BIOL 171. ETHICAL ISSUES IN BIOTECHNOLOGY & GENETICS
Prof. Margaret McLean, Markkula Center for Applied Ethics;
Voice mail, 554-7889; e mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
Prof. Leilani Miller, Alumni Science 316;
Voice mail, 554-4427; e mail, email@example.com
Joint Office Hours: Thurs. 1:30-3:00 (or by appointment)
Alumni Science 316
Course Description: This course is an interdisciplinary investigation into some
of the compelling issues raised by the advent of “the biotech century.” It explores
the intersection between theology, ethics, and the biological sciences through the
lens of biotechnology, focusing on genetics. The objective is to acquire an
understanding of the disciplines of biotechnology and ethics and the theological-
ethical implications inherent in the development and use of biotechnology.
Biology 171 fulfills the third level Religious Studies requirement through critical
engagement of current, open-ended issues in religion, specifically issues and
problems inherent in 21st century science and biotechnology. A broad spectrum
of plant, animal, and human biotechnologies is addressed, including human
genetic testing and gene transfer experiments as well as agricultural and food
biotech. The course is team taught by a Biology professor (Miller) and an ethics
professor from Religious Studies and the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics
(McLean). Ethical considerations, grounded in theory and methodology, are
directed towards issues in biotechnology where questions of meaning and value
loom large. Class time includes lectures and participatory discussions.
• Sherlock, Richard and John D. Morrey (eds.), Ethical Issues in Biotechnology.
New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2002
• Additional resources distributed in class
At the end of the course, students will have:
• an increased understanding of the science of biotechnology, especially
• delineated major ethical theories and principles relative to science and
• applied ethical theories and principles to concerns and cases in
• critically evaluated ethical issues, arguments and decisions in biotechnology;
• explored and assessed multiple positions and made intellectually defensible,
integrative and nuanced decisions;
• developed individual and collaborative critical thinking skills;
• explored theological-ethical understandings of science and biotechnology.
Requirements: Midterm examination (closed book, in class, 20% of final grade);
two short papers (20%), poster and paper on scientific and ethical dimensions of
a particular biotechnology (35%), class participation and evidence of preparation
for class (25%).
Adequate class participation will include attendance at all class meetings,
intelligent and informed participation in class discussion, and completion of
assigned readings in advance of the date for which it is assigned. All written
work needs to be proof read for errors in spelling, punctuation, and grammar and
may be returned ungraded for revision if the errors are excessive in the
Poster Session and Course Paper: The final project is in 2 parts—the first is
the development of a poster (done in pairs) and the second is an individually
authored 5 page paper taking an in-depth look at the topic covered in the poster.
Both the poster and the paper help students to integrate the topics of the course
and to address a particular aspect of the agricultural or human biotechnology and
the attendant ethical concerns. Students can choose their own topics for
investigation. Detailed instructions will be provided.
Attendance policy and classroom etiquette: Prompt attendance at class is
required (i.e., unexcused absences or tardiness will negatively impact your grade
and excessive unexcused absences or lateness (i.e., > 4 class meetings) may
result in failure of the course regardless of completed assignments. (NB.,
Excused absences would include a note from Cowell regarding illness, a verified
family emergency, etc.) Class participation includes (but is not limited to) active
engagement and listening, informed participation (both written and oral) in
discussion, regular and punctual attendance, and prompt completion of
assignments. Cell phones and pagers are to be turned off during class.
Baseball caps are not to be worn during exams.
Evaluation of evidence of preparation for class includes but is not limited to
student preparation of discussion notes. When noted, students will prepare brief,
½ page only, written notes before class. Discussion notes will be collected at
the end of the day’s discussion and reviewed by the instructor. The following
symbol will alert students to those days for which discussion notes are required:
♫. Please keep to the ½ page limit.
In the case of a necessary absence (e.g. illness but not completing an
assignment for this or another class), please inform one of the instructors. If a
student is absent, it is his/her responsibility to get the materials from the missed
Note: It is expected that all assignments will be turned in on the due date and the
exam taken as scheduled. At the instructors' discretion, papers, and exams
completed after the due date will be subject to a “sliding grade scale,” i.e., a drop
of a full grade per day determined when the assignment is received by the
instructors. All assignments must be completed and the exams taken on time
unless the student presents written proof of illness or emergency or discusses a
particular conflict with the instructors in advance of the due date. Papers must
be submitted to the instructors; it is not acceptable to fax or e-mail an
assignment. Papers are to be typed, doubled-spaced with 1 in. margins on all
sides and in 12 point font preferably Times New Roman. Papers that do not
show evidence of having been proof read and/or run over the specified length
and/or do not meet the format guidelines will be returned to the student for rapid
revision and may be subject to a “sliding grade scale.” Papers are to be the
student's own work done specifically for this class.
Grading: Grading is in accordance with University guidelines and policy. Grades
are determined fairly and reflect the “meeting” of course requirements and
objectives as set down in this syllabus. The grades on exams are based on the
number of “correct,” “complete,” and “appropriate” answers given to the
questions asked. For “short answer” or “essay” questions, points are given for
understandable, complete, and correct responses. The grades on papers are
based on the completeness and accuracy of the essay. Each ethical term (e.g.,
deontology) must be defined the first time it appears in each written assignment
(points will be deducted if definitions are ignored). It is expected that all written
work is direct, responsive, accurate, in good form, and the student’s own work.
Remember all of the assignment grades are weighted. A guide to expectations
and associated letter and percent grades follows: The student who does
excellent work, who is engaged and participatory and surpasses course
expectations, can expect a grade of A. The student who does good work, who is
attentive in meeting course requirements, who is prepared for class discussions
can expect a grade of B. The student who meets the basic requirements of the
course and does the work as required can expect a grade of C. The student who
“barely” meets the most basic requirements can expect a grade of D. The
student who does not meet class expectations as set forth in this syllabus can
expect a grade of F.
Academic honesty and integrity: It is assumed that all work for this course will
be done honestly and will be the student’s own work. Acts of academic
dishonesty (e.g., plagiarism, cheating, etc.) will not be tolerated and will result in
immediate and appropriate disciplinary action not limited to flunking the course
and possible expulsion from the University. (See “Student Handbook.”) This is a
course on ethics.
Inclusive language: You are asked to use inclusive language in all written
assignments and class discussions. In many ways, language creates reality. In
particular, you are being asked to avoid the use of language that limits
opportunities for any group to grow fully as individual persons and members of
society. Sensitivity to what is said and how it is said is expected regarding race,
class, gender, etc. At root, it is an issue of justice.
NB. Instructors reserve the right to modify the syllabus and schedule in response
to class needs.
Reading and Assignment Schedule
Tu Sep 23 What is biotechnology and why do we care?
Th Sep 25 Genetic Basics, pp. 1-16
Tu Sep 30 Ethics Basics, pp. 16-29; article: “Ethics 101” available at
Th Oct 02 Fundamental Issues of Ethics and Biotech, pp. 31-46, 71-88
Fr Oct 03 Annual Biotech Conference: “The Future of Pharmaceuticals”
Tu Oct 07 Agricultural Biotech, pp. 97-110, 149-159
Case discussion: Red Rice, Case #3, p. 608
♫ List the potential benefits and harms of using herbicide resistant
Story Time: June 29, 1999
Th Oct 09 Food Biotech I, pp. 203-219
Guest lecturer: Michelle Marvier, Ph.D.
Tu Oct 14 Food Biotech II, pp. 183-201, 231-246
Case discussion: Getting Rid of Worms, Case #5, p. 612
♫ Briefly describe the process used to produce transgenic apple
Th Oct 16 Genetic Testing of Humans I: Science Basics, pp. 359-366, 439-
Case discussion: Cutting Edge, Video
Tu Oct 21 Genetic Testing of Humans II: Ethical Implications, pp. 375-417
Case discussion: Am I Forgetting Something? Case #3, p. 617
♫ Should genetic testing for diseases such as Alzheimer’s or breast
cancer be mandatory? Why or why not?
• Short (3 page) Discussion Paper focusing on the Science of
Genetic Testing due. Details will be provided in class.
Th Oct 23 Genetic Testing of Humans III: Family Ties, pp. 419-437
Case discussion: Do I Really Want to Know? Video
Tu Oct 28 Midterm Exam
Th Oct 30 Gene Transfer in Humans I: Somatic Cell Engineering, pp. 367-
Case discussion: Jesse’s Case
Story Time: Frank Was a Monster Who Wanted to Dance
Tu Nov 04 Gene Transfer in Humans II: Engineering the Germ-Line,
Case discussion: The RAC, Case #6, p. 618
• Poster/paper topic and thesis statement due
Th Nov 06 Human Cloning I, pp. 247-252, 517-548
Case discussion: Is Cloning Right, or a Right? Case #2, p. 618
♫ Is human reproduction using cloning technology an ethical right?
Why or why not?
Tu Nov 11 Human Cloning II, pp. 551-581
Case discussion: Cloning a Donor, Case #4, p. 620
• Short Critical Ethical Thinking Paper Due: Write a 3 page
ethical analysis of Huntington Disease case on last page of
syllabus. A brief guide:
o What is the fundamental ethical issue in this case?
o What is at stake and for whom?
o What are one or two relevant theories and principles
for critical ethical thinking in this case (e.g., utility,
natural law, informed consent)?
o Argue for and support your ethical stance on the duty
to disclose to his future wife and his brothers.
Th Nov 13 Human Stem Cells, pp. 583-601
♫ Is current policy allowing government funded research on 62 or
so stem cell lines derived more than 2 years ago scientifically
sound? Why or why not?
• 3-5 references for poster/paper due
Tu Nov 18 GATTACA I
• Introductory panel for poster due.
Th Nov 20 GATTACA II, pp. 47-70
Tu Nov 25 Thanksgiving Break
Th Nov 27 Happy Thanksgiving
Tu Dec 02 Critical Thinking in Biotech
Th Dec 04 Poster Session
Th Dec 11 Final paper due at noon