SOC 476 - Sociology of Bioethics
Fall 2023, Section 001
Instruction Mode: Section 001 is  In Person (see other Sections below)
Subject: Sociology (SOC)
Department: LSA Sociology
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Waitlist Capacity:
Advisory Prerequisites:
One introductory course in sociology.
May not be repeated for credit.
Start/End Date:
Full Term 8/28/23 - 12/6/23 (see other Sections below)
NOTE: Drop/Add deadlines are dependent on the class meeting dates and will differ for full term versus partial term offerings.
For information on drop/add deadlines, see the Office of the Registrar and search Registration Deadlines.


Bioethics is an enterprise in ascendance. In the early 1960s there were individuals concerned with moral questions occasioned by medicine and medical research, but they were not known as bioethicists. Nor did they have the institutional support of centers for bioethics, professional journals, government commissions, or graduate programs and professorships. Today bioethics is part of the landscape of the life sciences: ethics committees are mandatory in American hospitals; all federally-funded research that involves human beings or animals must be reviewed by a board constituted to protect the subjects of research; a plethora of seminars offer training in bioethics for those who need, or wish, to offer ethical advice; and bioethics courses are a regular part of the curriculum at universities, colleges and medical schools.

The appearance of bioethics raises a number of questions: Why did the life sciences suddenly decide to get ethical? How has this new profession insinuated itself into discussions about the means and ends of the life sciences? Why do we now turn to bioethicists (as opposed to doctors, the clergy, or lawyers) to help us decide what is right? Just who are bioethicists? How does one become a bioethicist? Where are they working? How have they chosen to organize their work? What have the life sciences gained and lost as a result of the presence of this new profession? How has medicine responded to this new form of social control? How do ordinary questions become bioethical questions? Who decides which questions merit the special attentions of bioethicists and what criteria are used to make those decisions?

Examining these questions teaches us about many issues: the social sources of morality; the organization of professions; the politics of science, medicine and biotechnology; the interface between law and ethics; the place of religion in pluralist societies; the sociology of science; and the social uses of bioethics. While our focus will be on bioethics, the sociological analysis will make students more reflective, more critical, and more sociologically aware.

Course Requirements:

In addition to assigned readings (typically a selection of articles made available on CTools and 3 monographs) students are required to do two class presentations (one as part of a group and one a summary of their research project), a midterm and final exam (short answer and essay), and a short research paper (8-10 pages).

Intended Audience:

Undergraduates interested in understanding the sociological perspective and its application to the worlds of medicine, medical research, and ethics.

Class Format:

One 90-minute lecture twice per week.


SOC 476 - Sociology of Bioethics
Schedule Listing
001 (LEC)
 In Person
TuTh 8:30AM - 10:00AM
8/28/23 - 12/6/23

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