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BITC201 Bioethics and the Life Sciences

Explores ethical issues within, and arising from, science and technology. Covers basic ethics in science, and the moral and social implications of life science for human life, particularly its earliest stages.

Bioethics and the Life Sciences gives students an opportunity to examine the ethical implications of life sciences and biotechnology. Increasingly, scientists are being called to justify some of their practices, such as human and animal experimentation, genetic modification, use of dead human bodies, and publication of controversial work. Without a good understanding of the moral issues arising within life science and biotechnology, scientists and non-scientists alike will not be well-equipped to participate in the public debate about bioscience and biotechnology and how they affect wider society.

Paper title Bioethics and the Life Sciences
Paper code BITC201
Subject Bioethics
EFTS 0.1500
Points 18 points
Teaching period First Semester
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $904.05
International Tuition Fees (NZD) $5,159.70

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Prerequisite
126 points
Schedule C
Arts and Music, Science
Eligibility
This paper is suitable for second-year and third-year students from all academic backgrounds who are interested in learning about and discussing the rights and wrongs of the biosciences.
Contact
bioethics@otago.ac.nz
Teaching staff

Course Co-ordinator: Dr Mike King

Lecturers: Colin Gavaghan, Gareth Jones, Professor John McMillan

Textbooks
Text books are not required for this paper.
Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Interdisciplinary perspective, Scholarship, Communication, Critical thinking, Ethics, Research.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes
The paper will encourage students to:
  • Be able to identify key ethical concepts
  • Identify moral claims and distinguish them from other sorts of claims
  • Identify reasons given in support of particular moral claims
  • Compare and contrast alternative analyses of topics
  • Identify strengths and weaknesses of alternative analyses of topics
  • Review key approaches and literature relating to bioethics of the biosciences, including topics concerning the beginning of life
  • Use reasoned argument to present preferred analysis/approach
  • Begin to recognise implications of ethical reasoning for scientific practice

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Overview of the paper

Bioethics and the Life Sciences gives students an opportunity to examine the ethical implications of life sciences and biotechnology.

Increasingly scientists are being called to justify some of their practices, such as human and animal experimentation, genetic modification, use of dead human bodies, and publication of controversial work.

Without a good understanding of the moral issues arising within life science and biotechnology, scientists and non-scientists alike will not be well-equipped to participate in the public debate about bioscience and biotechnology, and how they affect wider society.

This paper is ideal for 200- and 300-level students from all academic backgrounds, who are interested in learning about and discussing the rights and wrongs of the biosciences.

  • Semester: 1
  • Coordinator: Mike King
  • Assessment: 15% essay 1, 35% essay 2, 50% final exam

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Student testimonials

BITC201 was a paper I added in my third year when I needed an extra paper, but it turned out to be one of my favourite papers within my degree. It fits very nicely into a busy timetable as it has lower contact hours, so you are able to work around other papers which are not as flexible.

It provides you with the skills needed to come to your own conclusions about each topic. It does not require any prior knowledge nor is memorising facts important in this paper. I realised when speaking to friends who were not taking BITC201 how much I had taken in and learnt when I was simply taking part in an interesting discussion. This is the only paper I have taken where talking about interesting topics is counted as studying. Each new topic is a chance to learn something new and practice the techniques you need for the assignments.

The topics covered were very interesting and there was a fair representation of opposing points of view in the material. I found that in hearing and learning to develop the strongest version of an opinion that was different to my own that I could develop a better understanding of an issue. I would highly recommend this paper to anyone who is interested in exploring some of the more complex aspects of science. While the topics are specific, the skills that this paper develops are applicable to any field where there are ethical issues.

– Alysha McKeeman, BITC 201 student in 2018

As a biology student doing animal experimentation and potentially working with people in the future, I felt that it was important to take an introductory paper in bioethics. When I signed up for BITC201, I had no idea how enjoyable and enlightening the paper would end up being. Nearly every bioethical topic I was wondering about was discussed (at least briefly) and, more importantly, we learned how to think about new issues on our own. Class discussions were interesting and often challenged us to question our preconceived ideas about morality. BITC201 gave me more than philosophical theories; it gave me real ways to assess the ethics of real situations. I would recommend this paper to all life sciences students as a fun, engaging way to learn how to deal with real-life ethical issues that may come up in our futures.

– Charise Currier, BITC 201 student in 2013

Bioethics is a much broader subject than you would first think - rather than this being a paper that just teaches you what is right and wrong, this is a paper that instead shows you how to come to your own conclusions on a variety of issues. From learning about the ethics of IVF to environmental and climate change ethics, you are encouraged to develop your own thoughts and ideas and for me this is the most interesting - yet challenging - aspect of the course. Questioning your own gut feelings with moral arguments and their logical conclusions is hard, and sometimes it doesn't make a lot of sense when you're weighing your emotions against what is moral. But in the end it usually clicks into place and you see how widely applicable ethics is in science and society. As a Genetics major I could see huge implications on both my current study and future work, and it has ignited my interest in new career paths where ethics plays a major role, such as genetic counselling and policy advising. BITC201 has shown me new ways of approaching problems and given me confidence to navigate ethical obstacles I am sure to come up against in working with genetics, or indeed the life sciences in general. I thoroughly enjoyed this paper and feel it is highly valuable, both as its own paper and when integrated into my degree.

– Amy Dowdle, BITC 201 student in 2013

BITC201 has been one of the most fascinating papers that I have studied at Otago University. In particular, it gave me an opportunity to explore some of the ethical and societal implications of the science that I was learning about in my other courses. Bioethics has challenged and changed my opinions about some of the contentious scientific issues that are at the forefront of research and innovation. My favourite ethical issues included: animal experimentation, reproductive technologies, scientific fraud, and cognitive enhancement. BITC 201 is a very dynamic course, there are plenty of opportunities to discuss and debate ethical issues with your peers. The lectures are captivating and the enthusiastic teaching staff go out of their way to guide you through the course. It is easy to get passionate about bioethics and I have often found myself in absorbing dinner table conversations with friends about the issues discussed in class. I highly recommend BITC201 to prospective students. The course develops critical reasoning, self-awareness of difficult ethical issues, and teaches students how to justify and argue opinions. It’s a great way to develop essential skills and meet people with diverse views.

– Andy Robinson, BITC 201 student in 2013

Studying bioethics encouraged me to think more deeply about the ethics involved in many new and interesting aspects of science. One of my favourite parts of the course was being able to discuss different ideas with classmates, lecturers, family and friends. The great thing about bioethics is that all answers are open to question, and you can take any number of viewpoints when considering a particular issue. I enjoyed having the freedom to express my own opinions, and I liked how we could feel confident in sharing these opinions with the class, even when they may have differed from those of others. The biggest challenge was in trying to justify these opinions, which for me was also the most fun and interesting part. The lecturers were very encouraging and approachable, and it is always exciting to go to class when you are being taught by people who are so passionate about what they do. I thoroughly enjoyed taking this paper and I believe that BITC201 is a great addition to any science degree.

– Tim McLennan, BITC 201 student in 2013

It isn't often that you find a paper where you don't get treated like a child, or where you're encouraged to formulate your own opinions, rather than rote learn someone else's.

In my studies so far I found BITC 201 to be unique, here's why: often in papers you're either given the building blocks and only cover the most basic information - which isn't really if you want to get something useful from the paper - or you're getting real-word, relevant topics, but you're chucked into the deep end and left to flounder. BITC 201 didn't do either; no one was expected to have background knowledge of the field, so we were given the building blocks to form an understanding, but at the same time there was a very smooth transition from learning the building blocks into covering topics that are at the forefront of ethical debate. Not only were the contents we covered extremely interesting, but we were actually being given the tools to think like a bioethicist, rather than just rote learning paper content. It's rare, especially studying a science degree, that you're given the opportunity to think and to question, but this paper does that.

I also want to put in big, bold print this paper is not just for science students! In fact, that was one of the best parts of tutorial and lecture discussion, we got to see how students from many different academic backgrounds (psychology, law, philosophy, genetics, politics, and many more) thought about the issues up for discussion. Seeing things from such different perspectives really helped deepen my understanding of how these issues played out in the real world: as a science student it was completely new to me to be looking at things from a legal or philosophical point of view.

BITC 201 was undoubtedly the most enjoyable, interesting, and worthwhile paper I have studied in my time at University!

– Alexandra Nippard, BITC 201 student in 2012

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Timetable

First Semester

Location
Dunedin
Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system
Blackboard

Lecture

Stream Days Times Weeks
Attend
A1 Tuesday 14:00-14:50 9-12, 18-22
Wednesday 13:00-14:50 9-12, 18-22