PHG 525 - Public Commentary on Ethical Issues in Health Genetics

Alternate Course Number 

BH 515

Course Description 

In this discussion-based seminar we will explore bioethical issues, with a focus on public health genetics, as portrayed through novels, popular non-fiction, film and contemporary criticism. Public Health Genetics examines the impact of genetic innovations on public health. As such, we will consider themes from both classic public health ethics (including social responsibility, communitarian ethics, and prevention) as well as ethics of genetics (including enhancements, problems of prediction, the question of normalcy, and unintended consequences of research and development). Using novels and film as our primary learning sources we will consider “characters of geneticists (scientists), the plots of genetics, and the metaphors of genes (Van Dijck).” The goal of the seminar is to prepare students to be better readers and viewers of public media, and ultimately contribute to public discussions that impact science policy. Primary tools for our work are common frameworks from moral theory: deontology, consequentialist ethics, virtue ethics, and feminist ethics.

Course Objectives 

During this course, participants will:

  1. Explore, debate, and critique ethical issues in public health genetics, as they appear in popular books, films and other public media;
  2. Apply different ethical frameworks to the reading and viewing of public texts and film;
  3. Contribute writing on bioethics and public health genetics issues at both the level of public debate and critical commentary.

Example Syllabus