University of Kansas, Spring 2006
Philosophy 886: Topics in Applied Ethics

The Ethics of Genetic Technology

Description: This course examines some important ethical issues associated with the development and use of technology for the detection and manipulation of humans’ genes and the human gene pool. Among these issues are whether efforts to improve the human gene pool can be morally defensible (or, on the contrary, whether they are necessarily no better than, say, the Nazis’ morally reprehensible program of eugenics), and whether society is morally obligated to provide gene-improving health care to its citizens. Additional questions concern reproductive freedom: Does society have the right to limit individuals’ use of reproductive technology in order to pursue social goals such as equality of opportunity? Does society have the right to limit individuals’ use of such technology in order to protect the interests of unborn children? Other questions concern cloning, genetic engineering, and genetic screening (such as in the workplace). The primary text for the course is From Chance to Choice: Genetics and Justice, by Allen Buchanan, Dan Brock, Norman Daniels, and Daniel Wikler; additional readings will be added along the way.

Class schedule: Fridays, 2:30–4:20, in 3097 Wescoe Hall


Here are the factors that will determine your overall grade, and their weights (in percentages):

assignment weight
1. term paper 70
2. presentations 20
3. class participation 10
total 100

Further information about these assignments will be provided as the course progresses, but here are the basic requirements:

  1. Your term paper should be about 15–20 pages long (or in the range of 4,500–6,000 words), and should be the kind of thing a responsible philosopher working in this area might submit for publication in a reputable journal: it should offer an original contribution to the discussion of some important philosophical issue or text having to do with the ethics of genetic technology, building (where relevant) on prior significant work on its topic.
  2. Most class periods will begin with a presentation; I expect that our schedule will allow each student to do two. Your presentation should be based on a paper you write of not more than 1,000 words, which you will just read out loud; you should bring enough copies of your paper to class for everyone to have one. Your paper should briefly summarize, critically comment on, and possibly imaginatively enlarge upon the assigned reading for the day. After you present your paper, questions and discussion will ensue. You will be graded on the quality of your paper and the quality of your responses to questions and comments about it. Afterwards, you can meet with me and rewrite your paper if you would like to raise your grade for your presentation. Your grade for this component of the course will be the average of the grades you earn on your individual presentations.
  3. Good class participation consists of offering intelligent, relevant, and helpful comments and questions. You should be an active discussant and should feel free to introduce your own perspective and concerns into the discussion; at the same time, however, you should not think that more participation is always better. Ideal class participation involves not only being willing and able to contribute; it also involves being respectful of others’ time and interests, and being sensitive to those occasions when a particular topic or thread would be more appropriately pursued outside of class.

Work will be graded in accordance with the university’s grading system, as stated in article 2, section 2 of the of the University Senate Rules and Regulations.

In addition, I should note here that I take academic misconduct, especially cheating on tests and plagiarizing papers, extremely seriously, and am generally disposed to impose the harshest permissible penalties when it occurs. To enable you to meet my expectations in this regard and to do so without fear of inadvertently falling short of them, I will provide clear and specific guidance as to what does and does not constitute academic misconduct in advance of tests and when papers are assigned. Meanwhile, you may consult article 2, section 6 of the University Senate Rules and Regulations for university policy in regard to this matter.

If you have a disability for which you may be requesting special services or accommodations for this course, be sure to contact Disability Resources (22 Strong Hall / 864-2620 (V/TTY)), if you have not already done so, and have that office send me a letter documenting the accommodations to which you are entitled. Please also see me privately, at your earliest convenience, so that I can be aware of your situation and can begin to prepare the appropriate accommodations in advance of receiving the letter from Disability Resources.

Finally, you should feel free to come by my office (3070 Wescoe Hall) at any time. I have office hours on Fridays from 1:30 to 2:20, but you are also welcome to stop by at other times, either with an appointment or without. I spend most of the work week in and around my office, so your chances of finding me should be reasonably high; and although in rare cases I may have to ask you to come back at another time, in general I will be happy to speak to you at your convenience.

Book to buy:
Course materials on the web:

Course documents, including this syllabus, will be available on the web site for the course, the URL of which is

(If you don’t want to type in this whole thing, you can stop after ‘utile’—at which point you’ll be at my personal web site—and then follow the links to the web site for this particular course.)

The syllabus is one of the pages at the above site, and since it will be revised and elaborated as the course progresses, I encourage you to check it online from time to time, instead of relying on a hard copy.

E-mail distribution list:

I’ve had the KU computer folks set up an e-mail distribution list for the course, and its address is

I’ve asked that it be set up so that not only I, but also you, can use it, so that you can communicate with everyone in the class (including me) whenever you are so inclined.

In general, I’ll try to mention everything important (whether substantive or procedural) in class. But at times, I may use the e-mail distribution list to send you information that you will be responsible for having or acting on, so it is your responsibility to make sure that you read mail that I send to this list. You can do this by making sure that you (1) have an e-mail address, (2) are registered for the course (because this list is updated every night to reflect current enrollment, taking account of drops and adds), and (3) read your e-mail. There is one complication that you should be aware of: if you have both an Exchange e-mail address (e.g., and a non-Exchange e-mail address (e.g.,, and you prefer to receive e-mail at the latter address, then mail sent to the e-mail distribution list for the course will not necessarily go to it, even if you have registered it with KU as your primary e-mail address. (This is a minor glitch in the KU distribution-list system.) To deal with this problem, either check your Exchange account as often as your check your non-Exchange account, or arrange for mail sent to your Exchange account to be forwarded to your non-Exchange account. For more information on this problem and how to solve it, see the Exchange Distribution List Primer, question 2: “Some of the people on my list say they’re not getting my list mail. Why?”


For the most part, we’ll be working through From Chance to Choice. Additional readings will be added along the way.

January 20:

January 27:

February 3:

February 10:

February 17:

February 24:

March 3:

March 10:

March 17:

March 24: no class (spring break)

March 30–31: campus visit by Dan Brock

April 7: no class (rescheduled to April 10)

April 10: replacement class for April 7; note special time—5:30–7:20 (same location)

April 14: no class (rescheduled to April 19)

April 19: replacement class for April 14; note special time—5:30–7:20 (same location)

Also, today (April 19) is the deadline for e-mailing me about your plans for your term paper. (See the description of the term-paper assignment for details.)

April 21:

April 28:

May 5:

Thursday, May 11: No class, but today, 12 noon, is the deadline for turning in a hard copy of the first draft of your term paper. Also, e-mail me with some times when you will be available to discuss it during the week of May 15.

Monday, May 22: No class, but today, 12 noon, is the deadline for turning in a hard copy of the second draft of your term paper.