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Topics in Philosophy: Bioethics


Admission requirements

Completion of the History of Philosophy course.


The purpose of Topics in Philosophy courses is to allow students to focus on specific philosophical sub-fields. From year to year, the subtitle can shift as the course addresses different topics. In this particular offering, we will be reading and discussing several major issues in the sub-field of bioethics, which deals with the ways we develop and support our ethical beliefs about practical matters of life and death. Some of the issues we might consider are: medical definitions of death, transhumanism, abortion, cryonic preservation, organ donation, anti-natalism, radical life-extension, and euthanasia. Although health care ethics will not be the primary focus, if there is time, we might also discuss questions about the economic value of human lives, especially in the midst of a pandemic. In order to improve our understanding of each of these issues, we will also need to review some of the major ethical theories (e.g. Utilitarianism, Deontological Ethics, and Virtue Ethics).

Course Objectives


By the end of this course students should be able to:

  • Critically reflect on and examine both shared and diverse human experiences so they can recognize similarities and differences across cultures.

  • Exhibit the analytic skills necessary to comprehend the relevance of major ethical theories to their understanding of current problems, while becoming more familiar with their own perspectives, assumptions, and values.

  • Acquire a set of reading, writing, and discussion skills that allow them to engage texts and others in an informed and conscientious manner.


  • Become familiar with some major themes and arguments in bioethics.

  • Become well versed in ethical strategies for arguing for or against certain positions.


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2020-2021 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

Each group meeting of the course will consist of a 2-hour online interactive discussion on the scheduled topic, with the week’s reading to be completed prior to the meeting. This course depends heavily on group discussion of significant primary texts. Additionally, there will also be one other point of contact each week (in written form, through audio/video-recording, or individually via video call) that will provide background, and introduce key issues and interpretations. Students should join in the discussion (in person during the group meetings or individual video calls, or via email) at any time, asking questions, making suggestions, or making comparisons with other texts we have read. For each meeting, each student should mark out a short passage (1-3 sentences) from the day’s reading that especially stood out.

Assessment Method

  • Participation and attentiveness in classroom discussions is worth 19% of the overall course grade. This will be assessed throughout the course, and is meant to encourage constructive and active engagement with course materials and fellow students.

  • A 300-word reflection will be due in four different weeks, and each will be worth 4-5% of the overall course grade (totaling 19%). These will help to assess the capacity to articulate questions, concepts, and arguments based on individual engagement with course readings.

  • One “midterm” short answer/essay exercise will be worth 22% of the overall course grade. This will encourage a clear comprehension of objective course content.

  • One final paper (due during reading week) will be worth 40% of the overall course grade. This will encourage analysis of concepts covered throughout the course, and force students to express their ideas clearly and organize them coherently.

Reading list

Required readings will be available for free online, primarily through the Leiden University Library website.


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Dr. Adam Buben,