2019 Seminars

Seminar Schedule and Sign-Up Guidelines

The 2019 seminars are now finalized.  Please click here for the seminar schedule and guidelines. Learn about our seminar leaders on our Primary Team and Summer Faculty pages and by watching brief discussions with them on our Youtube channel.

Seminar Descriptions

Ethics of Time Travel

Much of ethical theory rests on causality and character – what we ought to do is dictated by cause and effect relationships and what we choose to do is a result of who we are. The possibility of time travel calls both of these into question by introducing scenarios in which consequences can occur before actions or be changed through subsequent interventions in the past, and challenging the concept of personal identity as continuous and unique through the potential for multiple versions of the self to exist in different timelines. Time travel narratives are often studied in ethics to explore hypotheticals that have real-world analogues, for example, when a previous self makes decisions for a future self, as in the case of an advanced care directive. The distinction between acts and omissions and the moral imperative to prevent harm also take on new meaning in the context of time travel, with the possibility of avoiding historical abuses. Key questions include: do we have an ethical obligation to preserve history or change it? Should an identity fission event, such as time travel or amnesia, be considered a mitigating factor when determining guilt for a crime committed before the event occurred? Is everything pre-determined or has free will influenced our decisions, and if so, what does this mean for moral responsibility? This seminar will be led by Evie Kendal. 

Clinical Ethics

Graduate and undergraduate medical education programs spend years imparting the clinical skills understood as the current “standard of care,” but patients do not always respond well to these standards. Due to the increasing body of clinical knowledge, many medical education programs struggle to provide time and space for ethical reflection on whether the current standard of care is good, just, or respectful. The purpose of this course is to provide an introduction to core ethical questions and common dilemmas inherent in medical care. Brief readings, guided reflection, interactive case studies, and group discussion will be a part of this course. No prior experience in clinical ethics is expected or required – genuine curiosity is highly encouraged. This seminar will be led by Jennifer Herbst for the first two weeks, followed by one week with Zohar Lederman.

Ethics of Enhancement

This seminar will provide a firm and wide-ranging grounding in ethical issues associated with human enhancement. We will cover the history of enhancement theory and discourse; we will learn about key theorists in the field and the views that they advance in favour of or against enhancement; and we will consider ethical dilemmas in applied areas including: cognitive enhancement; moral enhancement; sports enhancement; enhancement in literature, film, and myth; genetic enhancement and disease prevention; and enhancement in public health and health policy. We will have in-depth discussions about relevant case studies across these found in contemporary and historical medical practice, the media and wider society, and the bioethical literature. This seminar will be led by Brian Earp.

Environmental Ethics

Our world is facing unprecedented environmental and societal challenges. It is estimated that over 200 species go extinct every day and rapid climate change threatens to exasperate numerous threats to environmental health, and by extension human welfare. In the age of the Anthropocene, how can we, as humans, make decisions that will ensure the flourishing of both human and non-human beings. The overarching goal of this seminar is to give students a working knowledge of the fundamental philosophies that underpin the field of environmental ethics and how the human relationship with non-human nature impacts decision-making across sectors and governance levels. This seminar will incorporate short lectures, case studies, and engaging class discussions. Together we will attempt to answer questions like: How do value-systems shape environmental decision-making? How can environmental policies be designed to guarantee equity and justice? And how does technology fit within current ethical frameworks for environmental decision-making? Throughout the course, students will be encouraged to reflect upon their own values and environmental ethics, as well as those of their fellow classmates. As such, class discussions will demand humility, open-mindedness, and kindness.   Natalie Kofler will lead this seminar.

Aliens Among Us: Ethically Thinking about “The Other” using Science Fiction

In this seminar we will explore ethical dilemmas that are related to “others” and gravitate around the question “What makes humans human?”.
Each seminar will be dedicated to particular kinds of alien-seeming-beings such as robots, extra-terrestrial life forms and enhanced humans. Parallels to non-human animals, the environment and humans will be explored. During this seminar, we will address the risks and benefits of science, the balance between societal responsibility and human rights, Artificial Intelligence consciousness, immortality, self-enhancement and transhumanism.
The goals for the seminar are (1) to think about some of tomorrow’s ethical challenges without the constrains of today’s reality and (2) to play with ethical theories and arguments in the limitless void offered by science-fiction.
Academic articles and excerpted speculative and science fiction will be discussed. Other materials will include excerpts from movies and TV episodes such as Gattaca, Star Trek and Westworld.

Data, Health, and Ethics: Topics at the Intersection

This seminar is an ethical investigation of the use of large volumes of data in health research and medical practice. Large volumes of data require automated analysis, which typically involves artificial intelligence (AI), specifically machine learning (ML). Our approach in this seminar will be to identify and map the various ways that new data-driven techniques such as ML raise moral questions from the standpoints of various stakeholders in the health domain. Central questions will be about the relationship between an individual patient’s medical data and the data of larger populations in which patterns and insights emerge. As we pursue these questions, we will be concerned with some well-established themes in data ethics and medical ethics, including privacy, consent, property, and fairness. We will also uncover and articulate less familiar nexuses of concern. This seminar will be led by Owen King.

Ethical Issues in Global Health

An ever-widening gap yawns between those within reach and deprived of medical access throughout the world. Vast populations who subsist in dire need find themselves recipients of foreign aid “donated” by those with frequently competing interests. The legacy of colonialism lingers: the potential for enormous profit from industry and research, as well as geopolitical influence loom behind the scenes. Profound socio-economic and cultural differences frequently threaten to complicate communication between donors and recipients; corruption and profiteering often undermine the most sincere efforts.

Welcome to the front lines of global health, explored with a surgeon who has spent decades working in the field. Key ethical issues in public health, health research, clinical care, and health organization/systems will be surveyed, and the complex dynamics of attempted healthcare delivery in the developing world will be discussed in this seminar. This seminar will be led by Dr. Aron Rose.

Reproductive Ethics

This seminar is structured as recognition that the issues surrounding human reproduction are not limited to nine months of pregnancy and the abortion debate, rather it is central to the health of populations. 

We will examine the ethical dilemmas and challenges across the lifespan from preconception to adulthood and considering the biological, social and psychological aspects as well as the real-world implications for public health and resource allocation. Some topics include: The dilemma of the maternal-fetal conflict; life-threatening maternal complications and whose life do you save; assisted reproductive technologies and fertility; high risk pregnancies including fetal anomalies and mortality risks; surrogacy and reproductive labor for sale; uterus transplantation and implications of emerging imaging technology on prenatal attachment.

This course is designed for both clinicians and non-health professionals. The first class will include a foundational background on the biology of human reproduction in a way that the general public will understand. 

This seminar will be aimed towards applied ethics – In other words, what should we do to address the human condition in the context of reproduction? As such the dialogue across professional disciplines and cultural insights towards meaningful appreciation of the dilemmas is encouraged.

Like most of the seminars, the format will be seminar style, group discussion and case based learning.  This seminar will be led by Ramona Fernandez.

Ethical Issues in Obstetrics & Pediatrics: Cross Cultural Perspectives

This seminar will explore a variety of ethical issues that arise when becoming pregnant and leading up to childhood: beginning with pre-implantation diagnosis and screening, embryo disposition, then prenatal diagnosis and genetic counseling in early pregnancy, abortion (also including access by minors to abortion and birth control), treatment of premature babies, explaining illness to children. This course will present six cases from these respective stages and examine the cross-cultural ethical issues that arise (mainly, U.S. vs Japan). Often, patients and medical professionals are confronted with difficulty in dealing with these issues due to the wide range of circumstances, governments, policies, religions, and cultural values prevalent in that region. Through discussing these cases, students will learn to recognize and address the cultural dilemmas faced by medical professionals, patients and their families in health care settings, as well as gaining respect for the universal components of biomedical ethics.  This seminar will be taught by Dr. Takahashi.

Philosophy of Technology and Bioethics

This seminar will provide the students with the theoretical knowledge and practical skills to understand the role of technologies in our life. Technologies, broadly construed, form an inalienable part of human life. However, their increasing presence poses a variety of questions. Can Artificial Intelligence replace doctors in the healthcare practice? How do genetic tests and fitness trackers co-shape our understanding of what it means to be healthy? How do the values and norms of people change in interaction with technologies? If brining woolly mammoth back to life is possible, is it desirable? To answer these and other questions, the students will learn to identify the impact of specific technologies on human practices, as well as critically approach the normative dimension of technologies. The students will learn that rather than being a neutral object or a deterministic force, technologies always mediate the relations between people and the world, co-shaping us as much as we are designing them. The seminar ultimately argues for an informed perspective towards technologies and equips the students with a combination of theoretical and practical skills to maintain it. To mirror this goal, the seminar will integrate theory and practice, introducing the key approaches in philosophy of technology and teaching the students to apply them to contemporary case studies, inviting to wear the hats of technology users, non-users, designers and policy-makers. The seminar will be of interest to anyone who wants to maintain a reflective and critical stance towards technologies in our life. It does not require any background knowledge of ethics, philosophy or engineering.  This seminar will be led by Olya Kudina.

Health Policy Analysis for Bioethicists

Across the globe, bioethics education is still rather scarce.   Those who do have bioethics education are recognized as having specialized knowledge, and therefore are increasingly invited to participate on policy committees. These committees may be at the institutional, local, state, or national level. It is a weighty responsibility to serve on these committees since health policy formulation is complex and nuanced. This seminar will provide an overview of the US healthcare system, an understanding of policy formulation and analysis techniques, and an opportunity to deepen critical thinking skills.  We will discuss several institutional and national health policies including healthcare for transgender and nonconforming veterans, end-of-life decision-making for unbefriended patients, physician-assisted suicide, and policies influenced by international and transnational organizations. We will examine policies through bioethics principles and policy analysis methods. This seminar is suited for participants who wish to (or currently) serve on institutional or governmental policy committees, including hospital ethics committees. This seminar will be taught by Lori Bruce.

Issues in Genetics

 This seminar examines the ethics of current and emerging genetic technologies and the potential issues of using genetic engineering to achieve a “better world”. It will cover pre-conception genetics, genetic risk profiling, precision medicine, genetic enhancement, chimeras and the question of genetic privacy. 

This seminar is intended as an introduction to ethical issues in genetics and will be taught in a way that is approachable for both clinicians and those with no science background. This seminar will be led by Evie Kendal.

Bioethics & the Law

This seminar will examine the basic treatment by American law of some major issues in contemporary biomedical ethics. Readings will include standard legal materials such as cases and regulations, a number of quasi-legal sources such as government commission reports and institutional guidelines, and some academic articles. No familiarity with legal materials is assumed; indeed, this seminar is designed for students with no background in American law. For each of the topics listed below, the instructor will offer a very broad and necessarily cursory overview of the area, and then will focus seminar discussion on one or two sub-issues to be addressed in detail. While the focus will be American law, some comparative-law readings will be supplied in order to bring possible alternative approaches to light. Topics include the basics of the US legal system; abortion; end-of-life care and aid-in-dying; assisted reproduction; mandated vaccination; state power to quarantine; and standards of determining death. This seminar will be taught by Stephen Latham.

Bioethics and Psychiatry

The aim of this seminar is to explore emerging ethical issues in psychiatry through professional and personal experiences, with case study analysis and discussion of the latest developments in scientific literature and thinking in the bioethics of psychiatry.
The seminar series will look at identifying and dissecting ethical issues in psychiatric diagnosis and treatment. It will focus on issues such as gender dysphoria in adolescents and adults, personal autonomy in psychiatry and involuntary treatment, the use of legal and restricted drugs for psychiatric treatment, the bioethics of psychoanalysis, and more.
In the context of the bioethics of psychiatry, participants will develop speaking skills, an understanding of dialectic argument based on principles of bioethics, and advanced skills in critical analysis. This seminar will be taught by Santiago Peregalli.

Responsibility and Moral Conflicts

What does it mean to be a morally responsible agent? What happens to our sense of responsibility when we face conflicting interests, values, or obligations? What happens when moral theories conflict? This seminar explores the complex and problematic issues that arise at the intersection of moral responsibility and moral conflicts. Building upon the basic foundations of ethical theory, we will begin the course by examining the nature of agency and responsibility. While many historical traditions emphasize having a free will or being properly informed, recent work encourages us to focus on how we naturally respond to others and to ourselves. We will examine whether or not any of these accounts help us to evaluate – to praise or blame – agents faced with extremely difficult decisions. In medical emergencies, just like in many high-stakes political contexts, action must be taken, even when the right thing to do is far from clear. The course will analyze what it means to face a moral dilemma, when we might be required to get ‘dirty hands’ (to do wrong for the sake of a good outcome), and how we are often subjected to moral luck. Participants will be encouraged to discuss a host of perplexing case studies and to question the adequacy of some of the most widely-accepted ethical theories. This seminar will be led by Dan Tigard.

Cultural & Contextual Bias in Bioethics

Good philosophy, and thus good bioethics, begins with a curious, yet critical mind. But how do we make sure our critical views aren’t corrupted by our biases? How do we distinguish good arguments from biased ones? How can we identify different kinds of bias in other people’s viewpoints and, most importantly, in our own? 

During this seminar, we will start with an overview of some of the most widely recognised cognitive, cultural, and contextual biases that we are innately subject to. Second, we will deepen our understanding of how bias works in practice by exploring the boundaries of our own moral compasses through an extensive case study. By taking an in-depth look at a variety of surgeries on sex organs, we’ll come to understand why we think of some as inherently problematic and some as self-evidently valuable. Third, we will continue to step out of our comfort zones by analyzing some basic assumptions about the current state of the world, the environment, and cultural and socio-economic global facts. Fourth, having acquired these new insights, we’ll discuss different views on suffering and end-of-life decisions. In addition, you will get a crash course on contemporary problems of bias in medicine. Finally, you will showcase your advanced understanding of bias by presenting and defending opposing views on a controversial bioethical issue. This seminar will be taught by Mayli Mertens.

Medical Humanities (in Spanish)

This seminar is an introduction to Medical Humanities and will be taught in Spanish.  We will explore the relationship between medicine, arts, and humanities, how they are related to each other and how they may enrich the practitioner. We will observe, reflect and debate how that richness could facilitate the discussion of ethical issues and identify ethical problems through art, literature, and film. We will use clinical cases for discussions, out-of-classroom learning (such as visiting Yale’s famed Medical Historical Library), and contemplation of works of art. This seminar will be taught by Santiago Peregalli.

Public Health Ethics

Ensuring the health and well-being of a population is a fundamental goal of public health. While state and local governments have expansive powers meant to preserve and protect the public’s health, actions taken in order to protect health and well-being may conflict with the rights and freedoms of individuals. Thus, a central question in public health ethics involves the balances of public good and personal liberty. 

This seminar will introduce students to ethical issues involved in public health. The course will begin with an overview of the history and general principles of public health ethics, and then will move into detailed considerations of specific topics of current concern, including vaccinations, HIV, the opioid crisis, and obesity. This seminar will be taught by Ruth Tallman.

Ethics at the End of Life

We are all going to die, but the ways in which we die are changing. The ‘end of life’ is increasingly managed, and modern death has become both medicalised and institutionalised. The purpose of this seminar series is to explore the complex and sensitive ethical issues that arise in relation to end of life across the human lifespan, and to provide an introduction to core questions that arise in considerations of modern end of life, broadly including but not limited to: definitions of ‘life’ and ‘death’, the art of ‘dying well’, and contemporary approaches to end of life law, policy, and practice, including physician-assisted death and suicide, and ethical disputes in the clinical setting. Students will participate in rigorous seminar discussions lead by a variety of expert seminar leaders, and will attend a special panel event on ‘Ethical considerations at end of life: Perspectives from religious representatives’. No prior experience in end of life ethics is required – students will be encouraged to be inquisitive, exploratory, and interactive in their learning. 

Ethics of Emergency Medicine

This seminar will introduce you to the ethical issues that arise in the course of work in an emergency medicine setting. Through case-based discussions, we will put you “in the shoes” of an emergency physician, to learn about and apply what we know about ethics to a unique environment - the fast paced emergency room, where quick decisions have lasting implications. This seminar will be taught by Dr. Evie Marcolini.


This seminar will introduce you to some of the issues in the area of neuroscience that have ethical implications. We will, as much as possible, study through cases and interactive classroom discussion. We hope to have a session dedicated to the Cushing Center, and tour the historic collection of human brains, and have a discussion of the ethical issues around human bodies in a museum setting.  This seminar will be co-taught by Drs. Evie Marcolini and Karmele Olaciregui.

An Introduction to Animal Ethics: Ethical Approaches to Nonhumans​

This seminar will look at major, animal ethical issues from both applied perspectives in society today and from normative/non-normative ethical frameworks. Topics include introductions to current theories of animal ethics, public perception of animal well-being and ethical standing, use of animals for research, technology and consumption, companion animals, and wildlife ethics. Topic overviews will be offered during each class, followed by dialogue on topics and related readings. The seminar is designed for students of varied disciplines who are interested in gaining an overview of animal related bioethics questions and discourse. Prior background in animal related studies not required. This seminar will be led by Sue Kopp.

Ethical Issues in the Care of LGBTQ Populations

The LGBT population has been largely overlooked by the medical community, leading to gaps in research and difficulty in accessing care. In this seminar, we will begin with a historical look at the emergence of sexual and gender identities, from the works of early sexologists Magnus Hirschfeld and Krafft-Ebing, Freud, and Kinsey, and progress to more recent debates about who is included in the DSM, and under what diagnostic label (whereas homosexuality was declassified as a mental disorder in 1973, gender identity is still controversially included, now under gender dysphoria rather than gender identity disorder). Topics of special interest to LGBT bioethics include policies on blood donation by gay men, the history of clinical trials for HIV drugs, access to hormone treatment for transgender youth/children and trans prisoners, reproductive choice in a queer/trans context and access to new reproductive technologies and surrogacy by the LGBT population, durable power of attorney, visitation rights, and social barriers to accessing health and geriatric care. We will consider particular cases, such as: the use of puberty blockers in the Ashley X case, Chelsea Manning’s claim to hormone treatment in prison, Martin Shkreli and price-fixing AIDS drugs, Sharon Kowalski and the right to visitation after an accident. This seminar will be led by Karl Surkan.

Ethics in Military Medicine

This seminar will explore how one practices medicine ethically in a culture that does not incorporate the “four pillars” of bioethics in the same way they are practiced in the civilian setting. The question is posed: “In a culture whose ethical standards do not place autonomy, even of one’s own body, as primary, how does one conduct oneself bioethically?” The military’s medical culture is designed to function proficiently in the midst of war. Failing to understand the differences between civilian and military codes and values can lead to extreme and severe misunderstandings and miscalculations in determining best practices. This seminar will incorporate real life scenarios and case studies as we explore the unique factors and formula that play into the decision- making process in the military medical community. Class members will be introduced to and learn to utilize the Military Medical Ethical Decision-Making Process (MED-DMP) currently being taught to healthcare professionals at the nation’s premiere military hospital, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and its medical school, the Uniform Services University of Health Sciences.  This seminar will be led by Jeff Matsler.


Research Ethics

This seminar will cover the principles of research ethics, looking at historical examples of ethical violations and how these led to the development of human and animal research ethics committees. The seminar will provide practical tips on applying and reviewing research ethics applications, in addition to considering which normative ethical theories are prioritized when evaluating research protocols. Students will be asked to discuss how research is ethically reviewed in their own country and any recent examples of unethical research. This seminar will be led by Agata Bloswick.

Disability, Illness, & Difference

This seminar will explore disability as a social category of difference through engagement with disability studies and disability rights critiques of healthcare and medical intervention. This will help contextualize contemporary bioethical debates about disability. Some see disability as a condition to be cured; others view it as a social category and a valuable difference that should be preserved. We will look at different types of disability and their specific cases in bioethics such as Deaf culture and cochlear implants, prenatal testing, physician assisted death, and more. The class will provide an introduction to the fundamental assertions of disability studies, investigating how these are often seen in conflict with the field of bioethics and examining some of the sociopolitical aspects of specific conditions. We will have group discussions, brief readings, and film viewings, as well as possibly a few guest speakers. Students need not have any familiarity with disability (in fact, you are especially encouraged to take this seminar if that is the case!) and are encouraged to be interactive and curious. This seminar will be led by Laura Mauldin.

Religious Reasoning in Bioethics

With regard to the emergence and development of bioethics, one could argue that while theological ethicists helped to shape the questions and concerns of the field in the 1960s, religious perspectives have gradually been phased out of public discourse. Religious beliefs are often treated as private ethical commitments that are indefensible, cannot speak to public normative discussions, and should not be invoked in decisions about legal policies; in fact, the very idea of religious reasons may seem contradictory, as there is a long-standing tradition of viewing religion as irrational or a-rational. Nevertheless, the insights and values of religious traditions and communities seem to have survived the alleged secularization of bioethics; and insofar as religious adherents continue to encounter and make contributions to the field, they are beholden to engage in the normative practice of providing reasons for their positions. Some of the questions we will ask in this seminar include: Can religious reasons appeal to those outside of the religious communities that invoke them? Must religious reasoning avoid relying on unverifiable theological claims in order to be persuasive? And what is the difference between a “religious” and “non-religious” or “secular” reason, anyway? To see how some of these questions have practical import, we will discuss individual legal cases where religious reasoning has played a role in bioethical issues. 

Last-minute changes are always possible based on unexpected faculty member illness or other such emergency, but there are always plenty of seminars to ensure a robust and enlightening summer experience.