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Course Descriptions

Saint Louis University's Center for Healthcare Ethics offers a variety of courses including foundational, elective and study abroad courses.

Ultimate Questions Courses

HCE 1600:  Embodiment, Life, and Death in Context
This course is designed for health professions students. It meets the theology ultimate questions requirement and the Identities in Context attribution. Health professionals continually engage with ultimate questions. Religious traditions provide context for meaning and purpose in life. What is the meaning of health, disease, disability and death? What is the origin of life and meaning? How do we live in the face of death and life? This course equips students to engage these questions in a contextualized and compassionate way, drawing on the resources of the Catholic theological tradition, and bringing them into conversation with other religious traditions. . 

HCE 1700:  Death, Disability, Disease, and the Meaning of Life
This course is designed for health professions students. It meets the philosophy ultimate questions requirement as well as the Cura Peronalis-2 attribution. Health professionals continually engage ultimate questions. What is life, what is health, what is disease, disability and death? How do we confront death and life? Why is there life at all in the universe? This course will equip students to rigorously engage these questions in a systematic and compassionate way, drawing on the sources of various philosophical schools and the Catholic intellectual tradition, bringing them into conversation with the contemporary world and cultures.

Foundations Courses

HCE 2010: Foundations in Clinical Health Care Ethics
This course introduces students to the ethical dimensions of clinical medicine and offers them the basic language and methodology with which to critically examine these dimensions. The course format integrates lecture and active case discussion to provide both the necessary theoretical grounding and the real-world skills sought by students.

HCE 2050: Patients as Persons
This course will introduce students to the philosophical and theological foundations of various debates and positions in bioethics, all of which concern how patients in the clinical care or research context ought to be regarded and treated as persons. Students will explore the way that philosophical and theological concepts of personhood have shaped debates concerning major issues in bioethics, including abortion, genetic testing and treatment, euthanasia and end-of-life care, brain death, organ transplantation, disability, biomedical research, as well as the practice of medicine and the healthcare provider-patient relationship.

HCE 2070: Health Care Across Difference
Delivering health care to a diverse patient population is complex. This course examines the clinical and ethical dilemmas posed by diversity in health care. Through a series of case studies we will explore how the delivery of care can be impacted by race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, culture, and religion. We will conclude with an examination of the intersection of various forms of diversity in Anne Fadiman’s book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. Students will gain experience working collaboratively on bioethical research, and exploring how their own identity shapes their engagement with health care.

HCE 2090: Bioethics in an Interdisciplinary Perspective
This course will consider bioethics from an interdisciplinary perspective: one that draws on research across the university to answer questions of applied ethics in health care. We will begin by discussing why bioethics is interdisciplinary, and consider examples of research that integrates scholarship in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Then we will conduct an extended case study of how different academic disciplines approach the same topic: the “right to die.” Students will write several short papers designed to develop their skills at synthesizing research from diverse academic disciplines, as well as one individual interdisciplinary research paper.

HCE 3020/THEO 3930: Foundations in Catholic Health Care Ethics (Counts as either a required foundations course or elective course)
This course examines ethical issues in health care through the lens of Catholic moral thought. Students will first be introduced to the terminology and approaches of secular bioethics in order to understand similarities and differences between a secular and Catholic approach. Students will then explore theological foundations for health care ethics, including Christian anthropology and the meaning of the Christian life as it relates to issues that arise in health care. The course will engage specific teachings of the Catholic Moral tradition that bear directly on issues of health care ethics, including reproductive technologies, contraception, end-of-life decision making and physician-assisted suicide. While studying these issues, students will become familiar with differing, sometimes opposing, viewpoints and approaches of Catholic thinkers. A course format integrating lecture and active case discussion will provide both an understanding of principles and the opportunity to develop practical dilemma-solving skills.

Elective Courses

HCE 3010: Philosophy of Medicine
This course examines foundational philosophical issues in medicine: What is medicine? What makes a physician good? What is disease? What is suffering? What do we mean when we mention the “medical system”? The course is intended for pre-professional students as well as students in other disciplines who are interested in these and other issues. In seeking answers to these timeless questions, students in the course will deepen their understanding about how physicians practice today. The course will help students to think critically not only about contemporary medical ethics but also about the scientific underpinnings of medicine, the way physicians apply this science at the bedside, and how contemporary social and institutional structures shape the way health care is delivered. The course format integrates lectures and discussion of readings and cases to provide the necessary philosophical grounding to engage ethically and critically with contemporary health care both as practitioners and as patients. Students will investigate these issues through weekly in-class discussions and written papers, as well as two examinations.

HCE 3030: Disability Studies: Medicine, Ethics and Policy
This course will introduce undergraduates to disability studies. We will begin by detailing studies as an outgrowth of disability rights. We will then discuss contemporary topics in the field. We will conclude by analyzing disability in bioethics. Students will learn to apply disability studies in medicine, ethics, and policy. 

HCE 3050: Bioethics in Popular Culture
This course covers bioethical topics as depicted in various pop culture media, including abortion, genetic testing, cloning, stem cell research, euthanasia, and end-of-life care, biomedical research, public health, and the healthcare provider-patient relationship. Pop culture media utilized include documentaries, sci-fi television shows, medical dramas, literature, and music.

HCE 3100: Public Health and Social Justice
Health has special moral importance for the well being of individuals and populations. We will discuss ethical issues associated with economic measures, resource allocation, priority setting, and human rights. The course is designed to evoke thoughts on personal and institutional responses to the questions of social justice and health.

HCE 3200: Freaks and the Medical Body
This course has two parts. The first part examines the spectacles of the “freak shows” of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries and how medical science participated in and legitimated the use of deformed and malformed people as both oddity of nature and object of medical and scientific interest. “Freaks” were showcased and used to expand medical knowledge. We will explore the way in which medical libraries gathered “specimens” of deformed persons for the purposes of expanding medical scientific knowledge. The second part of the course will begin with recent and contemporary “freak shows” as seen in programs like TLC’s Little People, Big World, NBC’s The Biggest Loser, and ABC News’ medical mystery series. These programs highlight various medical oddities and showcase their transformation. Yet, there is also something slightly different at work, because medicine not only showcases the oddities, but participates in their construction and creation as seen in programs like ABC’s Extreme Makeover, Fox’s The Swan, and E!'s Bridalplasty, in the cases of Octomom and the Ashley Treatment, and in art exhibitions like Orlan and Alba the bunny. This course will explore the themes of power and knowledge and the way in which certain forbidden spectacles gain respectability through the legitimating power of medicine and science, but also how medicine and science deploy that power/knowledge to create those very spectacles, along with our aesthetic and ethical sensibilities.

HCE 3220: The Desire to Dissect: Philosophical History of Anatomical Dissection
This course explores the historical and philosophical underpinnings of anatomical dissection in Western medicine. It begins with a comparative history of ancient Greek and Chinese medicine, proceeds to examine the medical and cultural development of anatomical dissection, and concludes with anatomical thinking as the root of modern medical knowing.

HCE 3230:  Race, Gender, and Health Care
This course uses a multidisciplinary perspective to examine unequal access to and treatment by the health care system in the U.S. Without discounting other social identities, we will focus on race/ethnicity and gender as major determinants of people's disparate experiences with health care. The course will analyze aspects of the health care system that routinely give rise to these experiences, and examine how they help produce and perpetuate racial and gender inequality. The course will also raise questions about what counts as justice and individual rights, and discuss current policies and conditions through an ethical lens. 

HCE 3240: Bioethics after Auschwitz
The philosopher Theodor Adorno claimed that “after Auschwitz” the ethical imperative of humanity was to ensure that the Holocaust never happen again. This course examines how bioethics can contribute to that goal. We begin with a history of the Holocaust that focuses on the role of medicine, healthcare, and science in Nazi experimentation, euthanasia, and genocide. We then examine how these events motivated the emergence of bioethics and continue to shape the field. We conclude by examining how bioethicists might respond to mass violence today. Students will write regular postings and a research paper on a topic of their choosing.

HCE 3250:  God in the Clinic? Exploring the Tension Between Spirituality and Health Care
Is spirituality integral to health care or should spirituality be excluded from modern medicine? This course explores the historical, ethical, and practical dimensions of spirituality in health care. It begins with the history of the relationship between religion and medicine, critically examines differing frameworks of spirituality in health care, and ends with students learning how to address issues such as: approaching the suffering patient, navigating miracle language, and doing whole person care at the end of life. Required is a site visit to a religious ceremony.

HCE 4210: Controversies in Death and Dying
This course examines current controversies in end-of-life care, utilizing a discussion and case-based teaching methodology. Various topics will be examined and discussed, from both pro and con perspectives. Topics will include: the definition of death, physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia, advance directives and end-of-life decision-making, killing versus letting die and organ donation.

HCE 4220: Controversies in Reproductive and Pediatric Ethics
This course examines controversial ethical issues surrounding the use of reproductive technology and medicine. Both pro and con perspectives are critically discussed. Topics include: the moral status of the human embryo, maternal-fetal conflicts, contraception, sterilization, in vitro fertilization, surrogate motherhood, prenatal screening, cloning, and the derivation of embryonic stem cells for research purposes.

HCE 4240: Ethics and Geriatric Care (Service-learning internship)
This course is designed to introduce undergraduate students to the ethics and practice of geriatric medicine and the spiritual dimensions of end-of-life care. In addition to weekly seminar discussions, students will spend three hours each week volunteering, shadowing and engaging with residents at Beauvais Manor on the Park. In large part, seminar discussion will proceed from the students’ experiences at Beauvais, likely reflecting on issues such as the human experience of death and dying, meaning and transcendence, suffering and hope, and relationships at the end of life. In addition, discussion will integrate issues encountered in various fictional narratives of death and dying, assigned throughout the course. Note: This course requires a drug screen, TB test, background check and flu shot. Because some of these requirements take time to complete, you should contact Adrienne McCarthy as soon as you think you might be interested in registering for the course.

HCE 4250: Law and Bioethics
This course will examine the ethical and jurisprudential issues related to areas of health care typically included in the field of bioethics. The course will introduce students to the leading ethico-legal approaches in analyzing cases and examining the judicial history and politics that gave rise to these. 

HCE 4270: Controversies in Organ Procurement and Transplantation
This course will examine controversies surrounding organ donation and transplantation. Topics will include: the significance (or insignificance) of ensuring donors of vital organs are dead; appropriate criteria for determining death; the significance (or insignificance) of explicit authorization of donors for donation after death; the appropriateness (or inappropriateness) of incentives for living donation and for donation after death; the ethical character of organ marketing; appropriate treatment of potential donors who are minors or who lack decision-making capacity; and appropriate allocation of organs. 

HCE 4280: Controversies in Neuroethics
Neuroethics was born of necessity to grapple with the ethical dimensions of advances in neuroscience. This course takes an interdisciplinary approach to diverse topics within Neuroethics, providing students with a forum for discussion. The field can be divided into the ethics of neuroscience and the neuroscience of ethics. Ethics of neuroscience examines moral concerns around developments in neuroscience. Neuroscience of ethics examines how advances in neuroscience bear on traditional questions in philosophy. The course will explore both domains and work toward student ability to discuss these controversial questions with respect for different opinions.

HCE 4290: Race, Ethnicity, and Medicine
This course examines historical and current accounts of unethical treatment suffered by patients, physicians, and medical students belonging to a minority racial or ethnic group. We survey key historical instances of egregious abuse African American patients and research subjects have suffered at the hands of clinicians and clinical researchers, and then consider contemporary instances of problematic treatment experienced by racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. We evaluate competing ideas regarding the role of race in medicine and ideas for how to alleviate racial and ethnic injustice experienced in medical institutions and in clinical or clinical research settings

HCE 4500: Ethics in Nursing and Health Care
This course offers an overview of ethical theory, principles, and norms that should inform professional nursing practice. It explores ethical issues and challenges commonly faced by nurses. Cases that arise in the practice of nursing are systematically analyzed. *restricted to nursing students who have completed their junior year of nursing studies.

HCE 4520: Ethics and Practice of Community Mental Health Care
How can we create communities that support mental health? This course will examine this question in collaboration with the Independence Center, a community-based rehabilitation program for adults with severe and persistent mental illnesses. Students will volunteer at the center and meet there for classes focused on assigned readings. They will study the center’s unique treatment modality, its relation to the larger community mental health movement, and the role of “community” in bioethical debates about mental illness. Students will collaboratively explore how to build communities that support mental health through a group project on a topic of their choosing.

HCE 4960: Bioethics and Health Studies Capstone
This course will guide students in the creation of a capstone paper, the topic of which will be determined via consultation between the student and the instructor. The course itself will begin with two weeks of introductory readings on interdisciplinary methodologies in bioethics. Students will then begin writing their papers. They will do so in stages, sharing their work in weekly “writing workshops” with the instructor and each other. In addition to the paper, students will complete a series of assignments—a public defense, mock job talk, and “transition paper”—designed to assist them in transitioning from undergraduates to professionals.

HCE 5020: Ethical Issues in Public Health
Through readings, lectures, discussions, and case studies, students develop: (1) knowledge of the basic ethical concepts operative in medical and public health ethics; (2) understanding of current ethical challenges facing those engaged in health promotion, disease prevention, and epidemiologic research; and (3) the ability to articulate ethical challenges and to make critical and informed ethical decisions.

HCE 5500: Ethics in Nursing and Health Care
This course offers an overview of ethical theory, principles, and norms that should inform professional nursing practice. It explores ethical issues and challenges commonly faced by nurses. Cases that arise in the practice of nursing are systematically analyzed. *only for graduate nursing students. 

Study-Abroad Courses

HCE 3300: Cross-Cultural Perspectives in Bioethics Through Film
Study abroad opportunity in Spain! The Center for Health Care Ethics is pleased to offer a three-week summer intensive course at SLU’s Madrid campus. Open to students in all majors, this three-credit-hour course uses popular films to explore how medicine and biotechnology challenge definitions and conceptualizations of being human. The course will examine the social and cultural dynamics that influence approaches to bioethics in Spain and the United States. Students will consider the ethical dilemmas posed by such diverse practices as abortion, euthanasia, cognitive enhancement/manipulation and genetic enhancement. The course and all films are presented in English. Knowledge of the Spanish language is not required. The course offers unique opportunities for dialogue with health care students and professionals in Spain and includes a field experience at the Prado Museum. All participants may register for additional courses at the SLU Madrid campus. Find further details here. 

Ph.D. Course Descriptions

Foundations of Health Care Ethics

HCE 6010: Philosophical Methods in Health Care Ethics
A study of the methodological issues in philosophy concerning the nature and justification of fundamental ethical norms, including: philosophical ethics and non-philosophical disciplines; philosophical methods of justifying ethical norms; Kantian ethics; contractarian ethics; virtue ethics; ethics and psychobiology; different methods of justification; epistemological status of ethics.

HCE 6020: Religious Methods in Health Care Ethics
A study of the hermeneutical significance of different methods in religious ethics and a critical analysis of the hermeneutical implications of these methods for the development of ethical theory.

HCE 6040: Interdisciplinary Research in Health Care Ethics
A study of the scope, concerns, and methods of interdisciplinary research in Health Care Ethics, including: interdisciplinary research methods with associated competencies; cross-cultural paradigms of person, community, and health; epistemological processes for interdisciplinary research; criteria for persuasion and ethical justification in interdisciplinary research.

HCE 6050: Philosophical Foundations in Ethics
This course will survey the history of thinking in ethics with the goal of understanding the ethical system in its philosophical and historical context. Students will read the primary texts from thinkers like Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Kant, Nietzsche and MacIntyre. Where appropriate examples from contemporary health care ethics will be used to clarify points. Students will be encouraged to write papers that engage contemporary problems in health care ethics with one or more of the philosophical thinkers in mind.

Context of Health Care

HCE 6110: Introduction to Medicine for Ethicists
A study of the principles and practice of medicine as a framework for ethical discourse, including: the classification and etiology of diseases (e.g. genetic diseases); their clinical manifestations and complications (e.g. the use of imaging techniques); and principles of medical and surgical treatment (e.g. life support systems). 

HCE 6120: Bioethics and the Law
This course examines legal issues in health care decision making in areas typically considered a part of bioethics, such as organ transplantation, genetic medicine, end-of-life care, determination of death, and experimentation with human subjects. While the course focuses on cases, statues and regulations applicable to these issues, the course also studies the leading approaches in ethics as they are applied in these situations. The course includes consideration of the primary processes used for dispute resolution in bioethics, including litigation , institutional ethics committees, and institutional review boards.

HCE 6130: Clinical Ethics
A study of fundamental skills and core areas of knowledge essential for ethics consultation, integrating process and outcomes, to identify, analyze, and resolve ethical dilemmas, cases and issues, that emerge in the context of patient care.

HCE 6140: Research Ethics
This course introduces students to a range of topics in research ethics. The focus of the course is academic human subjects research ethics, though issues of regulation and compliance will be discussed throughout. For each topic selected, there will be four main study elements: (1) identify the ethical issues that emerge; (2) identify the major ethical arguments concerning these issues; (3) assess the major arguments; (4) examine the relevance of these issues and arguments to particular instances of human subjects research.

HCE 6150: Practicum
This practicum engages students in medical care settings with these goals: to experience a wide range of acute clinical care; to observe the patient/family/caregiver dynamics involved in clinical care; to reflect critically on the ethical challenges and principles involved in these patient care settings.


HCE 6310: Health Care Ethics in the Catholic Tradition
This course will examine moral methodology and critical issues in Catholic bioethics, primarily through the lens of four contemporary moral theologians who present differing, sometimes opposing, viewpoints on the subject matter.

HCE 6540: Advanced Clinical Ethics Practicum
This course provides an extended and immersive clinical ethics experience during which students will obtain the knowledge and skills necessary for ethics consultation. The course consists of two primary components: extended experiential learning within an institutional clinical ethics service and (2) the development of a clinical ethics portfolio, both of which are overseen by an on-site clinical ethics mentor and a faculty member. This course typically takes place over a summer at a pre-arranged internship site.