker; Felton Earls
6 Clinical ethics and dilemmas in local and global contexts Christine Mitchell
7 "Global mental health" and "Medical humanitarianism and technologies of intervention" Aceh Case Mary-Jo DelVecchio Good and Byron Good
8 Whole genome sequencing: Technological and ethical challenges George Church
9 Patient-centered solutions for orphan diseases: Solving LAM Amy Farber and Michael M. J. Fischer
10 Comparative genomics for disease diagnosis and Lassa hemorrhagic fever and malaria in Africa Pardis Sabeti
11 Partners in Health: Clinical effectiveness, research, and the politics of health-care delivery in low-income societies Salmaan Keshavjee and Mercedes Becerra
12 Global health and global health policies Paul Farmer
13 Wrap-up and discussion