Charles Camosy Syllabus

THEO 60631 Medical Ethics – Notre Dame Summer 2013

Charles C. Camosy, PhD


Office Hours:

Contact Information:

(574) 310-1211 (cell)



Confusion reigns supreme when it comes to discussion of medical ethics: whether in a

hospital ethics committee, presidential debate, an academic journal, or over a pint in a

pub. It is more often characterized by people talking past each other than about

discussion of the even the same topic—to say nothing of actually making progress on a

particular issue. For instance, three very different topics—the personhood of the fetus,

the permissibility of ever killing the fetus, and public policy about the personhood or

killing of the fetus—are often unhelpfully lumped together into arguments over a single

topic: abortion. This course attempts to deal with several classic topics in medical ethics

in a way that cuts through the confusion by dealing with the each of the three kinds of

issues (moral status, killing/treatment/care, and public policy) systematically. The course

will emphasize the Roman Catholic moral traditions, but will almost always be in

conversation with secular traditions as well. Key points not only of disagreement, but,

importantly, agreement will be emphasized in an attempt to at least get the issues straight

and, perhaps, move the debate forward.



1. To become familiar with the terms, principles and key issues in biomedical ethics.

2. To understand the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church on key medical ethics


3. To unpack the complex nature of difficult topics and see where the key points of

agreement and disagreement lie in various authors’ arguments about them.

4. To subject one’s current views on biomedical ethics to a healthy dose of

thoughtful criticism—from the texts, the instructor, fellow classmates, and (most

importantly) one’s self.

5. To see logical connections between the various bioethical issues under discussion

and to consistently apply one’s ethical and theological principles across these and

other ethical issues.

6. To see the connection between complicated theoretical ideas in biomedical ethics

and their practical application to real-life situations and clinical cases.



Two Exams (50%) These exams will be in take-home essay format and will require

synthesis of course material.

Class Presentation(s) (25%)

Course Participation: In-Class and Online (25%) This class will require engagement

and participation. You can and will learn so much from interaction with your classmates

and by listening carefully to their views. I will expect thoughtful oral participation in

class (informed by the reading) on a regular basis. In the event that you are not able to

get in on the oral discussion as much as you like, please take advantage of posting your

thoughts, and responding to others, on the course discussion board on blackboard and

continue the conversation there.



1. You must attend class—but you have one ‘cut’ to use however you wish over the term.

Anyone missing more than one class will have their final average lowered by one full

grade for each class missed. Anyone missing more than three classes will not pass the


2. Dishonesty, including cheating and plagiarism, is totally unacceptable and will be

dealt with in the most serious way possible under university regulations.

3. Late work will not be accepted unless you have made previous arrangements.

4. I will not accept any assignment via e-mail. Please print out the work (perhaps on the

reverse side of scrap paper?) well in advance of class so you don’t run into printer


6. No laptops or cell phones are permitted in class.



On Moral Medicine: Theological Perspectives on Medical Ethics (third edition) Lysaught and Kotva (editors)

*Several texts will be available on electronic reserve (ER)



 (*Readings are TBD, but figure on no more than 50 pages of reading per class)


Theology and Medical Ethics

  • On Moral Medicine (5-12, 43-75)


I. Moral Status and Medical Ethics

Are Human Fetuses Persons?

The Personhood of Human Infants

The Moral Status of Non-Human Animals

Personhood at the End of Human Life


II. Killing, Treatment, Care and Bioethics

Ordinary and Extraordinary Means of Treatment

Killing, Treatment and Care of Human Infants

Killing, Treatment and Care and of Human Fetuses and Embryos

The Nutrition/Hydration Debate

Medical Experiments on Non-Human Animals


III. Public Policy and (Re)Forming a Healthcare System

The Turn to Autonomy

Abortion Public Policy and Women

Reproductive Technologies and Vulnerable Populations

Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide Public Policy

Micro-Allocation, Macro-Allocation and Health Care Reform