Georgetown’s department of philosophy debuted a new minor in philosophy and bioethics this fall.
The Class of 2014 will be the first class allowed to pursue the minor, which requires six classes — “Ethical Theory,” two general education philosophy courses, a philosophy of science class and two other classes that explore bioethical issues. Students in the program must reach outside the philosophy department for two of these courses.
Georgetown College Dean Chester Gillis is enthusiastic about the new minor, which was approved last spring by the departments of philosophy and theology.
According to Gillis, bioethics — an area of study that focuses on ethical issues regarding health, medicine and the environment and the implications of new technologies — is a cutting-edge issue that would benefit undergraduates as its own minor.
“[The minor] will enhance the curriculum and give our students new opportunities,” he said.
The department of philosophy will collaborate with Georgetown’s Kennedy Institue of Ethics — abioethics think tank where most of the senior research scholars are also philosophers — to teach and advise new philosophy and bioethics minor students, according to Matthew Burstein, academic program officer for instruction and new media at the Kennedy Institute.
“The philosophy department is ranked high in applied ethics, so the combination of philosophy andbioethics comes quite naturally,” Burstein said.
Burstein assisted in organizing the introduction of the minor and choosing the required coursework. He will also help advise interested students.
“There were a few inspirations for the minor: first, to fulfill the growing demand for bioethics education among undergraduates, and second, to ensure that undergraduates were able to access the world-class resources available in bioethics,” Burstein said.
He added that the minor aims to promote and facilitate interdisciplinary studies at the undergraduate level.
“The main goal of the minor is to bring together students from across campus who have a shared intellectual pursuit but who otherwise might not be in contact, and to do so in a way that develops both the depth and breadth of their ethical vision and reasoning skills,” Burstein said.
Undergraduate Bioethics Society Co-President Sam Dowling (COL ’13) also emphasized the minor’s appeal. He was optimistic about the prospect of fostering a cohesive relationship between the society and philosophy and bioethics minor students.
“A lot of our [members] have taken bioethics courses,” he said. “They’d be interested in picking up that minor.”
Dowling added that the minor would provide students with a new way of approaching philosophy.
“Bioethics is relevant to a variety of topics and career paths,” Dowling said. “I’m interested in oncology, [and] that experience will be informed by my experience with bioethics.”
Burstein echoed Dowling’s optimism.
“Any student with career interests in health care, biotechnology or the environment could benefit from the opportunity to think carefully about these issues,” he said. “Bioethics, as a field, is marked by its grounding in real-world problems, and so anyone who will confront these issues — let alone try to solve them — will be better equipped to do so.”
According to Burstein, establishing the philosophy and bioethics minor required writing a detailed proposal, which was followed by numerous conversations with the College deans to solidify the course requirements.