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Unit of study_

HPSC1000: Bioethics

Intensive February, 2021 [Block mode] - Camperdown/Darlington, Sydney

Science has given us nearly infinite possibilities for controlling life. Scientists probe the origins of life through research with stem cells and embryos. To unlock the secrets of disease, biomedicine conducts cruel experiments on animals. GM crops are presented as the answer to hunger. Organ transplantation is almost routine. The international traffic in human body parts and tissues is thriving. The concept of brain death makes harvesting organs ethically more acceptable. It may also result in fundamental changes in our ideas about life. Science has provided new ways of controlling and manipulating life and death. As a consequence, difficult ethical questions are raised in increasingly complex cultural and social environments. This course will discuss major issues in the ethics of biology and medicine, from gene modification to Dolly the sheep. This unit will be introductory, but a small number of topical issues will be studied in depth. No scientific background beyond Year 10 level will be assumed.

Unit details and rules

Unit code HPSC1000
Academic unit History and Philosophy of Science Academic Operations
Credit points 6
Assumed knowledge


Available to study abroad and exchange students


Teaching staff

Coordinator Gemma Smart,
Tutor(s) Eamon Little,
Jules Rankin,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Assignment Online Assessments
5 X Weekly Short Answer tasks submitted via Canvas
10% Multiple weeks 5 X 100-150 words per task
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Tutorial quiz Quiz 1
Short Quiz on material from Week 1 & 2
10% Week 02
Due date: 29 Jan 2021 at 09:00
30 minutes, mix of MCQ and Short Answer
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO5 LO4 LO3 LO2
Assignment Research Essay Plan
Detailed Essay Plan submitted via Canvas.
15% Week 03
Due date: 05 Feb 2021 at 23:59
1000 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO5 LO4 LO3 LO2
Tutorial quiz Quiz 2
Short Quiz on material from Week 3 & 4
10% Week 04
Due date: 12 Feb 2021 at 09:00
30 mins mix of MCQ and Short Answer
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO5 LO4 LO3 LO2
Tutorial quiz Quiz 3
Short Quiz on material from Week 5 & 6
10% Week 06
Due date: 26 Feb 2021 at 09:00
30 mins mix of MCQ and Short Answer
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO5 LO4 LO3 LO2
Assignment Research Essay
Research Essay submitted via Canvas
35% Week 06
Due date: 26 Feb 2021 at 23:59
2500 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO5 LO4 LO3 LO2
Participation Tutorial (In-Class or Zoom)
Individual contributions to class/online discussions and activities
10% Weekly 1/hr per week
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO5 LO4 LO3 LO2

Assessment summary

Tutorial Assessment

10% of the assessment for this unit of study is based on participation. Participation is based upon individual contributions to online and/or tutorial discussions and activities. Online participation is in response to the coronavirus pandemic, and as a result we wish to give students some flexibility in how they participate.

Students can choose to either participate via online Zoom tutorials or via the discussion board (or both!).

Zoom tutorials

To accrue marks in online Zoom tutorials, it is not enough to simply have the program open whilst you say nothing: you must participate.

In brief, you are expected to:

  • Discuss the readings having read them;
  • Discuss the themes from the lecture having attended it;
  • Show a willingness to respectfully participate with discussions;
  • Attend the set tutorial on time;
  • Stay for the entire tutorial.

This does not mean that you are expected to ‘get’ all of the readings, as tutorials are a place to ask questions about things you found difficult, hard to follow, unconvincing and so on. Your coordinator is there to guide your learning and this partially involves having a sense of difficulties that you might be having in understanding the course. Having said this, you should not expect the class to be run like a miniature lecture. The tutorials can only be as good as the class discussion that results from them.

Online Discussion Board

An alternative to Zoom tutorials is to provide your perspective on the discussion board that is part of Canvas. In order to accrue participation marks on the discussion board, you must:

  • Discuss the readings having read them;
  • Discuss the themes from the lecture having attended it;
  • Show a willingness to respectfully participate with discussions.

You will find a discussion board section for each day that the tutorials run. So, to meet the 80% attendance requirement mandated by the University of Sydney a minimum requirement for this course is that you:

  1. Post a discussion topic centring upon the material that is being addressed in that tutorial block.
  2. Respond to a discussion topic posted from some other student in that same block.

Your own posts and responses should be substantive: i.e. they should make reference to readings/lectures. Don’t think that just saying ‘I agree with student X’ would suffice. Your contributions here are assessed in the same ways that contributions in tutorials are assessed. Putting in little work in a face-to-face tutorial would not garner you marks, and it will not online either.


50% of the assessment for this UOS is based on one major written assessment task. You will be asked to produce a substantive essay plan for this in Week 3. 

Online tasks will be set for the first 5 weeks, and we will have quizes every second week. 


Assessment criteria

The University awards common result grades, set out in the Coursework Policy 2014 (Schedule 1).

As a general guide, a high distinction indicates work of an exceptional standard, a distinction a very high standard, a credit a good standard, and a pass an acceptable standard.

Written assessment grading criteria:

Result name

Mark range


High distinction

85 - 100

For a High Distinction (85+), you must do everything required for a distinction, plus submit work that is consistently of an exceptional standard; exhibit considerable initiative and ingenuity in research and reading; provide innovative interpretations and arguments including insightful 31 contributions to theoretical debates; and develop abstract or theoretical arguments based on detailed research and original interpretation. Your written work must be characterised by a high degree of creativity, scholarly style, and precision.


75 - 84

For a Distinction (75-84), you must do everything required for a credit, plus demonstrate initiative in research and reading; show a complex understanding and original, creative analysis of the subject matter and its context; and take a critical stance in relation to the underlying assumptions in the field as well as the theoretical arguments and their interpretations associated with the course topics. Your written work and presentations must be properly documented, and writing is characterised by scholarly style, clarity, and some creativity.


65 - 74

For a Credit (65-74), you must do everything required for a high pass, plus go beyond mere identification of the relevant issues, to criticise particular positions; exhibit comprehensive reading and critical evaluation of the course materials including their broader theoretical significance; and provide well-defended, coherent arguments based on solid scholarly research as well as some evidence of independent thought and initiative. A low (65-69) credit indicates competent work, demonstrating the potential to pursue honours work, though further development would be needed to do so successfully; a high (70-74) credit demonstrates a clear capacity to pursue honours.


50 - 64

For a (Low) Pass (50-57), you must complete all of the assignments and exams of the Unit of Study, as outlined in the section on assessment of the course syllabus. In addition, in a particular assessment, you should have been able to identify and describe the principal issues related to the assessment; and present organised, comprehensible oral and written arguments for particular positions supported by appropriate scholarly documentation. However, written work typically includes evidence of very minimal reading and limited understanding of the set readings and subject matter, and may have a tendency to rely on paraphrasing. For a

(High) Pass (58-64), you must do everything required for a low pass, plus provide synthesis and some evaluation of relevant material and arguments with a logical and comprehensible structure; evidence a broad and fairly accurate command of the set readings and subject matter; and exhibit efforts to go beyond the basic lecture material particularly to explore diverse interpretations of the subject matter. However, written work or presentations typically have weaknesses in clarity or structure, and show a somewhat limited command of the subject matter or its broader significance.


0 - 49

Mark of a Fail (below 50) indicates that your work is not of acceptable standard overall, and/or you have failed to achieve a 50% in some component of the UoS. You may receive a fail for a particular assessment for any or all of the following reasons: unacceptable levels of paraphrasing or lack of citation (see also the policy on Academic Honesty); irrelevance of content; careless or sloppy presentation, grammar, or argument structure such that it is difficult to understand the claims being made; evidence of inadequate knowledge or understanding of readings or lectures; or late submission without extension via the Faculty special considerations procedure.

For more information see

Tutorial participation grading criteria:

Result name

Mark range


High distinction

85 - 100

For a High Distinction (85+), you must be an outstanding contributor: Contributions in class reflect extensive preparation. Ideas offered are usually substantive; provide major insights and direction for class discussion. Challenges are substantiated and persuasive. Makes an important contribution to class discussion overall.


75 - 84

For a Distinction (75-84), your contributions in class reflect thorough preparation. Ideas offered are often substantive; provide useful insights and some direction for class discussion. Challenges are substantiated and often persuasive. Makes a significant contribution to class discussion overall.


65 - 74

For a Credit (65-74), your contributions in class reflect adequate preparation. Ideas offered are sometimes substantive; provide some insight but rarely offer direction for class discussion. Challenges are sometimes presented, substantiated and persuasive. Makes a contribution to class discussion overall.


50 - 64

For a pass (50-64), your contributions in class reflect inadequate preparation. Ideas offered are rarely substantive; rarely provide insight but do not offer useful direction for class discussion. Contributions may be distractions rather than constructive. Does not make a positive contribution to class discussion overall.


0 - 49

Mark of a Fail (below 50) indicates that your contributions add little or nothing in class. There is not an adequate basis for evaluation. Makes no contribution to discussion.


For more information see guide to grades.

Late submission

In accordance with University policy, these penalties apply when written work is submitted after 11:59pm on the due date:

  • Deduction of 5% of the maximum mark for each calendar day after the due date.
  • After ten calendar days late, a mark of zero will be awarded.

This unit has an exception to the standard University policy or supplementary information has been provided by the unit coordinator. This information is displayed below:

5 marks per day will be deducted from the final mark of a late piece of written work. Papers that are submitted after 10 days will not be marked and will receive a zero. These penalties apply in the absence of a special consideration.

Academic integrity

The Current Student website  provides information on academic integrity and the resources available to all students. The University expects students and staff to act ethically and honestly and will treat all allegations of academic integrity breaches seriously.  

We use similarity detection software to detect potential instances of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breach. If such matches indicate evidence of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breaches, your teacher is required to report your work for further investigation.

You may only use artificial intelligence and writing assistance tools in assessment tasks if you are permitted to by your unit coordinator, and if you do use them, you must also acknowledge this in your work, either in a footnote or an acknowledgement section.

Studiosity is permitted for postgraduate units unless otherwise indicated by the unit coordinator. The use of this service must be acknowledged in your submission.

Simple extensions

If you encounter a problem submitting your work on time, you may be able to apply for an extension of five calendar days through a simple extension.  The application process will be different depending on the type of assessment and extensions cannot be granted for some assessment types like exams.

Special consideration

If exceptional circumstances mean you can’t complete an assessment, you need consideration for a longer period of time, or if you have essential commitments which impact your performance in an assessment, you may be eligible for special consideration or special arrangements.

Special consideration applications will not be affected by a simple extension application.

Using AI responsibly

Co-created with students, AI in Education includes lots of helpful examples of how students use generative AI tools to support their learning. It explains how generative AI works, the different tools available and how to use them responsibly and productively.

WK Topic Learning activity Learning outcomes
Week 01 1.1: Introduction and Administration Lecture (2 hr)  
1.2: What ethics is/is not + How to write a Philosophy Paper Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO3
1.3: Ethical Frameworks Part I: Overview + Consequentialism Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
Tutorial Week 1: Ethical Frameworks Overview Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 02 2.1: Ethical Frameworks Part II: Deontology + Virtue Ethics Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
2.2: Ethical Frameworks Part III: Postmodern Approaches + Principalism Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
2.3: Ethical Frameworks in Practice: Public Health and Libertarianism + Resource Allocation Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
Tutorial Week 2: Ethcial Frameworks in Detail: Approaching Case Studies Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 03 3.1: Boethics and the Individual Part I: Informed Consent and the History of Human Research Ethics Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
3.2: Bioethics and the Individual Part II: Paternalism and the Rise of Autonomy Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
3.3: Bioethics and the Individual Part III: Conscientious Objection, Role Responsibility and Advanced Directives Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
Tutorial Week 3: Bioethics and the Individual Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 04 4.1: Essay Plan Workshop (please bring a print-out of your plan) Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
4.2: The Start and End of Life Part I: Abortion and Euthanasia Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
4.3: The Start and End of Life Part II: Personhood & Killing + Duty to Die Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Tutorial Week 4: Ethics for the Start and End of Life Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 05 5.1: Marginalised Populations Part I: Nonhuman Animals and Ethics Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
5.2: Marginalised Populations Part II: Ethics of Disability and Difference Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
5.3: Marginalised Populations Part III: Medical Justice in a Global Context Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Tutorial Week 5: Justice and the Marginalised Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 06 6.1: Human Modification Part I: Organ Markets, Rights and Wrongs Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
6.2: Human Modification Part II: Treatment and Enhancement Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
6.3: Human Modification Part III: Choosing Children Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Tutorial Week 6: What Kind of Humans Do We Want? Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5

Attendance and class requirements

Due to the exceptional circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, attendance requirements for this unit of study have been amended. Where online tutorials/workshops/virtual laboratories have been scheduled, students should make every effort to attend and participate at the scheduled time. Penalties will not be applied if technical issues, etc. prevent attendance at a specific online class. In that case, students should discuss the problem with the coordinator, and attend another session, if available.

Study commitment

Typically, there is a minimum expectation of 1.5-2 hours of student effort per week per credit point for units of study offered over a full semester. For a 6 credit point unit, this equates to roughly 120-150 hours of student effort in total.

Required readings

All readings and suggested readings will be posted to their respective sections on the unit webpage at Canvas. The reading for each week should be done in advance of your lecture and tutorial, in order to allow you to participate fully in discussions and exercises. 

Learning outcomes are what students know, understand and are able to do on completion of a unit of study. They are aligned with the University's graduate qualities and are assessed as part of the curriculum.

At the completion of this unit, you should be able to:

  • LO1. recognise and describe key ethical issues that arise in the biological sciences and in medicine
  • LO2. pose critical questions about episodes in science where ethical issues are at stake
  • LO3. pose well-defended arguments (both written and verbal) in favour of particular positions in current ethical debates in science
  • LO4. evaluate the relative merits of competing ethical arguments and appreciate the complexity of ethical situations
  • LO5. critically reflect on how values influence your interactions with the biological sciences and medicine, and your personal responsibilities as a future scientist, clinician, citizen, patient, or consumer of science.

Graduate qualities

The graduate qualities are the qualities and skills that all University of Sydney graduates must demonstrate on successful completion of an award course. As a future Sydney graduate, the set of qualities have been designed to equip you for the contemporary world.

GQ1 Depth of disciplinary expertise

Deep disciplinary expertise is the ability to integrate and rigorously apply knowledge, understanding and skills of a recognised discipline defined by scholarly activity, as well as familiarity with evolving practice of the discipline.

GQ2 Critical thinking and problem solving

Critical thinking and problem solving are the questioning of ideas, evidence and assumptions in order to propose and evaluate hypotheses or alternative arguments before formulating a conclusion or a solution to an identified problem.

GQ3 Oral and written communication

Effective communication, in both oral and written form, is the clear exchange of meaning in a manner that is appropriate to audience and context.

GQ4 Information and digital literacy

Information and digital literacy is the ability to locate, interpret, evaluate, manage, adapt, integrate, create and convey information using appropriate resources, tools and strategies.

GQ5 Inventiveness

Generating novel ideas and solutions.

GQ6 Cultural competence

Cultural Competence is the ability to actively, ethically, respectfully, and successfully engage across and between cultures. In the Australian context, this includes and celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, knowledge systems, and a mature understanding of contemporary issues.

GQ7 Interdisciplinary effectiveness

Interdisciplinary effectiveness is the integration and synthesis of multiple viewpoints and practices, working effectively across disciplinary boundaries.

GQ8 Integrated professional, ethical, and personal identity

An integrated professional, ethical and personal identity is understanding the interaction between one’s personal and professional selves in an ethical context.

GQ9 Influence

Engaging others in a process, idea or vision.

Outcome map

Learning outcomes Graduate qualities

This section outlines changes made to this unit following staff and student reviews.

Chnages have been made to the Intensive version of this unit, to reflect the needs of students taking the unit in this format.

A note on intensive classes

Each lecture is 4 hours long (including breaks). These lectures are not mandatory. Having said this, it is highly recommended that you watch the lecture as it goes out live as this is your opportunity to ask questions, engage in the discussion and so on. This is especially important in intensive classes, as the course is packed into only a few weeks. I impress upon you: at least watch the lectures. It’s very easy to get lost early on otherwise.

Student email

It is your responsibility to regularly check your University of Sydney email account or establish a forwarding address on the Sydney system, because this is the primary means of contact for us with you and more generally for the University about your unit of study. If something goes wrong for you because you have not accessed your university email account you will not be excused.

Also be sure to check into the discussion board regularly for class announcements.

Discussion board

The course discussion board is where you should first post whatever questions you may have about the course (whether about content or administration) before emailing the coordinator. In addition the Canvas site for Bioethics contains answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the course, as well as tips regarding assignments, etc. 

It is important that you understand that January Intensive Bioethics is actually quite intense (as the name implies), and you should be ready for a lot of information to be packed into not very much time. So, I suggest that you pay attention to the following:

Tips for surviving intensive classes

  1. Watch each and every lecture and be prepared to ask questions. We are covering a lot of ground very quickly, which carries the risk that you could get lost just as quickly. If you are unsure of something, or confused by an argument/topic, ask when it occurs to you rather than waiting to ask later.
  2. Use the discussion board frequently. As I note above, the coordinator will be posting on there relatively regularly, and check it several dozen times per day. If you have any questions or thoughts about the course content or administration, this is where you should place it rather than emailing tutors etc. Other students will also post in the discussion board, as will tutors. It is a valuable resource that you should address.
  3. Ensure that you do all the required readings before class, and consider reading recommend sources should you have the time. I know that there is a lot of content to cover, and this can seem daunting, but keep in mind that intensive courses cover the same amount of material as ordinary courses—they are just run in a shorter timeframe. The University expects that every course worth 6 credit points should require the same amount of work, regardless of the length of the semester. Furthermore, there is a good chance you won’t be able to understand the lectures without having done the readings.
  4. Engage with the course, and spend time doing extra reading. As I note below, there will be supplementary readings available, and I suggest that you read beyond these. To do well in this course you should be reading as much as possible!
  5. Don’t fall behind! The danger with intensive classes is that if you fall behind early you will remain behind the whole time. Keep on top of the readings, lectures and tutorials and you should do just fine.

A note on absent fails

Something you may not be aware of is the University policy regarding Absent Fails (AFs). Despite the name, this rule does not apply only in those cases where you do not attend the requisite classes for the course. To be clear, the rules apply to you under the following circumstances (as drawn from University policy):

Students will be graded an Absent Fail (AF) on their academic record if they fail to:

  • submit a formal request to withdraw or discontinue – not to count as failure (DC) by the relevant census date.
  • complete an exam or submit an assessment task by the prescribed due date.
  • satisfactorily attempt all assessment tasks set out in their units of study
  • meet the minimum class attendance requirement.

The following is worth reiterating: you must attempt all assessment tasks set in this class. You cannot do only a few of the assignments and expect to pass—all assessment tasks (essays/exegesis and participation) must be honestly attempted before the cut-off date. If you do not attempt all assessment tasks in this class you will receive an absent fail. Also note that it is not the job of the coordinator to chase you up and let you know that you are risking an AF. It is your responsibility.

Problems with grading

If you believe that your work has been graded unfairly or otherwise improperly, you should in the first instance contact Gemma Lucy Smart. Please see the HPS Canvas portal for details of the HPS remarking policy and follow them carefully. Bear in mind that all remarking is done ‘blind’ (i.e. the person doing the remarking does not know the original mark nor the name of the student). This means you could end up with a lower mark than the one you began with.

If you want to appeal your mark after this process, please see:

A note on websites

Note that you are expected to use scholarly sources for your assignments. More specifically, you must use peer-reviewed sources. It is for this reason that the only website you go to is the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy ( This is a genuinely peer reviewed resource, and is very useful for getting an in-depth analysis of issues in philosophy, as well as finding articles/books that relate to the topics in class. All other websites (up to, and including, the BBC Ethics section, Wikipedia, Hansard and Senate inquiries, the Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, the New Advent Catholic Encyclopaedia, and so on) do not qualify as academic sources for this class. This is because they do not exhibit the standards of academic rigour exemplified by the peer review process.

Of course, some exceptions exist.

First, you can go to news websites to find real-life examples of cases that may help illustrate your points. E.g. the case of Terri Schiavo might offer a useful way to introduce topics regarding assisted dying.

Second, if your argument relies upon empirical premises, you are well advised to find some evidence that supports your claim, which may be in the media or other sites. You still should be sure that the statistics or evidence you cite are reliable, as you will have to provide some evidence as to why we should take the evidence the way you suggest. For example, if you make a claim that Belgium has seen a decrease in suicides since euthanasia legislation was enacted, you should cite empirical studies that demonstrate this link.


Work, health and safety

We are governed by the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 and Codes of Practice. Penalties for non-compliance have increased. Everyone has a responsibility for health and safety at work. The University’s Work Health and Safety policy explains the responsibilities and expectations of workers and others, and the procedures for managing WHS risks associated with University activities.

General Laboratory Safety Rules

  • No eating or drinking is allowed in any laboratory under any circumstances 
  • A laboratory coat and closed-toe shoes are mandatory 
  • Follow safety instructions in your manual and posted in laboratories 
  • In case of fire, follow instructions posted outside the laboratory door 
  • First aid kits, eye wash and fire extinguishers are located in or immediately outside each laboratory 
  • As a precautionary measure, it is recommended that you have a current tetanus immunisation. This can be obtained from University Health Service:


The University reserves the right to amend units of study or no longer offer certain units, including where there are low enrolment numbers.

To help you understand common terms that we use at the University, we offer an online glossary.